The Mariposa Biomass Project

If you are new to this site, start with the recently updated FAQ. If you are looking for the latest news, read below. Older news is now in the News Archive.

June update for the Höganäs plant is now available.


May 2019 update 

The Mariposa Biomass project has recently received several pieces of encouraging news:

Wood Innovation Grant: The Mariposa Biomass Project was successful in receiving a $250,000 Wood Innovations Grant from the US Forest Service. These funds will be used to complete remaining permitting and pre-construction work for a group of four small-scale community biomass plants throughout the Sierra.

Cortus Energy to purchase Mariposa Property: In their 1st Quarter financial report to shareholders, Cortus Energy announced that they would purchase the properties necessary to complete the installation of the Cortus WoodRoll® biomass-to-electricity here in Mariposa County, and are making payments accordingly. The properties are currently owned or leased by the non-profit Mariposa Biomass Project.

PG&E and the BioMAT program: Although PG&E is still in bankruptcy, they are again participating in the BioMAT program, honoring existing Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), and it is again possible for new projects to enter the BioMAT queue and obtain PPAs. Cortus Energy has indicated that they will have the funds for our project to enter the BioMAT queue in July. This in an important step for our project in terms of fulfilling a milestone in our EPIC grant with the California Energy Commission. It is also key to assuring potential investors of a reliable 20-year revenue stream at a favorable price.


May update for the Höganäs plant is now available.


Slideshow Updated 

The slideshow in the navigation bar has been updated to include new information about the project status, the project site, the Cortus WoodRoll® technology and a comparison with some of the technologies we have considered for our small-scale biomass plant.


Update on Current Status  

The Mariposa Biomass Project is moving forward, but for the last several months has been in a “holding pattern” based on two issues, delays in the construction of the first plant in Sweden and the PG&E bankruptcy

Delays in the Swedish WoodRoll® Plant The first issue is that our technology provider, Cortus Energy is building the first WoodRoll® biomass plant in Höganäs Sweden and construction and operation of that plant is currently about six months behind schedule. Successful operation of the Hoganas propject is a prerequisite to financing of the Mariposa project.  The Höganäs plant will process woody biomass to produce a synthetic gas or syngas that will replace the use of natural gas or methane in a steel mill for Höganäs AB in Sweden. According to Cortus, the six-month delay was caused by engineering changes and subsequent late deliveries of piping to the site.

Although delayed by six months, the Höganäs plant is now moving forward as can be seen from the recent updates from the Cortus in December, January, February, March, April  May and June. These reports are available in Swedish on the Cortus website and have been translated into English for our use.

Project Financing The Mariposa Biomass Project is also working with Cortus to find additional partners for financing and potential operation of the Mariposa biomass-to-energy plant. As part of this effort we have generated a document promoting the fact that our project is located in an Opportunity Zone - a new national community investment tool that connects private capital with low-income communities across America. Opportunity Zones provide a tax incentive for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains into dedicated Opportunity Funds. Learn more about Opportunity Zones here.

The Mariposa Biomass Project is also working with Cortus Energy to explore the possibility of actually building the various modules involved in the WoodRoll® process here in California rather than in Sweden as a way of reducing manufacturing and transportation costs.

PG&E Bankruptcy The second factor that has our project in this holding pattern is the bankruptcy declaration by PG&E. The financial basis of our project is based on selling the electricity we produce to PG&E at a favorable rate, as mandated by State law, S.B. 1122 and the BioMAT program. We are confident that when this bankruptcy is resolved the utility will be bound by the same law to purchace the electricity we produce via a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA. However, until the situation is resolved no new contracts or PPAs are being signed by PG&E, thus the need to wait until this situation is resolved.

Once the Höganäs plant is operational and the PG&E bankruptcy is resolved, we should be able to move quickly. In the meantime, we are working closely with the California Energy Commission to assure that we don’t spend our EPIC grant funds on equipment while the above issues are unresolved.


Conditional Use Permit Appeal Rejected by Board of Supervisors.

An appeal of our Conditional Use Permit was heard before the Board of Supervisors on July 10, with the meeting continued to July 17th. On the 17th, the Mariposa Board of Supervisors voted, 3-1 (1 recused) to reject the appeal and uphold the decision of the Planning Department and Planning Commission to approve our project.


A brief history of the BioMAT program and the Mariposa Biomass Project

If you think that small-scale biomass plants used to turn sustainably harvested forest biomass into electricity are controversial, or increase air pollution, you may not know that the State Senate bill, S.B. 1122 that incentivized these projects passed the State Senate 38-0 and that every air pollution district in the state encourages these biomass plants as they reduce air pollution. Learn more here: A brief history of the BioMAT program and the Mariposa Biomass Project


FAQ responding to incorrect and misleading information about the Mariposa Bioenergy Plant.


June 2018 Update from CEO Jay Johnson: Current information about the status of the project is available here.


$5M EPIC Grant Final Approval:  On March 21st the Mariposa County Resource Conservation District and the Mariposa Biomass Project attended a meeting of the Board of Governors of the California Energy Commission. The first regular agenda item for the meeting was the formal approval of the $5 million EPIC grant to support the construction of a biomass-to-energy plant here in Mariposa County. The Governors approved the item 4:0 and said that they were please to fund such a fine project that would help mitigate the tree mortality disaster in the Sierra.


The Mariposa County Planning Commission approved the Mariposa Biomass Project Conditional Use Permit on February 23rd!


County Use Permit and CEQA Review: The Mariposa Biomass Project submitted our County Use Permit application in June of 2017. As part of that application and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, we have conducted various cultural, biological, botanical, noise and traffic studies. An extract of those studies as well as other information on how our proposed biomass facility will affect the community can be found here.


In the subsequent months, the County Planning Department has asked for a number of additional studies in support of our permit application. Digital copies were sent to County as they became available. On December 19th, we submitted a paper copy of all of the studies to the County in a binder. With the draft CEQA Checklist written by the Mariposa Biomass Project team and our attorney Christiana Darlington, the paper submission was 580 pages. The Table of Contents is shown above. Digital copies of all submissions are available on the Planning Department website here.

The Planning Department has informed us that our project will go before the regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting on the February 23rd in the Board of Supervisors chambers. We would appreciate it if all those that support our project plan to be at the meeting to express their views on the project and its benefits to our community.


Progress Report: Here is a link to our July-September 2017 Progress Report


EPIC News! We have just been notified that we have received a $5 million EPIC grant for a demonstration biomass-to-energy project in Mariposa County. Here is a PDF document announcing the award. Not only that, we received the top score! Together with the $11 million in matching funds from our technology partner, Cortus Energy, we can now move forward on our project to restore forest health, pay for the removal of dead trees from around homes and public infrastructure and diversify our local economy with good, high paying jobs. Read the press release here. Next step: Use permit from the County including CEQA review and the PG&E System Interconnect Study.


Progress Report:Here is a link to our April-June 2017 progress report.


Tree Mortality Presentation: On March 16th we presented our project the the Mariposa County Tree Mortality Disaster Mitigation Committee which included an animated video of the proposed Cortus WoodRoll facility and some preliminary site and grading plans. Here is a presentation with some of the new material that we presented there, including the animated video.


March 23rd Update: MBP continues to make substantial progress in developing this project. The application for a Conditinal Use Permit will be filed next week (the week of March 26th). The environmental assessment of the site is underway and engineers have been lined up to complete noise and traffic studies should they be required as part of the application. An engineering firm has been selected to complete the Electrical Inteconnect Application and MBP is expecting that application to be filed in early April.


Progress Report: Here is a link to our February 2017 progress report.


Do biomass power plants use a lot of water? We recently heard an objection to our project based on the assumption that a biomass power plant would necessarily use a lot of water. We have prepared a brief presentation on water use by biomass plants and will update the FAQ to address this issue. The quick answer is that many power plants, including some biomass plants, do use a lot of water, but our plant will not as we are using a very different technology for generating the electricity - a reciprocating engine rather than a steam turbine.

There is a recent article in Biomass magazine about our project.

We have updated the Slideshow to reflect recent developments.


Biomass Utilization, Energy, Air Pollution and Climate Change

Biomass in our forest can have many fates ranging from being burned in a wildfire to helping create clean green energy and reversing climate change.  Not all ways of using or disposing of biomass are created equal.  Methods that release the carbon in forest biomass as carbon dioxide (CO2) exacerbate climate change at a time we need to reduce carbon emissions.  Biomass left to decay in the forest releases much of the carbon as methane (CH4) a short-term greenhouse gas that is 105 times more warming than carbon dioxide while it is in the atmosphere (10.5 year half life).  Forest fires release carbon as both carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot) that also contributes considerably more short-term warming than carbon dioxide.

The table below ranks various biomass disposal techniques in terms of air pollution, i.e. particulates and NOx and carbon released to atmosphere.  In dealing with the current tree mortality problem, for the sake of public safety, we need to use every technique below, other than forest fires, or course.  Over time we should try to move to techniques lower in the chart that derive value from the biomass, and have the potential reverse climate change rather than exacerbate it.   Energy derived from dead trees replaces energy derived from fossil fuel sources, thus helping mitigate climate change. (This should be differentiated from cutting down living trees to produce biofuel, a questionable practice at best, from a climate change point of view.)  Obliviously converting the carbon in dead forest biomass to biochar that can sequester that carbon for thousands of years is the most promising approach and should be encouraged.


Is burning biomass contributing to global warming? Should burning wood or other biomass be considered clean, green renewable energy? 

There has been a fair number of news articles lately, such as this one on Climate Central, about the wood pellet industry and the fact that we are harvesting trees in the U.S. to make wood pellets for use as fuel in power plants in Europe and Asia. In fact the majority of “renewable energy” in Europe comes from burning wood, and according to Climate Central article, the power plants burning the wood are getting tax credits aimed at mitigating climate change, and yet the article alleges that those plants making climate change worse! The article claims that wood-based energy exploits a loophole that allows wood to be considered renewable to the detriment of our planet?

So why are we considering a biomass plant in Mariposa? Should we be shutting down all the biomass plants in the Central Valley that burn agricultural waste, e.g. orchard trimming, almond shells and peach pits because burning biomass is contributing to global warming? The answers to these questions are not simple and include analysis of the fuel sources and the alternatives for disposal of various biomass waste streams, and the fact that one does not need to burn the biomass and release all the carbon to make electricity. One can use other technologies that actually help reverse climate change rather than exacerbating it. The devil is in the details. So what is the truth and how does the Mariposa Biomass Project fit into all this? Click here to find out.


Questions or Comments:

For questions about the organization, contact the Mariposa Biomass Project at admin@mariposabiomassproject.org

For comments on the website: Steve Smallcombe at stevesmallcombe@mariposabiomassproject.org