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The audacious plan of Hiroshi Morihara

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Articles - August 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hiroshi Morihara of HM3 Energy in Gresham hopes to start up factories throughout rural Oregon to replace coal with torrefied biomass. 
// Photo by Eric Näslund

By Ben Jacklet

Imagine replacing coal with a clean-burning, carbon-neutral fuel source.

Imagine generating the same amount of electricity at the same power plants already used for coal — without spending millions to modify the plant, or billions to replace it.

Now imagine 20 to 25 new factories in some of the most economically depressed timber towns in Oregon, humming with activity as workers produce this new fuel source.

Imagine 1,500 new jobs bringing new life to moribund industrial parks from Coos Bay to Prineville to Burns.

These seemingly far-flung scenarios are the pillars of the latest business venture of Hiroshi Morihara, a 73-year-old scientist and business leader with a long record of accomplishments.

Morihara spent the 1990s running complex biotech companies in the Bay Area, flying from Portland to San Francisco each Monday morning at 6 and returning each weekend. Prior to that, he helped develop an advanced silicon processing plant in Moses Lake, Wash., that is still operating with the same technology after 25 years of production. Somewhere along the way, he and a partner bought the sprawling Persimmons Golf Course in Gresham, so when he wasn’t flying to and from the Bay Area to oversee the work of high-level scientists, he was running the golf course, teaching skiing (certified ski instructor since 1974) or running marathons (52 so far). “I’m used to being super busy,” he says, with a shrug.

Morihara is the founder and CEO of HM3 Energy, a small startup specializing in the torrefaction of woody biomass. Torrefaction is the process of using extreme heat to convert plant material into a dry, dense fuel that burns efficiently and cleanly. Morihara says he and his team of scientists can convert any plant material — forest slash, juniper, waste wood, crop residues, giant cane, even cow dung — into dense briquettes that can be crushed and fed into a coal-burning power plant with no adjustments to the plant. These briquettes are hydrophobic, meaning they can be stored outdoors in the rain, and when they are burned they emit no mercury and far less sulfur than coal. And while they do emit greenhouse gases, Morihara argues that burning biomass is a carbon-neutral act, since plants absorb the same amount of carbon during their life cycles as they release when burned. Coal, by contrast, is a fossil fuel mined from the earth that adds new carbon to the atmosphere when it is burned.




Ruth Duemler
0 #1 The Audacious planRuth Duemler 2011-07-29 19:46:40
Nonsense! It is not carbon neutral and the emissions are harmful to breathe! The American Lung Association and the American Heart Association along with thousands of doctors have come out against any form of biomass burning.
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Jack Stone
0 #2 Jack Stone 2011-07-29 20:21:14
The trees are the lungs of our planet. I am sad to hear that instead of encouraging less energy use, greed will push for more energy creation.
The ALA says biomass is dangerous and unhealthy for children. Biomass is a scam and I hope the congress ends subsidies or it.
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Tom Kruzen
0 #3 Torrified woodTom Kruzen 2011-07-30 01:42:18
Much of what is presented in this article is propaganda from and industry that is handsomely supported by sleeping American taxpayers. Burning got us into the climate change business and burning is not the solution. Efficiency like LED lights, conservation projects like smart thermostats and insulated buildings and innovation such as the "Passivhaus" have not even been tried and offer 21 st century solutions!
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David Smith
0 #4 Biomass Energy is good for OregonDavid Smith 2011-08-09 18:04:59
Not all biomass is created equal. Its carbon neutrality is a function of its source and process inputs. All renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, have process inputs that impact their carbon foot print. Biomass derived from sustainable forestry or agriculture, and converted to usable energy through advanced combustion or gasification systems equipped with proper emission controls may be not only neutral, but carbon positive and nearly benign.
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