What is the context of the B2M project?

      The B2M project is envisioned as an embedded component of a resilient rural community.

Mt. Hood in the distance
      While we believe that the fruit of this work can serve to help build resilient communities in lots of different places, the riddle that lies at the heart of B2M has to be solved in real time in a real place. The goal of this page is to convey why the Windward Community located in rural Klickitat County, Washington, USA, is ideally situated to serve as the incubator for the Biomass to Methanol Project.

The General Context

     Many renewable energy projects are developed within the context of the commercial economy; the B2M Project is different in that it undertakes to put the needs of a rural community ahead of the demands of the urban marketplace.

one of our spring lambs
     The general context for the B2M Project is that of a rural community which is working to meet most of its needs through the careful and skillful use of its land-base. This technology is not intended to fund a rural community that wants to rely on the marketplace to meet its needs by exporting its resources. Using this technology to draw down biomass faster than it is being sustainably regenerated will do harm to the community. We believe that any attempt to use B2M to fund the continuation of a consumption-focused lifestyle will run out of biomass and crash.

     There are two operational stages to this project, the first being to work out the technology that will enable a rural community to produce renewable fuels in quantities sufficient to meet its core internal needs.

     But even the most self-reliant community will still have an ongoing need to purchase some amount of capital resources and technological services in order to function effectively over the long run; therefore the project's second stage involves the challenge of producing fuels which a rural community can exchange for the resources it can't produce within the community.

The Organizational Context

     The B2M Project is being developed on 131 acres of forested land owned by the Windward Foundation with financial oversight for the project being provided by the Windward Education and Research Center, a Washington State non-profit corporation that was recognized in 1994 as being exempt from Federal Income Tax under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code.

     The Windward Community traces its history back more than thirty years to its founding by alumni of an unsuccessful effort in the early 1970s to create an artificial island on the Silver Bank about fifty miles north of the Dominican Republic.

our first sales outlet
     Relocating to southern Nevada in 1976, we opened a small manufacturing and retail operation that grew in time to include an induction based foundry and electroplating plant that served the needs of local Research and Development projects.

     In the early 1980s, the decision was reached that the political nature of water access in Nevada necessitated relocating to an area more conducive to successfully creating a sustainable community. In 1985, after more than a year of study and visiting locations ranging from Redding, CA, to Chilliwack, BC, we relocated to rural Klickitat County in south-central Washington State.

Why Klickitat?

     Klickitat County is a study in diversity. It ranges from the rain forest of western Klickitat County, to the highland desert in the eastern half of the county ‒ a transition from more than sixty inches of annual rainfall to less than six.

the Klickitat River Canyon
     In addition, there's the transition from the cool, alpine slopes of Mt. Adams to the warmer Mediterranean climate found along the Columbia River. This array of micro-climates enables Klickitat County to produce large quantities of a variety of foods ranging from wheat to pears, from mushrooms to wine.

     Windward lies at the center of this transition. At an elevation of 2,000 feet and receiving an average of 26 inches of annual precipitation, we've chosen a site at which we believe it is possible to construct a resilient community, but not so easy that the work done would be irrelevant to groups attempting to do similar things on marginal land ‒ which is generally the only type of land that start-up communities can afford.

     Logging is a key industry in Klickitat Count, work that generates more than 10,000 tons of logging waste annually, material that is currently bulldozed into piles and burned during the winter causing notable air-quality issues.

the front part of the daily trash train
     Klickitat County has a well established foothold in a variety of renewable energy systems. Here are some examples:

     For more than a decade, Klickitat County has operated one of the largest landfills in the Pacific Northwest. Six days a week, a "trash train" with more than three hundred, forty-foot-long shipping containers filled with Municipal Solid Waste ("MSW") makes the journey from the Seattle area to the tiny town of Roosevelt in eastern Klickitat County.

     The Rabanco Landfill is a state-of-the-art facility that operates under a vacuum that sucks out the methane gas given off by waste decomposing in the landfill. The gas is processed, compressed, and cooled, then fed into huge engine-driven generators that currently supply 10 megawatts of electricity to the local grid, enough electricity to power every home in the county.

     Klickitat County is home to a string of state-of-the-art wind generators that stretch for twenty-six miles along the ridge that overlooks the Columbia River. When complete, that string of wind turbines will have the capacity to generate more than 500 megawatts of electricity.

     Klickitat County is also home to both The Dalles Dam and the John Day Dam, facilities with a hydroelectric generation capacity of 1,800 and 2,400 megawatts, respectively.

     As the world wide demand for energy grows, there's a lot that can be said in favor of living in a county that produces way more food and energy than it consumes, a county which has a substantial head start in the race to produce renewable energy systems. The work we have to do on the B2M project is substantial, and experience shows that projects of this nature inherently take longer, cost more, and turn out differently that what was expected going in.

     In short, this work is difficult enough; it would be foolish to undertake to do it within a political climate that was hostile to the development of rural energy sources. Klickitat County has shown itself to be a leader in the development of renewable energy systems, and therefore, a good home for the B2M Project.

The Community Component

     Efficiently used, the new fire can do our work without working our undoing.
                        ‒ Amory Lovins

     The challenge of creating resilient communities is not new and history provides a remarkable array of approaches that didn't work out well. One lesson that can be drawn from that history is that when a community is dedicated to a single path, however relevant that path was when the community was founded, it is at mortal risk because when the times and social concerns of the world around it shifts, the community usually fails.

     A community that uses market-related technology as its primary way of fulfilling its core needs will soon find itself stressed by changing market forces. A community that is created to serve a specific technology is unlikely to survive when that technology becomes non-viable.
our July 4th '11 gathering

     An example would be the communities that sprang up in the old west around the discovery of a rich ore deposit. So long as the ore lasted, it was a boom town with a thriving community, but when the ore ran out, boom towns were quickly given over to the sand and tumbleweeds. By way of contrast, a community that is able to meet the majority of its core needs internally can change its suite of tools to reflect current opportunities.

      A market bound community needs to fund all its needs via the marketplace; a resilient community that can meet, for example, two thirds of its needs internally, needs only look to the market place for a third as much. By rough calculation, the resilient community would be three times as likely to weather major market shifts.

     Specific examples of the risk that comes from putting technology ahead of community abound; two recent examples would be the work done by The New Alchemy Institute, described by Nancy Jack Todd in A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise Of Ecological Design, and Anna Edey's story as told in Solviva: How to grow $500,000 on one acre, and Peace on Earth.

     They prospered for a time. Then when times changed they had to shut down, and today all that remains of the innovative work these pioneers did is their intellectual achievements. One premise of the B2M project is that the achievements and shortfalls of these pioneers is highly relevant to anyone who wants to succeed in creating a community resilient enough to ride out the transition from yesterday's abundance of non-renewable resources to the coming age of scarcity.


     There's a profound difference between starting the quest for sustainable community from scratch compared with picking up the baton that others have brought forward and just running the next leg of the race instead of the entire marathon. Developing this project within the context of an already established intentional community frees the people doing the work from having to make a mad dash towards becoming profitable before the venture capital runs out.

     Those interested in learning more about the intentional community that is home to this project are invited to browse through the Windward website where you'll find our blog: Notes from Windward.

     For more than a decade, Windward has been following the open-source concept by posting a couple hundred articles a year to its searchable blog.

     Perhaps the most important bit of social technology that Windward has to offer is a set of time-tested bylaws based on the principle of representative consensus. Living communities expand and contract, and over the past three decades, Windward has crashed three times. Each time our bylaws held the organization together so that it could rebuild and go forward. The link to our Bylaws is front and center in the header for each volume of the Notes, and an indicator of the pride with which we freely offer what we see as our best work.

A Different Perspective on Efficiency

     In the commercial world, the primary way that industry tries to make a process more efficient is to make it bigger. The B2M project turns that principle on its head by going the opposite direction. While a huge solid waste treatment plant would make an unwelcome neighbor, few people are offended by their neighbor's backyard compost pile. It's a question of scale.

     Commercial-scale biomass facilities operate large heat exchangers to dissipate process heat by evaporating large quantities of water. For example, the energy generation plant at our county's landfill burns about 10,000 Btu's worth of methane to generate a kilowatt; that's 3,400 Btu's worth of electricity and more than 6,000 Btu's in wasted heat.

an array of cooling towers
     To help put that into perspective:
  • for each kilowatt of electricity being generated, that's enough heat to increase the temperature of twelve gallons of water by 60°F.

  • given the size of the landfill's operation, that's some 20 megawatts of heat energy that's currently not being utilized.

     The excess process heat from a village-scale B2M plant could be used to heat a greenhouse or provide hot water for a community laundry, domestic heating, or even drive an adsorption-based refrigeration system.

     There are lots of ways in which the B2M process can help a self-reliant village meet its core energy needs, many of which have to do with a scale of operation that allows the users to tweak the inputs and outputs to match their land-base and needs.