Article ID: CBB645664021

Wood Waste and Race: The Industrialization of Biomass Energy Technologies and Environmental Justice (October 2018)


In the 1980s, engineers developed new ways to use one of humanity's oldest fuel sources—wood—to create electrical power. This article uses envirotechnical analysis to examine the development of a wood-burning power plant in Flint, Michigan, and argues that when public officials began working with major energy corporations to build industrial biomass facilities in the 1980s and 1990s, new energy technologies designed to run on renewable fuels became part of an entrenched fossil fuel–based power structure that maintained deep historical inequalities. Like other examples of environmental injustice, the burdens of industrial-scale biomass power systems tended to fall on poor, nonwhite communities. By exploring the creation of the Genesee Power Station as part of an envirotechnical regime in Flint, this research seeks to develop conceptual bridges between the history of technology, environmental history, and environmental justice, and demonstrates the use of history to inform contemporary debates about sustainability.

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Authors & Contributors
Todd, Edmund N.
Moore, Steven A.
Karvonen, Andrew
Elmore, Bartow
Kilcup, Karen L
Swanson, Drew A.
IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology
Technology and Culture
History of Technology
Science Studies
Georgia Historical Quarterly
Environmental History
Yale University Press
University of Georgia Press
The Royal British Columbia Museum
Princeton Architectural Press
The MIT Press
Rutgers University Press
Environmental history
History of technology, as a discipline
Electric Power Stations
Biofuels; biomass energy
United States
Virginia (U.S.)
British Columbia (Canada)
20th century
19th century
21st century
18th century
20th century, late
Philadelphia Electric Company
International Organization for Standardization
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record
New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company

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