February 22, 2007

Trees-for-Fuel Biomass Plants Mitigate Fires

Of the three major renewable energy processes under scrutiny today - wind, solar, and biomass - only biomass conversion offers the benefit of increasing control over an existing source of greenhouse gases. By reducing forest fires, wood industries can mitigate hundreds of combined tons/day of not only CO, NOx and SOx emissions but also the toxic reactive organic gases and particulate matter. Of course, the impact of saving wildlife and their habitats is beyond valuation.

The U.S. Congress is recognizing this benefit in concert with the need to provide incentives for the forestry industry to help add to our carbon-neutral energy production. For this reason, they reauthorized a federal energy production tax credit to aid in plant capitalization.

A recent article in the Washington Post reports on the decision by one company, (Rough & Ready Lumber Co. of O'Brien, Oregon) to construct a $5 million plant to burn logging debris while co-producing electricity for its regional power grid. Here is part of the Associated Press article...

Fire Danger Fuels Trees-For-Fuel Plans
By JEFF BARNARD, the Associated Presss

The idea of burning wood waste _ known as hog fuel _ to produce energy at wood products and pulp mills is an old one that was going nowhere as long as fossil fuels were cheap, and logging was cut back to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

But leaders in the timber industry realize that energy production can help finance widespread thinning of national forests to combat wildfires and insect infestations. And the concept has a newer, catchier name _ biomass energy _ that helps align it with the wider movement linking economic and environmental concerns, including reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Since Congress reauthorized a federal energy production tax credit for biomass, solar and wind power last month, at least two other sawmills in Oregon are going forward with biomass projects.

Another is slated for Arizona in conjunction with a long-term U.S. Forest Service thinning project there triggered by the massive 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire. More are foreseen in California, which has a long history of generating electricity from forest thinnings.

Steve Mueller, president of DG Energy LLC of San Diego, which is building a new plant in Lakeview, said there are three keys. A generating plant needs to be close to the fuel _ trucking little trees much more than 35 miles is too expensive. It must be close to a major electrical transmission line. And it needs to be close to a mill to buy the excess steam.

Plants burning forest thinnings and waste from lumber and pulp mills generate about 2,500 megawatts nationally _ far behind wind power in production, popularity and government support _ said Bill Carlson, chairman of USA Biomass Power Producers Alliance.

Burning mill waste and logging debris, which formerly had gone to waste, can reduce the cost of thinning the millions of acres of national forest at high risk of catastrophic wildfire.

"We are giving the forester, the manager of the land, another economic tool to work with, whether it is to thin the forest, remove disease, or just for general economic activity," said Allyn Ford, president of Roseburg Forest Products, which already has a biomass generator at its mill complex in Dillard, Ore.

"When you compare the value of the electricity to the value of restoring the health of the forest, I would say restoring the health of the forest is at least as valuable as the energy that is produced," Carlson said.

A report for the Western Governors Association estimates biomass in the West has a potential to produce more than 10,000 megawatts _ about 1 percent of the nation's production by 2015. About half would come from forest thinning. The rest from urban waste and agriculture.

For now, the grants and tax credits make construction of a biomass plant too good to pass up, making it possible to pay back the estimated $5 million investment in four years instead of 10, said Phillippi of Rough & Ready Lumber.

"These plants were always unaffordable because of our size," said Phillippi. But with the grants and tax credits, "It looked pretty good. We went ahead and did it. We're glad we did."

The second half of the article is available here.

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Joel Keller said...

How about pyrolizing woodwaste instead of burning it? Instead of producing emissions, the end product could be bio oil, ash, water and waste heat. The bio oil is easily transported to a central power plant where it can be used in an industrial turbine to produce electricity. This would eliminate the necessity of placing the facility only where the woody supply is adequate as well as being close to a power line.

C. Scott Miller said...

You are absolutely right.

The ideal solution would be to either pyrolize or gasify the hog fuel so that the emissions can be controlled and something made from the syngas. Otherwise the combustion of the wood waste would still contribute to greenhouse gases.