March 10, 2007

Will dead trees revive forest industries?

Whether or not global warming is responsible for creating the dry conditions that are conducive to the proliferation of bark and pine beetle infestations, there have been devastating blights in recent years affecting trees and wildlife throughout parts of Canada and the U.S.

Who in Southern California can forget the fearsom "Old Fire" that claimed 993 homes in an area surrounding Big Bear Lake in November 2003? Mornings broke with the fear that the fire would reach the bark beetle infested dead trees that surrounded the famous resort area. According to a website produced by the San Bernardino County Museum, if it had "the dry trees would burn faster and hotter than living trees within any given stand. Standing dead trees can burn to a crown fire. Whether or not the crown fire of a dead tree will be transferred to the surrounding living trees depends on the proximity of the live trees to the dead trees and the other conditions at the time of the fire."

As it was, the breadth of the fire devasted the habitats of flora and fauna of great variety - including many endangered species. The sun was blotted out with the release of carbon gases and particulate matter ending decades of relatively heathful air quality.

Removal of dead trees must become a priority if we are to reduce the kindling-like potential of the problem. Thinning dense forests and removing overgrown underbrush will serve to mitigate the threat of forest fires. The waste wood - unusable as lumber - would make a suitable source of biostock for clean biomass-to-liquids and biomass-to-electricity conversion facilities that could provide economic financing for the important work at hand.

That is where the declining forestry industries of pulp, paper and wood manufacturing have an opportunity. They are the experts at using wood waste as feedstock for renewable electricity facilities. New technologies would improve on the old combustion Tomlinson boiler models. They could build gasification and pyrolysis facilities to capture the greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter. Some of the resulting syngas could be converted into biofuels, ethanol, and green chemicals to replace fossil fuels.

Here is a recent story from the Vancouver Sun showing that British Columbia is engaged in a RFP process to identify clean, wood-to-electricity solutions to fund the bark beetle infestation problem.

Beetle-damaged pine forests eyed as electricity source
Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, March 09, 2007

The British Columbia government is looking to tap into the “enormous potential” of bioenergy through development of new wood-fired electricity generation projects in remote and hard-hit regions of the province.

Energy Minister Richard Neufeld and Forests Minister Rich Coleman announced today a “bioenergy call” assessing the potential of using wood fibre for power production.

The ministers envision development of northern B.C generating facilities fueled by beetle-killed pine and non-commercial and waste wood, helping the province achieve its stated goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2016.

Neufeld said there’s as much potential for power generation from wood fibre as a half-dozen major hydroelectric projects the size of the Site C dam proposed for the Peace River.

“Energy production is an innovative way to use mountain pine beetle-damaged timber,” Coleman said in a prepared statement. “It helps to recover the value of the dead wood and creates a viable energy opportunity.”

One company that is providing a means for the clean conversion of wood waste to biofuels is Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia. Using emissions control fast pyrolysis technologies, they can convert dead wood into commercial grade BioOil for fueling industrial equipment and char which could be used to fertilize topsoil. They recently announced the commissioning of its biofuel plant in Guelph, Ontario, Canada that will use dry biomass as a feedstock.

Other contenders would include some of the many cellulosic ethanol technologies that are mentioned in the round-up published in the BIOconversion Blog.

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