November 20, 2007

Forest Service and Sierra Club mark trees together

Maybe it's because of the wildfires, maybe the fear of global warming - whatever the reason, here is one example of a reconciliation taking place between two parties that are too often seen "at loggerheads" with each other.

The USDA/Forest Service at Black Butte Ranch in Oregon decided it was time to try a new tack in its attempt to create understanding between stakeholders in the environmental sustainability of forests. By inviting members of the local and environmental community (including the Sierra Club) the Forest Service succeeded in engaging stakeholders in the process of choosing which trees to save and which to harvest to enhance survival and the generation of new old growth forests.

Along similar lines, the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) has just released a document titled Factors that Influence Successful Collaborations Between the Forest Products Industry and Environmental Organizations. It details a dozen geographically diverse projects from the U.S. and Canada. It offers eleven factors that appear to be crucial for the broadbase acceptance of any forest management projects.

There simply isn't time to waste on litigation anymore. Here are some excerpts on a story we need to see more examples of if we expect any headway in preserving the past for the future. Thanks to The Smallwood Utilization Network Forum for citing this and other relevant stories.

Field trip helps forge trust among diverse interests
By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: November 16. 2007 5:00AM PST

The 20 or so people — from the U.S. Forest Service, timber industry, conservation groups and some who just live nearby — stood in the ponderosa pine forest next to Black Butte Ranch.

Armed with 11 different colors and patterns of marking tape, they set out with a goal — to flag which trees they would save, with the other ones left to be cut, if they were making the decisions.

One objective point of the Glaze restoration project is to thin trees and do other management treatments to generate new old-growth forests, possibly creating an example for other areas to follow in the process, said Maret Pajutee, district ecologist for the Sisters Ranger District.

But the goal for the day was to have people see how decisions are made about which trees to cut, learn from each other and share ideas, and perhaps build trust between the different groups and the Forest Service, she said.

And putting in time on the ground with different groups at the beginning of the process, she said, could help avoid time-consuming appeals and lawsuits at the end.

The Glaze restoration project was actually first pitched to the Sisters Ranger District by Cal Mukumoto, manager of Warm Springs Biomass, on the timber industry side, and Tim Lillebo, with the conservation group Oregon Wild. While the district originally had other priorities, once Mukumoto and Lillebo built some community support for the project and raised money, the agency got on board. Now, a draft environmental assessment of the project is expected early next year.

“That has never really happened to us before,” said Pajutee. “It’s really an exciting and unique thing that’s happened here.”

With some work that the Forest Service does, the agency has trust from the public, said Bill Anthony, Sisters District ranger. In other areas, however, like salvaging fire-killed trees, there’s a very low level of trust.

But the hope for projects like this, he said, is to move that trust and understanding along.

“What’s unique about this project is the partnership … with the restoration not only being the outcome, but working together, building trust, working through (issues) constructively instead of with litigation,” said Bill Anthony, Sisters District ranger.

The district wants to avoid situations like with the Metolius Basin forest management plan, where some groups collaborated with the agency, but an appeal was still filed against the project.

“By being open, upfront, by being out on the ground with the different interests, that’s how I think this is going to be a success,” Lillebo said. But there will still be concerns, he said, and times when people don’t agree about whether a tree should be cut.

“The goal was to have an example as a potential model,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have people say, ‘I can live with that.’”

But the overall goal, he said, is to generate old growth. Lillebo said he used to be totally against all cutting, a response to earlier Forest Service policies of cutting large areas of forests and growing them back just to cut them again as a sort of tree farm.

“People don’t trust what’s happened in the past, when the whole last 40, 50 years has mostly been cutting the big trees down,” he said.

But now, he said, the science is indicating that some forests are so different from their natural state that they need to be managed by people.

“Uh-oh, maybe we were wrong,” he said. “In a lot of cases, you can’t just leave it alone. Let’s protect the big trees, and come up with a system where you grow back this old growth.”

On Thursday, forestry consultant Darin Stringer explained the strategy that the Forest Service is considering to treat the Glaze project area, parts of which edge right up to houses at Black Butte Ranch.

The idea is to create a mosaic across the landscape, of clumps of trees that are of a specific age or size. While that may require taking out a lot of small trees in areas that already have old growth, it will also mean taking some of the medium-sized, commercial-value trees out of stands to let the remaining trees grow bigger.

To show people how this might be done on the ground, the project organizers hosted the tree-tagging experiment. The results won’t actually be used, but it was a way to let people see what goes into the process, Pajutee said.

“You have to look for a lot of things — health, lack of defects,” he said. “If you take this one down, it’ll give this one a better chance.”

Tim Clasen, who lives a few miles south of the area, had come to learn about the Glaze restoration project. He was using his yellow-and-black-striped tape to mark groups of trees, and looking for a good spot to put a clearing that would allow one tree to grow unhindered.

“I really like the idea that they’re trying to coordinate different groups,” he said.

John Morgan, resource manager with Ochoco Lumber Co., said he was tagging the trees with the healthiest, sharpest pointed crowns — the ones that have a better chance of growing big, which adds to the health of the forest but also provides good timber down the road.

If this project is done correctly, it could be a model for future projects, said Miller, who added that she has high hopes that it will be done correctly. She said she had lots of reservations when Lillebo first told her of it, and still has some concerns about things like riparian areas and cutting too much in certain areas.

But if it works, the Glaze restoration project would be something that she could hold up as an example of acceptable ways to do forest management, she said.

“I think it’s kind of exciting,” Miller said, “because you wouldn’t see this five years ago, the Sierra Club and the Forest Service in the forest marking trees.”

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 617-7811 or

technorati , ,

November 17, 2007

Hurricane Katrina's greenhouse gas legacy

Hurricane Katrina's legacy is not just the flooding of New Orleans and the destruction of coastal Mississippi. It is also responsible for damaging five million acres of forests - an area the size of the state of Massachusetts. For comparison, the destructive power the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens wiped out 150,000 acres of forests (less than 4% of the forest destruction reach of Katrina).

In a front page article of the Los Angeles Times, Thomas Maugh II and Karen Kaplan reported on new research results by Tulane's Dr. Jeffrey Q. Chambers that has appeared in Science magazine. By using spectral analysis comparisons of before (2003) and after (2006) imagery of the region made by NASA's Landsat V satellite (click to enlarge image above), Chambers and his research team has made a number of alarming findings about the carbon footprint of this very destructive hurricane.

What is the greenhouse gas consequence of all that wasted biomass rotting and decaying?

Left in place without removal, the carbon of the trees will continue to decay for decades. Roughly 50% of the content of trees is carbon. The emissions from decay will contain methane and carbon dioxide. According to Dr. Chambers' analysis, 367 million tons of carbon dioxide will be emitted - which is about the same amount as is absorbed by all U.S. forests in a year. It is also a total that exceeds the combined emissions of national forest fires for an entire year.

What is the time frame for removal?

As it decays, the woody biomass becomes harder to access and harder to remove. Even with modern equipment, it is easier to assess, plan, and harvest standing trees than those lying on the ground at some progression of decay. Besides the remaining obstruction of hurricane-damaged logging roads in the area, foliage regrowth has already begun which makes logging access more difficult.

Should the drought conditions of the South persist, the dead biomass represents a significant fire threat which would add significant amounts of new greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions to the atmosphere and further complicate restoration.

What will the new forests look like if left to natural regeneration?

According to the Times article, "Chambers and his colleagues said the deforested land, once covered with native species such as longleaf pine, oak and cypress, is being taken over by invasive species that are change the ecology of the area. One of the most prolific, the Chinese tallow, oozes a milky, toxic sap that creates an inhospitable environment for insects, birds and small animals."

How can we pay for forest restoration?

According to Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen of The Forest Foundation, the a privately financed restoration of the forests is straightforward. "Sell the logs to sawmills to be turned into wood products, and use the revenue generated to pay for removing the slash left behind and replanting the forest. Replant native trees in a patchy mosaic so the forest develops naturally. This includes leaving enough snags and logs for wildlife habitat, and returning a few years after planting to remove competing brush so trees grow quickly and are protected against future wildfires."

Who would administer the forest restoration program?

There is a federal committee called the Woody Biomass Utilization Group that includes forestry, energy, and wildlife experts from several departments of government - the Departments of Energy, Agriculture/Forest Service, and Interior. They also have a subgroup studying Disaster Debris that works with FEMA and Homeland Security in an effort to establish and coordinate federal remedial response to environmental disasters like Katrina, floods, tornadoes, and megafires throughout the country.

When asked what the biggest hurdle was to the implementation of harvesting and reforestation programs, Ron Vineyard of the Forest Service responded "infrastructure." By that he meant that there needs to be more sawmills, power plants, forest products companies, and biorefineries who can take possession of the woody biomass harvested from the disaster zones. The carbon would be sequestered in forest products like lumber, paper, and biochar while carbon-neutral bioproducts like ethanol, alcohols, chemicals, and bioplastics could be cleanly produced to reduce the use of carbon-positive petroleum byproducts.

Unfortunately, many of companies of the pre-existing infrastructure have been damaged from the hurricane, too, and the timberland owners of the region are likely to sell their lands to developers rather than pay to reforest their lost inventories. That will not make environmentalist groups happy who recognize the need to keep our forests large and healthy as carbon sinks to mitigate global warming.

Government action is needed now

There is no possible way that the federal agencies - who are already coping with fire-fighting, humanitarian rescue efforts, and capital restitution from each year's mounting ecological catastrophes - can pay for the scope of immediate remedial action needed. Political leadership and coordination with utilities and private industry is required - and the nation will be stronger for it.

Now is the time for federal, state, and local governments to pass policies that reduce regulatory hurdles and create incentives to utilities and private industry to establish new infrastructure. Passage of bioenergy friendly amendments to the stagnating Energy and Farm Bills would be a very timely response demonstrating Congress' recognition of the long-term consequences of the problem while supporting green business and career opportunities for their constituencies.

Emerging technology companies can convert the woody biomass much more cleanly than their predecessors. This will create the economic means to address the gargantuan and urgent task of harvesting and replanting Katrina's catastrophic biomass legacy.

technorati , , ,

October 19, 2007

Watch 60 Minutes - Warming Climate Fuels Mega-fires

I recommend that my readers watch a story on CBS 60 Minutes this Sunday, October 21st. You can read it first at Expert: Warming Climate Fuels Mega-Fires - including my online comment. Like so many investigative stories on television, they create a significant amount of viewer outrage without offering solutions.

I am glad they are pointing out that "Seven of the 10 busiest fire seasons have been since 1999." What they don't point out is that 50% of the Forest Service budget has been allocated to fighting forest fires and obstructive litigation rather than deploying proven prevention measures.

Forests are now 4-10 times denser than their historic norm (when they were open enough for a horse to gallop through). Now dense underbrush and small diameter trees hamper walking and fire-fighting. That, coupled with warmer, dryer conditions, is what is causing these fires.

I witnessed a persuasive presentation at a workshop sponsored by UC/Berkeley and the USDA/Forest Service last month that thinning forests works. Through a series of photographs Ron Vineyard of the Eagle Lake Ranger District of the Lassen National Forest showed how the 2002 Cone Fire in Northern California extinguished itself within about 20 yards of its entry into the mechanically thinned zone. Their studies place the cost of suppressing a fire in an unthinned forest at $1,726/acre. The cost of mechanically thinning a forest with an underburn is approximately $204 per acre. An ounce of prevention is, indeed, worth a pound of cure.

With the benefits of thinning so obvious I asked him what the biggest hurdle was for the Forest Service. He said "Infrastructure." He explained that there wasn't sufficient private industry demand for the fuelwood to make publicly financed thinning operations economically sustainable.

Currently the forest products industry is not robust enough to fill the breach. But there is significant promise that new tech biorefineries will be able to cleanly convert woody biomass (fuelwood and underbrush) into cellulosic ethanol.

For now, I would like to see environmental groups restrain themselves from attacking Forest Service fire prevention programs they plan to deploy. If they care about global warming they should recognize that mega-fires now spew more greenhouse gas emissions per year than all the auto emissions of the U.S. combined.

I will be attending the Society of American Foresters National Convention in Portland, Oregon October 23-24 and presenting my speech Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires or Feedstock for Bioenergy? October 25th at the Residual Wood Conference in Vancouver, BC.

technorati , , ,

October 5, 2007

Ending Obstructive Environmental Lawsuits

An oft heard frustration of the USDA Forestry Service is the frequency of challenges mounted in opposition to their planned forest management programs. In June of last year, the Society of American Foresters published a comprehensive study of the legal challenges filed in federal court from 1989-2002 - all 729 of them!

Dr. Robert Malmsheimer, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Forest Policy and Law at State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) expressed the good news/bad news verdict of the study:

“The Forest Service enjoys an excellent success rate – winning 57% of all cases and 73% of the cases decided by a judge or panel of judges – especially when one considers that the Forest Service is the defendant in all of these cases and the plaintiffs get to choose the basis and venues for their lawsuits.

“It’s interesting to note however, that the Forest Service settles more than one in every six cases – almost as many land management cases as it loses. Clearly both the Forest Service and litigants view settlements as an important dispute-resolution tool.”

The study’s authors also note that plaintiffs win less than one of every four cases. This suggests that plaintiffs may receive indirect benefits from litigation, such as publicity, delay of action, and the chance of establishing new legal precedents. These benefits may be as important to some litigants as the direct benefits of winning lawsuits.

Delays are costly to the environment. Forest Service programs are designed to either prevent a health problem for a forest or remediate an unhealthful condition that could result in fires, decay, or infestations. It has been determined that a decaying forest emits 300% more greenhouse gases than a fire ravaging the same tree. The Forest Foundation reports that "Nearly four years after fires burned more than 133,000 acres of national forest land in California, less than one percent of those acres have been replanted.” As Forest Service resources are squandered fighting litigation and forest fires, is it any wonder that more remedial programs are shelved until more resources are available?

On the bright side, Michael Moore of The Missoulian reports that environmentalists and government leaders have found a way to reach consensus on forest programs without resorting to legal redress. See excerpts below:

Forest Parties Reach Consensus on Restoration Principles
by MICHAEL MOORE of the Missoulian, September 28, 2007

For months, a diverse group of conservationists, timber industry officials, forest users and government leaders met in an effort designed to stem the tide of lawsuits filed against forest restoration projects.

Finally, on Thursday, the group announced a set of 13 principles that might guide future restoration work on the Bitterroot and Lolo national forests.

And because those principles are the result of a time-consuming consensus process, the hope is that restoration projects will move ahead more quickly, be less likely to spawn litigation and, most important, be good for the ecosystems they're designed to restore.

The effort started in the frustrating wake of a post-fire restoration project in the southern Bitterroot Valley. The project became embroiled in litigation, and prompted many on both sides of the debate to wonder if there wasn't a better way to approach such projects.

Not long after that, a group of about 35 gathered at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest for a meeting that eventually evolved into the Montana Forest Restoration Working Group.

The group drew representatives from industry and the conservation community, but also from forest user groups like snowmobilers, horsemen and outfitters.

Over the next months, they worked to find what they characterized as a zone of agreement, a place where everyone could accept what a successful restoration project ought to look like.

The zone eventually grew into a preamble and set of principles. That preamble notes the importance of scientifically sound, ecologically appropriate restoration work, but it also factors in the importance such work can have on surrounding rural communities.

The principles include:

- Restore functioning ecosystems by enhancing ecological processes.
- Re-establish fire as a natural process on the landscape.
- Consider social constraints and seek public support for reintroducing fire.
- Engage community members and interested parties in the restoration process.
- Improve terrestrial and aquatic habitat and connectivity.
- Establish and maintain a safe road and trail system that is ecologically sustainable.
- Integrate restoration with socioeconomic well-being.

Now that the principles are in place, the committee will begin work on two pilot projects on the Lolo National Forest and one on the Bitterroot. Those projects are still under consideration and were not announced on Thursday.

On a project-to-project basis, committee membership will vary depending on where the project is, with an eye toward bringing stakeholders and those with the most knowledge of the area to the table, Ekey said.

Pyramid's Gordy Sanders said the end result should be a restoration process that works for both the land and communities.

The Full Restoration Guidelnes Can be viewed and Down loaded at


Finally, in a recent article in the NY Times titled As Logging Fades, Rich Carve Up Open Land in West environmentalist see another ominous threat that is a consequence of the demise of the forest products industry - the rise of timberland sales to real estate developers.
In ways that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, environmentalists and representatives of the timber industry are reaching across the table, drafting plans that would get loggers back into the national forests in exchange for agreements that would set aside certain areas for protection.

Both groups are feeling under siege: timber executives because of the decline in logging, and environmentalists because of the explosion of growth on the margins of the public lands.

technorati , ,

Senators: "Wildfires are a climate change issue, too."

It is interesting to see the lengths that state and federal governments will go trying to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases: higher CAFE standards mandating increased mpg for automobiles, renewable portfolio standards that provide incentives for using renewable energy in place of fossil fuels, regulations on air conditioning systems and semi cab designs, etc. But efforts to reduce a profound source of greenhouse gases, seems to fall on deaf ears, presumeably because thinning forests of fire-producing underbrush, small diameter trees, and dead, infected trees is seen as politically incorrect - pitting "environmental" groups and their litigators against the Forest Service assigned with the responsibility of managing public lands.

Two Republican Senators representing western states that have suffered from significant fires and who sit on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee have testified their concern. Says embattled Senator Larry Craig:

Actively managing forests can lead to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in the numbers of acres lost to wildfires each year. Preventing the forests from burning also ensures that we maintain the forests for the consumption of carbon dioxide from other sources.

Senator Pete Domenici made similar points during testimony last July.

In California - site this year of the worst fire season in the state's history - Senator Feinstein recognizes the magnitude of the growing problem and has fought to secure more funding from the USDA Forest Service to address California's needs. However, that is like putting a bandaid on a problem rather than developing an economically sustainable remedy to address the cause of the fires - failure to thin the dense overgrowth of woody biomass. A true partnership is needed between the government and private industry to build and supply forest product industries that can provide funding for biomass removal and proper forest management.

Craig: Wild Fires Impacting Our Climate
Hearing misplaces cause and effect

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Idaho Senator Larry Craig called attention today to the impact wildland fires are having on the global environment in a hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The hearing examined the "Impacts of Global Climate Change on Wildfire Activity in the U.S."

As a member of the committee, Craig took the opportunity to point out the apparent chicken-egg scenario at play - do wildfires cause climate change, or does climate change cause wildfires?

"Fires in Idaho will emit more than 12 million metric tons of CO2 this year, compared to only 700,000 metric tons from our electricity generation, or 8.6 million metric tons from all of our automobile use," Craig said. "Wild fires in this country this year released the same amount of greenhouse gases as 12 million automobiles. Preventing fires through active management is certainly more feasible and cost effective than asking 12 million people not to drive."

On average, one acre of burning forest releases six tons of CO2. To date, roughly 8.4 million acres have burned in the U.S., meaning that over 50 million tons of CO2 has been released into the atmosphere. That's the equivalent of 12 million vehicles on the road for one year.

Senator Craig, also a member of the appropriations committee, called for a commitment to spending more on preventative forest management policies, noting that "the U.S. spends only $600 million to manage forests and $2 billion to fight fires. If we spent more of our resources on managing and thinning we'd likely not spend so much fighting fires. We'd also be reducing the amount of greenhouse gases from fires, and increasing the amount of CO2 sequestered by healthy trees."

Craig pushed for the active management of our nation's forests to significantly reduce the numbers of acres burned each year, which in turn would prevent significant emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Craig said, "Forest fires of the magnitude of this year's fires in Idaho and in other Western States emit massive quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Actively managing forests can lead to a 50 to 60 percent reduction in the numbers of acres lost to wildfires each year. Preventing the forests from burning also ensures that we maintain the forests for the consumption of carbon dioxide from other sources."

technorati , , ,

September 29, 2007

Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires

This article contains the text and some images from the first half of a speech I presented at the Energy from Biomass and Waste conference in Pittsburgh, PA on September 27. It leads into the second half of the presentation titled Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy which describes the existing and emerging technologies that can utilize woody biomass for the production of bioenergy - heat, steam, electricity, and biofuels. Many of the statistics and photos come from an excellent Forest Foundation publication titled Protecting Communities and Saving Forests.

Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires

I believe that the conversion of biomass to energy represents not only a sustainable, clean alternative to fossil fuel energy but that implementing these emerging technologies can help us solve environmental and ecological challenges of the new millennium.

This presentation will focus on just one environmental challenge - wildfires in the continental U.S. - and how a robust woody biomass conversion industry can provide tools to lessen the threat to our forests.

There are over 10 million private forest owners in the U.S. Although you could say that the country experienced “deforestation” during its early development, the acreage of forests have not diminished at all during the last 100 years. Forests have provided fuel and created great industries for furniture, construction, and paper - industries that sequester carbon.

Unfortunately, these industries that are now stagnating and, in some cases, staggering under the multiple pressures of cheap imports, crusades against forest use, and timberland sell-offs due to skyrocketing real estate prices.

Added to these pressures is the appropriation of more lands to public ownership shifting responsibility to management by the USDA Forest Service.

Some groups seek to preserve forests, biodiversity, and wildlife habitats by severely limiting access by the forest product industries and, through litigation, micromanaging the public forest services charged with insuring forest health.
I contend that it is simply not economically feasible or sustainable for public agencies to take proper care of forests under these conditions.

Forest health has suffered greatly from wildfires and bug infestations.

Wildfires and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
We all know that healthy forests are capable of sequestering vast amounts of greenhouse gases which is a leading cause of global warming.

But we are just starting to recognize that forests can emit vast amounts of GHG through burning and decaying. Here are some numbers pulled together by the California Air Resources Board comparing the average emissions of major geographic sectors. Notice that wildfire emissions dwarf the volume from the other sources combined!

Satellite photographs taken during the last four years of wildfire’s devastating impacts on public lands provide clear evidence of the extent of this travesty.

In Congressional testimony Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico testified that when the Hayman Fire burned in Colorado in 2002, NASA scientists estimated that the fire was emitting more carbon dioxide in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week. It lasted 14 days.

Since 2002 mega-fires have gotten worse.

In 2003 the San Diego Cedar Fire (click to enlarge) was the largest in California history lasting 8 days and consuming an area half the size of Rhode Island. Here is a satellite photo of the emissions - so dense that air traffic control towers in L.A. and San Diego were closed for a period of time.

Simultaneously, a fire was burning in the San Bernardino Mountains, just east of L.A. It lasted two weeks and destroyed more than 1,000 other homes. Fortunately it stopped before reaching resort towns near Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, shown in the upper right corner. If it had it would have decimated evergreen trees that were already sick, dead, or dying from bark beetle infestations - which, incidentally, is what happened in Big Bear two weeks ago. The lakeside community of Fawnskin had to be evacuated by the 15,000 acre fire. The smoke plume from this fire reached far north into Nevada.

Here is what a burned forest looks like (click to enlarge) - charred remains stripped of its leaves and pine needles and in active decay. According to the Forest Foundation the impact of wildfires does not end with the smoke. During decay trees emit about 300% more greenhouse gases than what was emitted during the fire.

Most of the charred remains need to be removed and the lands replanted. Unfortunately, “Nearly four years after fires burned more than 133,000 acres of national forest land in California, less than one percent of those acres have been replanted.”

Just Monday, Senator Craig of Idaho gave testimony in Congress stating that over $2 Billion has been spent this year fighting forest fires while less than $600 million has been spent on preventing them.

Indeed, 2007 has seen a startling upsurge in mega-fires. The Angora Fire, a 3,100 acre blaze in South Lake Tahoe, was responsible for emitting the equivalent of 143,000 cars for an entire year. A blaze 15 times that size devastated Montana.

On July 4th a fire broke out in the Santa Barbara mountains. A week later in Yosemite a satellite photo series was posted throughout the park warning hikers of the health impacts caused by the fire 180 miles away. Driving south through Bakersfield the sun was blotted out by the smoke. The fire lasted another two weeks.

The point is that MORE greenhouse gases are emitted each year from wildfires than we are likely to save in a decade of reduced vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. We can do much better.

Wildfire Impact on Wildlife
They say the road to hell - in this case wildfires - is paved with good intentions. Activists mount crusades and file litigation to protect endangered species which frustrate attempts to fix forest health problems that lead to wildfires.

It is impossible to estimate the impact of wildfires on wildlife but even if the species escape, it leads to overcrowding in surrounding ecologies. But not even mobile animals are immune from the quick moving fires. Like the victims of Pompei most animals die from asphyxiation. Fires can boil streams which kill the fish. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department reports that Georgia’s largest fire ever that started in the Okefenokee Swamp this year was also the most expensive ever for the agency.

The problem of forest density
According to Texas A&M professor Dr. Tom Bonnicksen, a founder of the Forest Foundation, the problem is one of forest density. Our forests have 4 to 10 times as many trees per acre as they used to have. People used to be able to gallop through forests - now it is hard to walk through them or fight fires within them.

Excess forest biomass in the form of small diameter trees, and underbrush create a kindling “ladder of fuel” that helps surface fires spiral up to the crowns of trees. Once there, a fire storm can evolve whipped by winds to spread rapidly in all directions.

Public agencies waste precious funds to fight the wildfires - the symptoms of unhealthy forests - rather than invest it in efforts to restore and manage forest health through thinning. When asked what the biggest hurdle is to deploying thinning programs that are important to restoring forest health, field Forest Service planners say "infrastructure." Without forest product industries to convert the woody biomass to carbon sequestering products and bioenergy, there is no where to store the collected woody biomass and no economically sustainable way to help pay for the program.

To restore forests to a healthy condition, Dr. Bonnicksen recommends a three step, economically sustainable solution that involves private industry who would restore and maintain forest stewardship as part of their operating overhead.
1. First they would harvest decaying biomass
2. Then reforest to a historic model specific to the forest, and
3. Third mechanically thin vulnerable forests of woody biomass as part of their stewardship.

The USDA Forest Service could provide oversight of the program.

The followup presentation is titled Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy

technorati , ,

August 27, 2007

California wildlife threatened by mega fires

The Forest Foundation has made a field guide available to help forest enthusiasts appreciate and identify the variety of wildlife that populate various geographical portions of California's 15 million acres of private forestlands. The guide categorizes the wildlife by forest type - generally the age and type of vegetation - with geographic state maps that display where these species are located.

There is also an identification guide that depicts the prevalent types of trees that grow on California forestlands. Not only are the shape profiles provided, but also the leaf and needle designs.

In the first ten pages of the guide are several essays by an esteemed slate of forestry experts. Many point out the severe risks to wildlife and wildlife diversity that are posed by the poor health of our forests. The main causes? Excessive forest tree density (four to ten times historic norms) leading to wildfires and bug infestations. Here are some excerpts:

A Guide to California's Wildlife on Private Forestlands

Enhancing Biodiversity by John Stuart Ph.D

On California’s private forestland, foresters strive to create a mosaic of forest types to support diverse wildlife – just like patches of old and young, dense and open forests that historically covered the West were shaped by seasonal lightning fires and fires set by Native Americans. Harvesting and replanting are carefully planned because everybody needs a home.

California's Historic Forests and Wildlife by Thomas Bonnicksen, Ph.D
Overcrowded forests can fuel catastrophic wildfires and have detrimental effects on wildlife. The plants and animals that need sunny openings get crowded out and are disappearing. Streams are drying up as thickets of trees use all the water. Insect infestation and tree mortality are reaching epic proportions. Catastrophic fire can alter wildlife habitat for centuries.

Habitat in Decline by George Gruell
Wildlife habitat in unmanaged forest ecosystems is collapsing across the West. Overly dense forests block sunlight and intercept precipitation that once reached the forest floor. That begins the collapse. Herbaceous plants and flowering shrubs, denied moisture, sunlight and nutrients, die out and get replaced by litter and coniferous debris. When you lose the grasses and shrubs, you lose critical habitat and wildlife populations suffer. The cumulative effect of hands-off forest management has been less biodiversity and more catastrophic fire. We must actively manage the landscape if we are to sustain the biodiversity we claim to cherish.

Forestry Education Must Prevail by Douglas Pitrio
Some people equate caring for forests with leaving them alone. Doing so ignores the dangerous fuel accumulations that now plague our forests and fails to consider that today’s overgrown forest conditions negatively affect biodiversity. It also dooms California to a cycle of severe fires, deadly mudslides, and devastated communities.

There is no doubt that many of California’s public forests are overcrowded, nor that overcrowding can lead to horrific forest health and fire hazards. Conditions similar to those in Southern California’s forests before they succumbed to beetles and flames in 2003 are increasingly appearing throughout the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe Basin.

Leaving forests alone doesn’t work. Southern California’s firestorm makes clear what professional foresters have known for years: forests need management to be safe and productive.

technorati , ,

August 24, 2007

California's Zaca Fire and Global Warming

Click to enlarge

Here's a question I haven't seen in the press...

What is the impact of public forest wildfires on global warming?

I have seen plenty of inferences that global warming is contributing to the cause of wildfire spread and ferocity but virtually nothing on how the burst of fire temperatures, soot, ash, carbon monoxide, and other toxic emissions impact global warming. No journalists make the connection between the rash of horrific megafires of the last two decades and the precipitous rise in carbon emissions during that same time.

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici recently testified...

When the Hayman Fire burned in Colorado in 2002, NASA scientists estimated that the fire was emitting more carbon dioxide in one day than all the vehicles in the United States emitted in a week.

That fire lasted over a month. The Spring 2007 megafire in Georgia and Northern Florida (the biggest in Georgia history) lasted even longer. The size, length, and ferocity of these fires is not normal - at least not prior to 1980.

Most animal deaths during and after a wildfire are caused by asphyxiation, not the flames themselves. In a sense, the "canary warning" to humans has been given. Now we must act to save not only forest wildlife, but all animals including humans who are in the path of wildfire plumes.

As the huge Zaca fire 9 miles north of bucolic Santa Barbara, California nears completion of its second month of devastation, it is time to ask some environmental questions:

Are we reaping the result of failure to adequately harvest excess forest fuel, reforest past forest acreage, and manage public forests as efficiently as private forests are managed?

Are public perceptions, litigation, and policies designed to protect wildlife diversity having the opposite effect? Stated another way, do efforts to preserve forests actually spell their doom and destroy the habitats of their occupants?

Can the federal and state governments ever be expected to allocate sufficient taxpayer funds to adequately manage the vast public forests under their stewardship?

Here are the latest facts on the Zaca Fire.

Basic Information
Incident Type: Wildland Fire
Cause: Human Caused
Date of Origin: 07/04/2007 at 1053 hrs.
Location: 9 miles north of Santa Barbara

Current Situation
Total Personnel: 2,545
Size: 235,601 acres (1/3 the size of Rhode Island)
Percent Contained: 83%
Estimated Containment Date: 09/07/2007 at hrs.
Fuels Involved: Heavy brush containing a high dead component. Some conifer at higher elevations. Live fuel moistures are at 49% which is well below critical levels. A continuous fuel bed lies ahead of the fire.

Growth Potential: Extreme.
Terrain Difficulty: Extreme.

I toured California in a motor home between Santa Barbara and Yosemite August 9th through 17. Here are some photos I took in Yosemite August 15th (click to enlarge)...

As I was travelling south August 17th on the 99 FWY near Bakersfield, we caught sight of the smoky plume of the Zaca fire which blotted out the sun at 5pm - actual darkness - (click to enlarge)...

This California roadtrip experience left an indelible impression - not the one I was expecting.

technorati ,

August 20, 2007

Restoration Forestry and 5 Myths about Wildfires

While conducting some research on the catastrophic "megafires" that have been plaguing the U.S. in recent years and their relationship with forest tree density, I ran across a terrific website that offers free downloadable and printable educational materials appropriate for all ages. It is operated by "The Forest Foundation which was created in 1994 to inform the public, specifically Californians, about the relationship between the environment and human needs."

The Forest Foundation is elevating key points in the forest management debate and building valuable relationships with government officials, educators, and community leaders. We bring forest science to today's students and tomorrow's leaders, and develop on-the-ground solutions to improve forest health throughout the state.

Education must be the agent of change that saves California's forests. More than 90 percent of Californians now live in urban settings, meaning most kids growing up here have little or no experience in the state's forests, rangelands, or farms. The next generation will be essentially disconnected from the natural resources they take for granted every day.

One of the concepts that their site successfully gets across is the counterproductive results of modern fire-suppression and restricted timber harvesting. Our forests are much denser than they were natively. Around Lake Tahoe - which has recently suffered a wildfire that destroyed over 250 homes - the forests are four times denser than they were 150 years ago. Beetle infestations from forest density further endangers tree health, wildlife diversity, and provides even more fuel for wildfires.

Timber harvesting on California's public lands is down about 90% since 1990. Yet demand for timber is up and will continue to rise with population increases. I believe it is hypocritical for Californians to enact "tree-hugger" policies that necessitate outsourcing wood harvesting and processing outside the state - particularly since it is counter-productive to the proper stewardship of our public forests. Our forests have become time-bombs in our midst that will cloud our skies with decades worth of particulate matter and greenhouse gases as they burn, rot, and decay.

Here are two sections from a well-researched, downloadable brochure that details techniques for solving the wildfire crisis through restoration forestry.

Protecting Communities and Saving Forests
by Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Ph.D

What To Do with the Excess Fuel

There is no doubt that California’s forests are plagued with excess fuels. What remains to be seen is how those fuels are dealt with. We could simply leave it there and watch it burn, we could remove some of it in prescribed burns or we can harvest it and put it to good use.

Clean energy
California’s ongoing energy crunch, goals of deriving more energy from renewable sources, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020 highlight another possible use for excess forest growth: biomass energy.

Biomass energy is produced by burning organic material and converting the heat to electricity or even converting the biomass to fuel for cars. Because trees can be replanted, forest biomass represents a largely untapped source of renewable energy.

Utilizing biomass energy has several advantages, especially when seen in the context of global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the wildfire threat. Burning fossil fuels to generate energy releases tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Burning biomass to produce energy does not. In fact, biomass energy has a “net zero” carbon impact on the atmosphere.

The more energy we derive from renewable sources like biomass, the less need we have to burn fossil fuels that spew greenhouse gases into the air. Furthermore, the more excess fuels we burn to generate electricity, the less we have to watch burn in catastrophic wildfires.

5 Myths about Forests and Wildfires

It is important to distinguish between fact and fiction regarding certain myths that may advance agendas but block ecologically sound forest management. Those myths include:

Myth #1: We have to live with catastrophic wildfire. No, we don’t. Managing our forests to reduce fuel loads can make them safe again. Catastrophic wildfire was not a frequent occurrence in California’s historic forests; it need not be frequent today.

Myth #2: Fire is natural and good. There is a world of difference between the low-intensity fires that shaped California’s landscape for thousands of years and the mega-fires that now devastate thousands of acres at a time. Low-level fires cleared the forest floor of debris and regenerated forests. But we have suppressed natural fire for more than 100 years. Wildfires can now feast on unnatural fuel loads, decimate wildlife, sterilize soils and erase forests from the landscape for centuries.

Myth #3: Today’s forests are natural forests. Research and photographic evidence show that California’s modern forests are vastly different from historic forests. Today’s forests are far thicker than their historic predecessors, densely packed with up to 10 times as many trees. Forests have become dangerously overgrown, much to the detriment of wildlife and biodiversity.

Myth #4: Escalating firefighting costs are inevitable. It’s true that average firefighting costs have increased by more than $100 million per year since the early 1990s, but the trend does not have to continue. Spending a fraction of what we spend on fighting fires to manage forests so there are fewer dangerous fires in the first place could save taxpayers millions.

Myth #5: Commercial logging denudes hillsides and kills wildlife. Private forestland owners have proven that modern forest management can provide habitat for diverse wildlife and sustain forests for generations. The most productive forestland in California is privately owned, and research confirms that wildlife and fisheries from salmon and owls to deer and songbirds flourish on managed lands.

technorati , , ,

August 19, 2007

An educational "Hidden Treasure" on forest stewardship

The National Association of Conservation Districts has announced the renewed availability of printed copies of the educational comic book "The Hidden Treasure: Forests and Woody Biomass."

It highlights the core principles behind current USDA Forest Service and USDI efforts to educate citizens of all ages of the correct relationship between forest density, wildfires, tree health, and emerging woody biomass to energy. It presents "messages that are closely tied to the goals and objectives of the Forest Service's National Fire Plan."

Here is a personal note from Fred Deneke, forestry expert for the 25x'25 Steering Committee:

Please let your field and USDA counterparts know that the NACD woody biomass comic "The Hidden Treasure" is now available for viewing and ordering on the NACD website:

We printed 300,000 copies thanks to the support of Dennis Eagen and Charlie O'Brien of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and further donations from some of their forestry related member companies.

One of the first orders that came in today was from the Riverside RCD in California for 4,000 copies. At that rate the 300,000 won't last long so best get your orders in early!

Here is how the NACD describes their useful educational resource...

Hidden Treasure Comic Book

Money may not grow on trees, but heat, electricity, liquid fuel, and even plastics do. Children can learn how through The Hidden Treasure, an educational comic book from NACD. This teaching tool shows young people and families how woody biomass from our nation's woodlands can provide a wealth of products and energy resources.

The Hidden Treasure helps children understand the real worth of our valuable forest resources, so their treasure can be fully revealed. The Hidden Treasure provides an engaging and educational story for children in late elementary to middle school to help them understand that forest renewal improves the health of forests and provides biomass for many productive uses and how wood biomass will play an important role in our nation's future, including energy security through the production of biofuels, biochemicals, and other sources of energy.

If you would like to preview or print a copy of The Hidden Treasure, click on one of the links below.

High resolution: The Hidden Treasure(6.08 MB)
Low resolution: The Hidden Treasure (1.46 MB)

technorati , , , ,

July 24, 2007

Florida's Farm to Fuel Summit: A Californian's View

Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson hosted the 2nd Annual Florida Farm to Fuel Summit in St. Petersburg last week. A year in the making, it brought farmers, land owners, technologists, educators, and politicians together to talk about the status of biofuels developments taking root in the biggest biomass state in the U.S.

Looking over the roster of registrants, there were not too many Californians attending this sold out event despite its scope - exploring the many producers, programs, and technologies that are feeding the biofuels movement in Florida. That is a shame because there are many parallels between the two states - a fact highlighted two weeks ago when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida Governor Charlie Crist jointly "raised the flag" for the fight against global warming at the Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change.

During the global climate change event, Crist signed a series of executive orders that in large measure mimic orders signed by the California governor on the opposite coast. The orders include efforts to mitigate state government emission of greenhouse gas, to substitute clean technologies for the production of electricity, and to significantly reduce vehicle tailpipe emissions.

"We will follow the great governor of California's example," Crist said. "He has set the lead."

A synergy can be expected from this cross-country axis that will help to accelerate national state government expansion of renewable energy legislation. It is expected to have profound impact on the rate of advanced research, implementation, and infrastructure development not only on the coasts, but everywhere in between.

So what did attendees of the Farm to Fuel Summit see?

Florida's level of commitment
I have been tracking Farm-to-Fuel since I read about Commissioner Bronson's organization in April, 2006 - prior to the first Farm to Fuel Summit. He has been a staunch proponent of the 25x'25 Initiative. Therefore it was no surprise that 25x'25 co-chairman Read Smith was one of the featured speakers at the opening of the summit (shown below driving the EPIC Formula One simulator).

The keynote address was delivered by Florida Governor Charles Crist who reaffirmed his administration's commitment to the Farm to Fuel program. He announced that he will be leaving on a trade mission to Brazil in November to understand more about their transition to biofuels and to seek collateral development of biorefineies and infrastructure. He then announced that a subsidiary of the largest power utility in the state, Florida Power & Light Energy, will be co-developing a citrus-to-ethanol plant in Florida.

Florida's Chief Financial Officer, the engaging Alex Sink (with me in the photo at right), reaffirmed the state government's commitment to insure that economic development funds are available to foster biofuel development. She was genuinely impressed by the size of the turnout and she invited attendees to see how her group is participating in a Florida Climate Change series of workshops.

Agriculture is the state's second largest industry. She asserted that "Farmers are the best stewards of our land because if we aren't good at it, our very livelihoods are at risk." She predicted that when the history of Florida is finally written, the impact of renewable fuel conversion will be as big as the introduction of citrus crops was.

Renewable Fuels Status Reports
A panel of speakers including Matt Hartwig, Communications Director of the Renewable Fuels Association, talked about ethanol and biodiesel feedstock-to-fuel programs. Matt cited the primary drivers for biofuel growth according to his organizations research - the environmentally-friendly profile, the sustained high price of gas and oil prices, and the expanding market for biofuels, including an anticipated jump in California blending percentage from 5.67% to 10%. RFA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is actively lobbying Capital Hill for the Farm Bill and legislation favorable to farm to fuel development.

Robert White of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) talked about the hurdles to implementation of infrastructure (especially E85 pumps) in Florida and around the nation. He announced a campaign designed by EPIC specifically for this state called the Florida Needs Ethanol Campaign. The purpose is to give consumers the opportunity to learn more about ethanol and to register their desire for ethanol pumps with the fuel stations in their neighborhood.

David Shiflett of World Energy, a leading international biodiesel supplier, talked about the biodiesel industry in Florida. He had an interesting graph on logistics that equated the number of movements necessary to ship 10 million gallons of biofuel. It would require 2400 truck shipments, 500 rail cars, 25 barges, or 1 pipeline. Anticipating the demand on existing infrastructure means planning for huge increases in the future.

He also talked about the variability of biodiesel fuel based on the feedstock used to produce it. A student in the audience, seventh grader, Erin McCaskey (see separate article Student teaches biofuel professionals), could concur with this statement having produced five varieties in her award-winning science project to determine the calorimetric energy content of each. It is anticipated that the lack of consistent oil composition and emission standards will be an impediment to the widespread acceptance of biodiesel in many states.

In addition to recognizing Erin McCaskey, a person Commissioner Bronson referred to as "the oldest youngster to come to this meeting", Katzen International Inc. founder Dr. Ray Katzen (92), was honored for working on cellulosic ethanol technology starting in 1955 (see an excellent article by Ron Kotrba from BBI (who was also attending the Summit) titled The Project of a Lifetime). Ray established his "Project 20" - a campaign to produce 20 billion gallons of ethanol per year by the year 2020 - in 1990.

A special preview was given to Fields of Fuel - a film by Josh Tickell, author of Biodiesel America.

Advancing the Science of Bioenergy
Dr. Lonnie Ingram from the University of Florida was on hand to make a presentation about his patented process for producing ethanol using enzymatic hydrolysis. He projected that Florida had enough biomass to satisfy a demand equivalent to the 8.6 billion gallons of gasoline consumed each year. His technology is the lynchpin to a plant being built in Jennings, LA that is being developed by Verenium Corp for the conversion of sugarcane bagasse to ethanol. His work was honored during lunch presentations and the University of Florida was presented with a royalty check by the corporation for wood construction waste conversion to ethanol at a plant in Osaka, Japan.

Dr. Ann Wilkie introduced the subject of waste-to-energy by talking about University of Florida research into anaerobic digestion for waste treatment. Her current program focuses on biogas generation from bioethanol and biodiesel by-products. Her notable quote "Fossil fuel is fossil thinking."

Dr. Adam Schubert of BP talked about his companies commitment to biofuel technology citing a half billion dollar investment in establishment of the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC/Berkeley. His company is also at work with Dupont on the production of biobutanol and other fuels capable of being blended at higher rates into gasoline without modifying vehicles.

Ryan Katofsky of Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI) talked about thermochemical biorefinery processes used for breaking down the molecular bonds of feedstock into syngas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen molecules). As he put it "I am an engineer. We have a motto 'If it doesn't fit, hit it with a hammer. If it still doesn't fit, hit is with a bigger hammer." The syngas can be combusted or converted into biofuels. NCI worked with Princeton and Georgia Tech to craft a recently completed detailed evaluation of pulpmill biorefineries for TAPPI.

Business of Bioenergy
The subject of carbon credits was introduced by Todd Jones of AgCert, a company that produces and sells emission reduction offsets, primarily to the agricultural community. David Kolsrud of DAK Renewable Energy talked about building community based projects using the combined financial and biomass resources of numerous investors. Reggie Holt of Farm Credit of Central Florida got down to the brass tacks of financing biofuel plants and operations using a $100,000,000 Fuel Ethanol Facility as an example.

John Masiello leads a team for a Fortune 250 company called Progress Energy that is responsible for researching, developing and implementing the company's energy-efficiency and alternative-energy programs. He described the rapid growth in energy demand due to more electrified lifestyles and bigger homes. Here are a few of the projects he outlined that Progress Energy/Florida is involved in:
Energy efficiency programs are a key part of customer service operations of Progress Energy. They estimate that their programs have reduced demand by 1600MW. By 2014 they expect to grow the program to over 2500MW through conservation programs.

Progress Energy Florida is also purchasing from Ridge Generating Station near Auburndale, Florida. The 45MW plant is fueled by wood waste (66%), tires (30%) and landfill gas (4%).

One project is a contract that PE/F has with Biomass Investment Group on the utilization of E-Grass™ - a dedicated crop grown specifically for conversion into power. BIG's bio-based products are sold to power producers as an environmentally-friendly renewable fuel, and to the paper industry as a non-wood source of fiber. The finished plant will be capable of generating 130MW - roughly enough electricity to supply 83,000 homes while saving 20 million tons of carbon emissions.

Progress Energy/Florida has also announced a Request for Renewables program to attract developers interested in selling renewable energy to PE/F.

Biomass Resources/Feedstocks in Florida
It surprises many to learn that 10% of the biomass produced in the United States comes from Florida. Its soil, wet climate, sunshine, and strong farm and forestry industries makes it an ideal laboratory for biofuel industry development.

Two speakers gave presentations concerning the use of woody biomass for energy in Florida. Marian Marinescu of the University of Florida talked about the environmental, economic political, and social benefits of woody biomass utilization as a renewable feedstock for production of a range of biofuel output - focusing mainly on wood pellets, but also talking about syngas, charcoal, ethanol, methanol, bio-oils, and biodiesel. His points made a nice seque to Olaf Roed, President and CEO of Green Circle Bio Energy, Inc. whose company is building the "world's largest pellet plant in Jackson County, Florida" to begin production in December, 2007. He believes wood pellets could play a significant role in mitigating global warming. The pellets they produce will be used primarily by European power companies engaged in co-firing to reduce their use of coal.

James Wimberly of Biomass Investment Group Inc. (BIG) talked about his company's development and marketing of E-Grass™, the feedstock referred to earlier by John Masiello of Progress Energy. He said that E-grass can produce 30 tons of biomass/acre/year - compared with the oft-cited switchgrass which harvests about 8 tons. Their contract with PE/F is for 130MW of electricity using a fast pyrolysis process to produce a combustion turbine fuel that will power an Integrated Pyrolysis Combined Cycle (IPCC) electricity generation system.

The other two presenters of the panel talked about producing biodiesel from new feedstock resources. David Jarrett of Xenerga, Inc. talked about the potential of Jatropha. Fred Tennant of PetroAlgae gave a presentation about the worldwide demand for diesel (currently 200 billion gallons/year) and how his company planned to employ microalgae to "grow oil" using a water intensive process.

Renewable Energy Technology Grants Program
The final panel of the conference (excluding discussions by state and national Florida politicians and commissioners) focused on the status of the Florida Renewable Energy Technology Grants Program:
The Florida Legislature appropriated $15 million for the grant program, with at least $5 million to support bioenergy projects and $10 million for projects that generate or utilize other renewable energy resources, including hydrogen, biomass, solar energy, geothermal energy, wind energy, ocean energy, waste heat and hydroelectric power.

Dr. George Philippidis of Florida International University discussed a joint program undertaken by his Applied Research Center and Florida Crystals Corporation (FCC). Their work will focus on producing cellulosic ethanol from sugar cane bagasse.

Craig Evans, a consultant for ALICO Inc., reported on the status of his company's project for producing cellulosic ethanol from the waste generated from their diverse agricultural and mining operations. Kevin Bouffard of The Ledger wrote a May 2006 interview of Craig, former President of Stewardship America, about citrus waste and the potential of thermochemical conversion technology using the BRI process for converting blended biomass waste into ethanol and electricity. In a state with as many forms of biomass as Florida, the universal blending feedstock attributes of the technology seem very appropriate.

David Stewart of Citrus Energy LLC is developing a technology for converting citrus waste into ethanol. According to a joint announcement with FPL Energy this week:
The cellulosic ethanol plant will be owned and operated by FPL Energy and is expected to produce four million gallons of ethanol per year. It will be located on the grounds of a local Florida citrus processor (near Juno Beach, FL).

FPL Energy said that ethanol from citrus peel could result in a new Florida industry producing over 60 million gallons of fuel per year, which could replace about one percent of Florida's annual gasoline consumption

Alan Banks of Losonoco, Inc. talked about his company's plan to recommission an existing 1st generation corn ethanol production facility in Barstow Florida and co-locating a 2nd generation gasification plant that uses biomass from yard waste, citrus residues and sugar bagasse to produce a total of approximately 25m gallons of ethanol per year.

In short, there a tremendous amount of synergy possible between the technological and entrepreneurial resources of California and the farm and forestry feedstock industries in Florida. Farm to Fuels is a terrific effort by Commissioner Charles Bronson's office to communicate and organize the renewable fuels industry in Florida.

technorati , , ,

July 21, 2007

Student teaches biofuel professionals

It must be wonderful to be a teacher - because you learn so much from your students.

Science teacher Dana Franklin professed as much as she introduced her 7th grade student, biofuels prodigy Erin McCaskey, at last week's Farm to Fuel Summit in St. Petersburg hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Dana teaches at Merritt Island's Thomas Jefferson Middle School (on the "Space Coast" of Florida):

I am very proud to be a teacher and I love my job very much. I have to say, I have 100% job satisfaction... At the beginning of last school year I made the suggestion of alternative fuels as a science fair topic for my research students. Erin McCaskey, a seventh grader at the time, decided to take on the challenge of exploring biodiesel and ethanol. And I had no idea how much I was about to learn from the experience.

"Which alternative fuel produces the most energy?" was her science fair question. After extensive research, advice from local experts, support from the community, hours in the lab, moldification of the first batch, problems with titration and dissolving containers, Erin made five types of biodiesel and obtained B20 and E85. To complete her project she determined the energy content of each using a calorimeter.

Erin was awarded for her accomplishments by placing first at the state science fair and four other competitions. She was also recognized by NASA, the Society of Women Engineers, the Navy, and the Florida Engineering Foundation.

My accomplishments were sharing the knowledge I gained with my students and co-workers and for citing the importance of alternate fuels to our country and guiding Erin that she made a difference in our state and country's future fuels.

Here are some words from 12-year-old Erin herself, demonstrating her professional attitude and demeanor:
I learned so much during the time that I have decided to move my project forward. I still need advice, guidance, resources, and access to equipment to be able to complete my project. I attended this conference to learn about industry developments but also to meet experts in the field. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me about a subject you already know so much about.

Gilbert Bowen of Bowen Family Farms was so moved by the story that his daughter announced that they would award Erin a four year scholarship to any college of her choice when she is ready to matriculate. Erin blushed with excitement while both her mother and her teacher got teary eyed. It was an outstanding and well-deserved gesture by a family that has always been a supporter of alternative fuels and believes it is the future for Florida.

As Tom Doerr, Undersecretary of Rural Development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, summed up the connection between students, education, and the impact of renewable energy on rural America at the conclusion of his lunchtime speech:
We are witnessing the most significant wealth creation opportunities for rural America in my time and, I would submit, even my father's time.

Bottomline it is nothing more complex than this. It's all about your kids. What we really want as parents and grandparents is - once our kids get educated, once they have had the chance to travel the world, once they have had the chance to do whatever they want to do - IF they decide they want to return to rural America, they must have access to a high quality job to raise their families in the kind of environment and values that they want. You, as parents and grandparents, can watch those kids grow up.

If you persist and your leaders persist in what you are doing, we have the opportunity to bring those kids back to rural America.

technorati , , , , ,

July 16, 2007

Food cost studies compare impact of corn vs. energy price increases

There sure is alot of hang-wringing about biofuels these days. The lastest issue involves concern that the demand for corn will cause food prices to increase - disproportionately affecting the nation's poor and, by extension, the underdeveloped countries in the world.

Good news - the price of corn has dropped! According to recent data, corn prices haven't been this low since the end of 2006 (see chart below courtesy of a recent article at GoG2G Blog).

It is always dangerous to extrapolate trends based on short duration spikes or valleys - particularly in something as variable as corn futures.

But that isn't even what is so interesting about the public outcry. What seems to have gone unnoticed in the press is that the price of gasoline going up has also had an impact on food prices. Compared to the relatively isolated corn price impacts, the energy price increases have a pandemic effect that impacts all food prices for two reasons - most crops are cultivated with petroleum-based fertilizers and all food is transported multiple times between the source and consumer.

BioPact has unearthed two studies that detail findings that support this argument:

John M. Urbanchuk, The Relative Impact of Corn and Energy Prices in the Grocery Aisle [*.pdf], June 14, 2007

The Renewable Fuels Association: Energy Prices, Not Corn, Chief Reason for Rising Food Prices, Study Finds - June 14, 2007.

In short, concern about the plight of underdeveloped nations and the world's poor is a reason to support fuel diversification and decentralization efforts, not hamstring them.

technorati , ,

July 8, 2007

Southern utilities lobby against federal RPS legislation

Major Southeastern utilities including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company, and Duke Energy are lobbying hard against Energy Bill provisions that would establish a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS would mandate that the all U.S. utilities replace 15% of their fossil fuel power generation with renewable alternatives by the year 2020. The utilities are crying foul insisting that their region does not have the same wind and solar power potential of other states and that it is unfair to their consumers to levy extra surcharges for their inability to meet the new standard.

Of course, there are ample woody biomass resources available for conversion to renewable energy (biofuels and electricity) but these assets are, according to the utilities' position, not projected to supply enough electricity to meet RPS goals. In California, its RPS creates high demand resulting in strong investment incentives to develop new renewable generation capacity.

As reported by Carl Levesque of the American Wind Energy Association,in his article featured on Renewable Energy Access titled Slimmed-Down U.S. Energy Bills Raise Major Questions:

High expectations and disappointments have characterized early action on energy legislation. Last month, the U.S. Senate produced an energy bill that includes no tax title -- and, therefore, no production tax credit extension -- and that has no renewable portfolio standard (RPS). In fact, Senate advocates of renewable energy found themselves in a procedural morass that did not even allow for a vote on the RPS issue.

Joe Romm, author of a new book on global water and politics titled Hell and High Water and Climate Progress blogger for the Center for American Progress Action Fund placed the blame on Southern utilities:
In brief, last week the Senate tried to require power companies to generate 15% of their electricity from renewable energy by 2020. That modest renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was killed by the combined efforts of utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company, and Duke Energy.

Romm cited an article written by Daniel Cusick for Greenwire...

Who Killed the Senate RPS?

Southern utilities played key roles in the effort to undermine plans in the Senate last week to require power companies to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy.

The fingerprints of the Tennessee Valley Authority and those of the Tennessee Valley Power Providers Association, whose members distribute TVA power to nearly 9 million customers in the South, were all over the successful effort to keep the so-called renewable portfolio standard (RPS) out of the sweeping Senate energy bill.

So too were those of other major Southeastern utilities, including Southern Co. here and Duke Energy Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., both of whom pressed the message to lawmakers that a nationwide renewables mandate would undermine the South’s stable electricity market by forcing utilities to draw more power from wind, biomass, geothermal and other forms of energy.

Their message became a mantra for mostly Republican senators from the South. “Forcing Tennesseans to either build 40-story wind turbines on our pristine mountaintops or to pay billions in penalty taxes to the federal government amounts to a judge giving a defendant the choice to be hanged or shot,” warned Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

Tennessee’s junior senator, Republican Bob Corker, labeled the RPS proposal as a “transfer of wealth” from the Southeast to other regions of the country where wind and solar power are more viable.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), in a June 14 floor speech, said it would not be feasible for utilities in the South to generate enough power from solar, wind or other renewable power sources to meet the RPS goal. He made his case using data provided by TVA, its power distributors in north Alabama, and the state’s other dominant utility, Southern Co.

“In my home state of Alabama, solar is not effective in our area,” Sessions said. Wind power, too, is a non-starter, he said, because the state lacks sufficient wind to drive large turbines.

“I just don’t like to see us require wind turbines where it is not going to work, or solar panels where it won’t work,” Sessions said.

‘Didn’t seem fair for us’
Proponents of the RPS proposal say the region’s lawmakers missed a prime opportunity to expand the South’s renewable energy base, which they say has far more potential than the utilities and their allies suggest.

“We think that’s very unfortunate,” said Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), a Knoxville-based advocacy group. “And we are going to let the customers in TVA’s service area know that their energy providers were actively working against clean energy.”

The issue is not dead on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week he hopes to revive the proposal, and there could be an effort to add an RPS when the House assembles its energy bill next month.

Spokesmen for TVA in Knoxville insist the government-owned utility took no official position on the renewables measure. But its influence was clear in bleak economic projections it offered to lawmakers opposed to the measure. The authority said a 15 percent RPS would have cost the utility an additional $410 million per year by 2020, and most of that tab would have been passed on to consumers.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis said lawmakers requested the information as they sought to take positions on the renewables measure. “We did not take a formal position,” Francis said, “and we did not send a letter.”

Rather, the heavy lobbying came from the 158 distributors of TVA power who buy wholesale electricity from the utility and resell it under retail sale agreements with municipalities and cooperatives.

Jack Simmons, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, which represents TVA’s retail distributors, said his organization believes the RPS plan sponsored by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) would impose an untenable mandate upon TVA retailers, forcing them to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy wind and solar power from outside sources.

Specifically, Simmons said, six of the valley’s largest power providers — in areas such as Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga — have to buy additional renewable power from outside the region at a cost of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour to meet the standard. He and other critics of the proposal likened the mandate to an energy tax on the region’s homeowners and businesses, and a transfer of wealth from the South to other regions.

“Right off the bat, it didn’t seem fair for us to have to pay a 2-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax when we didn’t have any control over whether we made green power or not,” Simmons said in a telephone interview last week.

Simmons insisted his group is not opposed to greater development of renewable energy resources in the Tennessee Valley. “We were opposing the way the legislation was crafted since it would tax our members without any relief,” he said.

In North and South Carolina, where Duke Energy provides electricity to much of the upstate region, and in portions of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida where Southern Co. predominates, the message was much the same.

“A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for us,” said Duke spokesman Tom Williams.

Southern Co. officials said the measure would have driven up annual costs by as much as $745 million by 2020, and much of that increase would have been borne by its 4.32 million customers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

“We believe it would be very difficult to comply with a 15 percent RPS from resources here in the Southeast,” said Leonard Haynes, Southern’s executive vice president for supply technologies, renewables and demand side planning.

Call for research
But critics of the utilities’ position, like Smith of SACE, argue the challenges are not insurmountable. Moreover, they say that large power providers in the region will not make a sustained push on expanding renewables unless they are forced by a government mandate.

“The biggest casualty of this debate was the potential for renewables development in the Southeast, and the failure of our utilities to embrace that potential and instead to argue for the status quo,” Smith said.

Smith added that his group and others will work hard to restore a renewables provision through the House, hoping it will be brought back up during the final bill’s conference negotiations.

But George Sterzinger, executive director of the Washington, D.C.,-based Renewable Energy Policy Project, conceded that RPS foes who argued that the South would struggle to meet an RPS mandate have a point. “Using the current set of technologies,” he said, “that’s probably true.”

But, Sterzinger added, even if wind and solar power are not viable in the Southeast, the region has high potential to develop renewable energy resources from biomass such as forest products and switchgrass, a high-yield crop that grows well in the Southern climate.

Southern Co., for example, is already co-firing switchgrass as part of its voluntary “green power” purchase program in Alabama. But the program has failed to draw significant customer interest, in part because of the technological limitations of co-firing with switchgrass, but also because the utility has failed to aggressively market the program (Greenwire, Nov. 2, 2006).

And Southern subsidiary Georgia Power Co. included a biomass provision in its latest filings for additional power supply before the state public service commission.

Sterzinger said utilities wanting to get serious about biomass energy need to invest more heavily in research geared toward burning woody debris and grasses more efficiently, including processes that would gasify biomass materials.

Haynes, the Southern Co. executive, said such R&D efforts are part of the company’s longer-range priorities at its Power Systems Development Facility in Wilsonville, Ala. “Down the road, we think we may have an opportunity to either gasify biomass or introduce biomass along with coal in the gasification process,” he said.

According to Williams, wind power development in western North Carolina is a nonstarter because of restrictions on ridgeline development throughout the Appalachian mountains, which are important to the state’s tourism economy.

“We have potentially very good biomass potential in the Carolinas, but we don’t have the wind potential some others have,” he said.

technorati , , ,