June 21, 2007

Nexterra Gasifies Wood Residue-to-Fuel

In the latest issue of BIOMASS magazine there is an article titled Wood Residue-to-Fuel written by Michael Shirek. It concerns a Canadian company, Tolko Industries Ltd., that is currently reaping the benefits of using Nexterra technology to gasify its woody biomass to reduce its fossil fuel expenditures for steam, heat, and electricity. Based on the results of one year of operation, he writes about the ancillary benefits to the surrounding community:

While the improved bottom line for Tolko has been a positive result of the wood gasification project, the environmental impact is drawing attention outside of the accounting department. By replacing natural gas with an inside-the-fence fuel produced from biomass, Tolko and Nexterra say that the Heffley Creek mill cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 12,000 metric tons (13,200 tons) a year. The companies say this is equivalent to taking nearly 3,000 cars off the road. Tolko estimates that over the expected life of the energy system, the company will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 300,000 metric tons (330,000 tons).

Although it’s possible to simply burn the wood residue to produce heat for the mill’s operations, wood gasification has its advantages. Converting solid waste into gas allows the energy to be used as a replacement for, or a supplement to, current natural gas-powered operations. The emissions from combusted syngas are also less environmentally invasive than those from combusted wood.

Below is the Nexterra press release on the project which commenced opertion in May, 2006.

Tolko and Nexterra Complete Gasification Plant: Technology Fuels New Era of Clean, Low Cost Energy

Vernon and Vancouver, BC – July 25, 2006 - Tolko Industries Ltd. and Nexterra Energy Corp. announced today they have successfully completed their new gasification project at Tolko’s Heffley Creek plywood mill near Kamloops BC. The new “syngas” plant converts wood residue into low-cost, clean, thermal energy, replacing high-cost natural gas and moving this mill closer to energy self-sufficiency. The system will not only save the mill more than $1.5 million in annual fuel costs, but will also improve local air quality and reduce Tolko’s greenhouse gas emissions by 12,000 tonnes per year. This is equivalent to taking almost 3,000 cars off the road.

“This project underscores Tolko’s commitment to investing in technologies that make our mills more energy self-sufficient, and improves our environmental and bottom-line performance,” said Jim Baskerville, Tolko’s regional manager, veneer and plywood. “We are very pleased with the Nexterra gasifier system. It is user friendly, simple to operate, and we are working with Nexterra to identify opportunities where we can apply the technology at other Tolko mills.”
“This project is a great example of the innovative use of biomass for energy production – a concept we are addressing in the development of a new bioenergy strategy”, said Richard Neufeld, BC Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. “In the future, bioenergy will help meet our electricity needs, help create jobs and develop economic opportunities, while also helping to protect our health and environment.”

“This is tremendous news for the forest industry,” said Jim Dangerfield, vice-president, western region for Forintek, Canada’s Wood Products Research Institute. “Despite progress toward energy self-sufficiency, the industry still consumes billions of dollars of fossil fuel. Switching from natural gas to syngas using Nexterra's gasification technology has the potential for widespread application in the forest industry to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, cut costs and improve competitiveness."
“Tolko is a terrific partner and we will continue to support their goal of becoming energy self-sufficient,” said Jonathan Rhone, Nexterra’s president and CEO. “This project demonstrates how our technology can help customers regain control of their energy costs by switching to alternative fuels. This concept of an ‘inside-the-fence’ syngas utility has widespread application in the forest products and other industries as leading companies invest in fuel conversion technologies.”

About the Project – In 2005, Tolko partnered with Nexterra to develop the 38 MMBtu/hr gasification system that converts 13,000 bone dry tonnes per year of wood residue into a clean burning, renewable biofuel called syngas. The syngas generated will displace approximately 235,000 GJ (gigajoules) per year of natural gas previously used at the mill to dry veneer and to produce hot water for log conditioning. This is equivalent to the amount of natural gas required to heat approximately 1,900 residential homes in BC.

This project has received financial support and encouragement from the federal and provincial governments including Natural Resources Canada, TEAM (Technology Early Action Measures – a federal interdepartmental technology investment program) and Ethanol BC.

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June 13, 2007

Salvaging wood from natural disasters

We've all heard the following bromides:
"When all you've got are lemons, make lemonade."
"Turning a silk purse out of sow's ear."

Somehow they don't quite measure up to what needs to be done with the devasting waste refuse of natural disasters. However, unless something is done with this unanticipated wealth of biomass, the decay may lead to further perpetuation of the emergency conditions: forest fires, disease, infestation, and the release of even more greenhouse gases.

An interdepartmental government task force called the Federal Woody Biomass Working Group and Partners (WBUG) has been formed to, among other things, draw up contingency plans to deal with the residual biomass of woody biomass related disasters - from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and the like. What resources can be enlisted to collect the residuals? What processes can be employed to mitigate the harmful effects of the decay? What benefits can be derived from converting the biomass into bioenergy or biofuels?

A proposal has been drafted by the WBUG titled "Timber Recovery and Wood Utilization Response Plan." In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, its initial focus is on wind events and disturbances in the Eastern and Gulf Coast Regions. Here are some excerpts from their funding proposal to create the plan:

Executive Summary:
The Plan will assist in the short term response, but also provide opportunities for long term economic and environmental recovery. Many partners have been engaged in developing this proposal, and see high potential for coordinating a broad spectrum of federal, state, tribal and local government and industries in disaster debris and wood utilization.

Final Product:
A hands-on tool for planning for and responding to multiple-level wind disasters at local, state, regional, and national levels. It will also be a framework for better coordination among the various federal, state, tribal and local government agencies, and with partnering organizations within the forestry, arboricultural, disaster response, and wood utilization sectors.

The scope of this project is to begin the process of (1) focusing on the recovery of downed or damaged woody biomass in the forest, both merchantable and non-merchantable material not currently being recovered, and (2) expanding and improving upon national, regional and local response to disaster debris disposition, including green waste and uncontaminated demolition wood.

Meanwhile, another natural disaster has befallen the Southeastern states of Georgia and Florida - a months long fire that resulted from acute drought followed by intense lightning from thunderstorms.

Here's another bromide - "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It is time to enact and fund policies and procedures that will strengthen proper stewardship of the nation's forests. Sadly, not much can be done with the pitiful amount of biomass left after a major fire. It is a time to clear out the refuse and replant the forests.

Fires Rip through GA, FLA
Timber Harvesting Magazine
May/June 2007

Wildfire fighters from Georgia and surrounding states continued to struggle to put out a major forest fire that had scorched more than 100,000 acres in southeast Georgia, with major fires spreading into northeast Florida and popping up across the Florida Panhandle region.

The Sweat Farm Road/Big Turnaround Fire, burning mostly in Ware and Charlton counties south of Waycross and near the Okefenokee Swamp, is the biggest in Georgia history, covering more than 100 square miles. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an Executive Order on May 2 declaring a state of emergency in 21 counties in southeast Georgia, citing severe drought conditions and extreme wildfire threat. Through the second week of May, the area had passed a record-setting 66 days without rain.

Yet a line of thunderstorms that provided a small amount of spotty rain the weekend of May 7 did more damage than good, with lightning strikes starting new fires. One, the Bugaboo Scrub Fire, started at the southern tip of the Okefenokee and quickly burned into Florida, scorching more than 30,000 acres in two days. Other wildfires have popped up across the Panhandle region, with a subdivision in Freeport losing 4 homes and having 13 others damaged.

As of May 8, Florida officials reported fires burning in 54 of the state’s 67 counties.

Extensive post-fire surveys and inventories have yet to be performed, but early observations are the fire has burned extremely hot across all age classes and in many cases stems are completely burned and unsalvageable. Salvage rate for merchantable-size timber may be as low as 15%, according to one early report, with poor markets making the salvage situation even tougher.

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June 8, 2007

Forest certification programs: FSC, SFI, and Tree Farm

Rightful concern about tropical "deforestation" should never be confused with controlled American logging of our natural wood resources as carried out under the watchful eye of national and international forest certification programs.

Right now it is estimated that volume of annual net timber growth in America is 36% greater than the volume of annual timber removals. This statistic comes from an excellent new report titled The State of America's Forests produced by the Society of American Foresters (available online) :

The Society of American Foresters has published a comprehensive, peer-reviewed report on the status of America’s forestland. This 68-page report outlines the latest facts and figures in easy to read graphs, charts, tables, and supporting commentary. The State of America’s Forests is the most definitive, one-source compilation of credible forestry facts touting more than 50 sources and peer-review by academia, non-governmental organizations, and the USDA Forest Service.

As pointed out in the report, trees not only define our landscape but they freshen the air we breath, purify the water we drink, provide habitat for wildlife, and nourish the ground we walk upon. Proper stewardship of our timberlands enable the forest products industry to provide the studs in our walls, the wood in our furniture, and the paper in our books, magazines, and newspapers. Wood has also been the primary renewable feedstock of our energy past, present, and future. 44% of American renewable energy comes from wood and wood residuals - more than any other source.

To confuse the desire for preservation of our forests with the need for conservation would be a huge mistake. According to Wikipedia The distinct difference between conservation and preservation, is that conservation allows for the sustainable development paradigm, whereas preservation is complete restriction. Some acres must be protected it is true, but untended forests grow at a phenomenal rate and their ecology inevitably changes with them.

While the area covered by forests has not changed in 100 years, "historical trends show that the standing inventory (the volume of growing stock) of hardwood and softwood tree species in U.S. forests has increased continually over the past five decades - by 49% between 1953 and 2006. In the same time period, the total annual net growth of growing stock (annual growth minus annual mortality) increased 75 percent."

The consequences of untended forests include overgrowth of underbrush leading to wildfires (which wipe out wildlife forest habitats and have a devastating impact on carbon balance of the atmosphere) as well as unstoppable insect infestations that spread faster through tree proximity.

There is a section in the report that depicts the current level of certification that is being practiced in the world. "Originally developed to address the issue of tropical deforestation", 87% of certification is actually taking place in "temperate and boreal regions in developed countries."

The State of America's Forests
The Society of American Foresters

There are three major certification schemes in place: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Forest Stewardship Council© (FSC), and the American Tree Farm System. In the U.S. 107 million acres representing 14% of total U.S. forests are certified. 25% of private forestlands are certified.

Forest certification programs continue to develop and evolve. In 1999, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) was founded as the global umbrella organization for the assessment of and mutual recognition of national and international certification schemes.

With 65 years of history, the American Tree Farm is the oldest voluntary, third-party forest management verification process in the country. It certifies the forestry practices of family-owned and other nonindustrial private landowners.

The American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation, is committed to sustaining forests, watershed and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship.

Since 1941, ATFS has educated and recognized the commitment of private forest owners in the United States. Currently, ATFS has 27.5 million acres of privately owned forestland and 87,000 family forest owners who are committed to excellence in forest stewardship, in 46 states. Tree Farmers share a unique commitment to protect wildlife habitat and watersheds, to conserve soil and to provide recreation for their communities while producing wood for America. These individuals hold the key to the kinds of forests, forest activities and forest resources future generations of Americans will enjoy.

ATFS has established standards and guidelines for property owners to meet to become a certified Tree Farm. Under these standards and guidelines, private forest owners must develop a management plan based on strict environmental standards and pass an inspection by an ATFS volunteer forester every five years.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) program was developed by the American Forest and Paper Association in 1994 to document the commitment of member companies to sustainable forestry. In 2000, an independent 501(c)(3) multistakeholder organization, the Sustainable Forestry Board, was established to oversee SFI standards development and the certification process. SFI certifies companies in the United States and Canada. Thus far, SFI is the only U.S. scheme officially recognized by PEFC.

The SFI Standard spells out the requirements of compliance with the program. The SFIS is based on nine principles that address economic, environmental, cultural and legal issues, in addition to a commitment to continuously improve sustainable forest management.

The SFI program has a new standard valid from 2005 through 2009. The SFIS contains 13 objectives covering sustainable forest management, procurement of wood and fiber, public reporting, continuous improvement and mitigating illegal logging.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), founded in 1993, is an international nonprofit organization whose members, from more than 70 countries, represent social, economic, and environmental interests centered on forests.
FSC sets forth principles, criteria, and standards that span economic, social, and environmental concerns. The FSC standards represent the world’s strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes. Like the forestry profession itself, the FSC system includes stakeholders with a diverse array of perspectives on what represents a well-managed and sustainable forest. While the discussion continues, the FSC standards for forest management have now been applied in over 57 countries around the world.

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