July 1, 2009

Ag and Forestry Provisions in Waxman/Markey ACES bill

The Waxman/Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) narrowly passed through the House vote on June 26. It would not have passed if the authors had failed to accede to the amendments insisted upon by Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN). What are the provisions?

Below is a condensed explanation of the key provisions agreed to by bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA) as reported by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). Aside from securing approximately support of 45 Democrats who would have voted against the bill without the compromise, the ACES bill is much more likely to achieve its stated objective of creating more green jobs, stimulating investment and local economies, and contributing to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Should these provisions survive Senate deliberations, it also would reverse the polarizing language of the 2007 EISA which severely reduced the availability of qualifying biomass feedstock for bioenergy projects.

Democrats Strike Deal With Agriculture on Climate Bill

On June 23, Democrats in the House of Representatives announced that they had reached a deal on several key agricultural concerns in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) (H.R. 2454). The deal, struck with Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and bill sponsor Henry Waxman (D-CA), included the following key provisions:

1) The agricultural and forestry sectors will be fully exempted from carbon emissions caps.

2) Oversight of the domestic agricultural and forestry offsets program would be moved from the EPA to the USDA. Under these provisions, farmers could sell carbon credits in exchange for practices that reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions or store carbon in the soil and vegetation. Supporters believe that the USDA is in a better position to implement such a program effectively, while critics fear that the USDA will be more lax than the EPA in determining which practices actually reduce carbon emissions. For the time being, the role of the EPA in implementing the offsets program will remain undefined, subject to future guidance from the Obama administration.

3) The renewable fuel standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires the EPA to conduct a life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to indirect land use changes around the world caused by the production of biofuels in the United States. Under the agreement, this assessment would be put on hold for the next five years while the National Academy of Sciences conducts a study of the scientific basis and methodologies used in conducting such assessments.

4) The definition of renewable biomass would be expanded to include a much larger portion of available woody biomass on both federal and non-federal lands, and the definition of renewable biomass would be similarly amended for purposes of implementing the renewable fuel standard.

President Obama spoke in favor of the bill on Tuesday, saying it “will spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.”



Over the past two years, EESI has undertaken a project to assess the state of woody biomass utilization and to develop a suite of policy recommendations intended to promote woody biomass as part of the sustainable forestry paradigm.

After soliciting the opinions of a diverse group of foresters, researchers, NGOs, civic officials, as well as forest industry stakeholders, EESI has put together a well-documented policy paper that is balanced in the areas of environmental, economic, and soclal sustainability.
Although sustainability should be a cornerstone of federal biomass policy, it is important that federal laws and programs do not include highly prescriptive (or proscriptive) rules for where biomass can be harvested, for what purposes, or in what quantities.

It includes a call to evaluate the true comparative costs of various energy paradigm solutions whereby the lifecycle assessment of new approaches are compared not only with each other, but also with a fair assessment of costs and liabilities of the current fossil paradigm.

To view the entire policy paper written by EESI veteran Jesse Caputo, go to Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship.

Advanced Wood Combustion: Rekindling Wood Energy in America

Opened in February 2009, the new biomass power plant at Vermont's Middlebury College is expected to burn 20,000 tons of wood chips each year to provide heat and electricity for the campus.

The plant uses an "advanced wood combustion" system. Such plants hold great potential to save energy, cut costs, and even fight global warming, a March 2009 study says.

Photograph by Brett Simison, courtesy Middlebury College

Daniel Richter is professor of soils and forest ecology at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for Duke’s interdepartmental University Program in Ecology. His research investigates forest sustainability, biogeochemistry, interactions of soil and forests with the wider environment, and global soil change.

Below are excerpts from an article he wrote recently for Renewable Energy World.com about advanced wood combustion (AWC) and its promise for helping understand the intertwining of the carbon cycle and combustion - and how we can efficiently tap that energy for fuels, power, steam, and heat.

Rekindling Wood Energy in America - Renewable Energy World

One of the largest sources of renewable energy available today is one of the oldest, that is direct combustion of wood. Recent European developments in advanced wood combustion (AWC, defined as automated, high-efficiency wood-fired energy systems with strict air pollution control) have wood supplying thermal and electrical energy cleanly and reliably to thousands of communities in Europe and increasingly in North America. AWC minimizes air pollutants including fossil greenhouse gases.

AWC is so clean and safe that AWC systems are commonly deployed in the midst of picture-perfect European towns and villages. Because AWC systems can be developed in community-sized increments of 0.1 to 20 MWth, they can be managed to meet community needs and not overwhelm the productivity of local woodsheds.

Wood in the United States is several-fold less expensive per unit of energy compared with natural gas or heating oil ($2 to 5 per GJ vs $7 to 10 per GJ for recent USA prices of natural gas and heating oil). If properly deployed, AWC systems can not only affordably supply clean and renewable energy, AWC can add value to the forest itself, promote community development, and support local employment and rural and municipal economies. AWC can complement other renewable energy resources as well.

It is now time for AWC and renewable thermal energy sources to take center stage in North American energy deliberations. Not only can wood safely and affordably supply energy, but wood can teach us much about energy in general, energy-use efficiency, and sustainability itself.

No one renewable will solve our energy crisis, not solar, not wind, not wood. But recent multi-agency estimates indicate that AWC can sustainably supply at least 5% of the nation’s currently inefficient energy consumption without impacting forests that are protected for environmental, social, or economic reasons. This is more energy that that stored in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, more than what all American hydro-power plants produce in a year, and slightly more than half of the electric energy produced annually by the entire nuclear industry.

Wood is abundant but is far too valuable to inefficiently burn. Resource policy questions should turn on how to encourage wood-energy efficiency, community development and sustainability, and how to avoid extracting wood from the forest like coal from a mine.

June 1, 2009

NACD's Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit

It seems like every bioenergy and conservation conference I go to drives toward the same conclusion... "What we need is education, education, education." Of course, determining which messages should be communicated is key - which is why the credibility of the authors is paramount. Who is writing the content and what is their motivation?

Whenever I come across material that I think is credible and approachable from a lay audience's perspective, I upload links to them through this Bioenergy BlogRing. Some of the guides I have written about in the past include:
• 25x'25 - Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy
• USDA Forest Service - Woody Biomass Utilization Desk Guide
• Southern Forest Research Partnership, Inc. - Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products Training Curriculum Notebook
• California Forest Foundation - Protecting Communities and Saving Forests

Fred Deneke of 25x'25 just sent me a treasure trove of information about Woody Biomass amassed by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).

Conservation Districts were born out of necessity in the 1930s Dust Bowl when America's topsoil rapidly eroded. They are local units of government established under state law to carry out natural resource management programs at the local level.

NACD is the nonprofit organization that represents America’s 3,000 conservation districts and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. It was founded in 1946 on the philosophy that conservation decisions should be made at the local level with technical and funding assistance from federal, state and local governments and the private sector.

The association's programs and activities aim to advance the resource conservation cause of local districts and the millions of cooperating landowners and land managers they serve.

The desk guide is intended to be used for public outreach in support of biomass industry planning and development. It includes educational content, handouts, introductory Powerpoint presentations, case studies, FAQs, and a glossary of terms.

Here is how the authors describe the guide...

Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit

Communities today are challenged to develop effective strategies that support forest ecosystem health, mitigate the effects of climate change, satisfy growing energy needs, and provide local economic opportunities. For some communities, woody biomass may be a viable option for meeting these needs and deserves serious consideration. Forests in the United States represent an important potential energy and biobased product resource.

NACD, in collaboration with federal, state, and local partners is working to raise awareness about the potential for woody biomass as a primary feedstock for such products.

This Woody Biomass Desk Guide and Toolkit provides an overview of woody biomass production and utilization in the U.S., tips of how to provide effective outreach for your clientele, and educational handouts to share with your audiences. The purpose of this guide is to equip natural resource professionals and outreach specialists with the information and tools needed to increase awareness of the use of woody biomass for energy in the U.S.

Desk Guide and Toolkit Chapter Topics

Introduction and Table of Contents (1MB PDF)
Chapter 1 - Setting the Stage (836KB PDF)
Chapter 2 - What is Biomass? (2.5MB PDF)
Chapter 3 - Products and Possibilities (1.7MB PDF)
Chapter 4 - Implications of Producing and Using Woody Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Chapter 5 - Incentives to Produce and Use Woody Biomass (1.3MB PDF)
Chapter 6 - Do-It-Yourself Supply Curve: Tools to Help You Get Involved in an Entrepreneurial Biomass Project (13.8MB PDF)
Chapter 7 - Outreach and Education (492KB PDF)
Chapter 8 - Case Studies (2.15MB PDF)

In addition to the reference sections, most of the chapters also contain handouts. These outline important points, strategies, and information that may be useful for landowners, the public, local leaders, or other audiences.
Handout 1 - Electricity Production: Comparing Wood and Fossil Fuel Feedstocks (2MB PDF)
Handout 2 - Woody Biomass Basics (2.25MB PDF)
Handout 3 - Agricultural Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Handout 4 - Implications of Using Woody Biomass for Energy and Other Products (1.15MB PDF)
Handout 5 - State and Local Policies and Incentives to Produce and Use Woody Biomass (1.5MB PDF)
Handout 6 - Financing a Bioenergy Project (1.15MB PDF)
Handout 7 - Common Concerns (1.15MB PDF)

NACD has two more Desk Guides in the works that will be out shortly. One will be on Community Wildfire Planning (Pre, During, & Post) and the third on Woody Disaster Debris Disposal.

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May 23, 2009

Evergreen no more?

"We must always consider the environment and people together, as though they are one, because the human need to use natural resources is fundamental to our continued presence on Earth."
- Jim Petersen, Editor, Evergreen Magazine 1989

So opens the Evergreen website, an online resource for archives of the the Evergreen magazine. Started in 1986, articles about forestry, biological diversity, forest health, and wildfires have graced the pages of this singular, often plaintive voice in the forest wilderness. An example...

"To see what will happen next in eastern Oregon, look at what is already happening in northern Arizona and New Mexico. Federal forests in both states have been devastated by catastrophic wildfire in recent years. But because there is no wood processing infrastructure left in the Southwest, neither state possesses the structural nor financial means to mediate their forest health problems. And until the Congress decides to stop paying environmental groups to sue the socks off the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, there is zero chance that new infrastructure investments will be made in the region, despite quite valiant Forest Service efforts to recruit wood processing businesses.

"Many environmentalists know this, and are worrying aloud on their own websites about the loss of credibility they are suffering as urban support for thinning in at risk forests tops 80% nationally. While we applaud their more conciliatory voices, environmentalists have no way of controlling their own radical fringes."

The magazine preceded the establishment Evergreen Foundation whose mission is to help advance public understanding and support for science-based forest policies and practices. I became aware of this publication and its editor, Jim Petersen, when I received a copy of a speech Jim gave to the Montana Loggers Association last week (available for download here). He introduced his speech with the same combination of chagrin and optimism that motivates me.

"So much is at stake and so few seem to get it – the “it” here being the fact that Montana’s timber industry is teetering on the brink of collapse at the precise same moment when it ought to be laying the cornerstone for its own bright future.

"I want to talk about the elephants in the room that no one else ever seems to want to talk about. This being the case, I decided on the following title: “When you are up to your armpits in elephants, it is difficult to remember that your original job was to drain the swamp."

"And no mistake, we are all mired in a swamp. And we are up to our armpits in elephants. But I think I finally see a way out of the muck and mire that has been sucking us into the abyss for so many years. And the way out – the route to a better future – is biomass. So I am going to talk about biomass too.

Jim lists 22 different elephants. Here are a few of the most interesting:

"Elephant No. 1 is the one that perennially irritates me the most: Congress. It’s bad enough that Congress continues to twiddle its thumbs while the West burns to the ground. Worse though is the current debate over whether to include federal biomass in renewable energy legislation that is slowly making its way through Congress. If you wonder where this insanity begins, I’ll tell you. It begins with an unholy alliance between Elephant No. 2, several large pulp and paper producers, and Elephant No.3, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Elephant No.3 doesn’t want federal biomass to be included in the energy standard because it fears resurgence in the timber industry that it loves to hate. Elephant No. 2, the pulp and paper producers, are in league with Elephant No. 3 because they fear that including federal biomass in the legislation will drive up the price of fiber.

"I’ve got news for Elephant No. 2. Your problem is far more serious than whatever competitive headwinds you may face if federal biomass is included in federal renewable energy legislation. Your problem is that you aren’t competitive on the global pulp and paper stage. You are being eaten alive by Scandinavian companies that are investing billions of dollars in South America, where land, labor and regulatory costs are a fraction of what they are in the U.S.; where pulp mills actually sit in the middle of plantations, not 40 or 50 miles away from them, and where trees reach pulp-size maturity in 5-7 years.

"Imagine my horror on learning that some of the biggest publicly traded forest products companies in the country were working furiously behind the scenes to sabotage the Bush Administration’s Healthy Forests Restoration Act. Why? Because they saw the thinnings that forest restoration would yield as competition for their own wood – and their fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders, not the nation’s dead and dying federal forests. It’s the same in pulp and paper. These companies – all of them publicly traded – have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, not to you, not to me and not to the economic or social well being of our country. Those fiduciary responsibilities, those trust obligations, reside in our elected officials."

"Some people believe this new elephant – he is Elephant No. 6 – is a good for nothing slacker and doesn’t care if he ever brings us any wood. But I think they are wrong. I think Elephant No. 6 – we’ll call him Woody for lack of a better name – I think this new elephant whose last name is Biomass would like to show us what he can do, if only the Congress will let him.

"It is long past time for the Congress to give Woody Biomass, No. 6 in our string of elephants, the legitimate chance he needs to show us what he can do in our dead and dying federal forests. Let’s stop fiddling around on 10 or 20 or 100-acre show-and-tell plots; let’s put Woody to work on tracts of federal forestland that are large enough to make a difference both ecologically and economically.

"Some of you have heard me say that I think it is time for our nation to return its national forests to Indian tribes from whom we stole them more in the 1800s. I still believe this, but I don’t think it will happen in the near term, if ever. Nor do I believe that the Forest Service is to blame for our current state of affairs. The Forest Service is a public agency – albeit one that has wandered far from its original mission. Today, it serves at the behest of political parties and special interest groups that have vastly different visions for the future of our nation’s publicly-owned forests.

"My cynicism aside, the climate change debate gives us an unprecedented opportunity to argue the case for managing our federal forests in ways that increase their carbon storage capacity, no matter its source, no matter the guilty party, no matter the amount.

"I want to have this debate with every environmentalist in the country, because if we are really serious about replacing air polluting fossil fuels with lesser polluting renewable fuels, including solar, wind and woody biomass, and if we are serious about reducing CO2 levels in our atmosphere, we simply cannot ignore this next elephant that is standing quietly in our midst, waiting to be recognized. He is Elephant No. 13, and he possesses the miraculous ability to transform carbon dioxide into wood fiber through a process called photosynthesis – a process that powers itself with the free, non-polluting energy of the sun. He can thus increase the carbon storage capacity of our federal forests.

"Yet despite his miraculous powers, our Photosynthesis Elephant will need our help, and he will need the help of No. 6, our new Forest Service elephant. Working as a team, which is what elephants do best, they can design perpetual thinning and stand tending programs capable of increasing the carbon storage capacity of our federal forests while, at the same time, decreasing the billions of tons of pollutants that wildfires spew into our earth’s atmosphere every year.

"I emphasize the word “perpetual” because we cannot thin our forests once and expect that they will magically hold themselves in perfect balance until the end of time. They won’t – because there is no steady state in nature. Chaos is constant, and everywhere. But we can limit nature’s wild swings by dedicating ourselves to the constant task of forest stewardship – the thinning and stand tending work that we must do if our forests are to provide the long list of things that we Americans want and need."

I highly recommend reading the Spring 2006 issue of Evergreen with the feature article written by Dave Skinner titled "Ring of FIre." It is difficult to read about the demise of forest product mills at the same time that the forests are so unhealthy. Even worse is the realization that this article was written a full two years before the current economic collapse - which imperils the future of all the mills that remain.

What will become of the forests? What impact there be on the communities that have been stewards of our forests? What will be the climate change consequences of this demise?

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April 25, 2009

New RES Bill Repeats Biomass Restrictions of RFS

The passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 included mandates for the production of billions of gallons of "advanced biofuels" including 16 billion gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol by 2022. This is an important investment and technology development driver for this emerging industry. But it is significantly undercut by the restrictions on the sources of qualifying feedstock as defined in its Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

This poorly conceived set of restrictions was added to the Act after prolonged negotiations without the approval or vote of the participants. According to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, there are some 10 million timberland owners in the U.S. - 92% of them are excluded from participating in the biofuels mandate because of the definition! Compare the before and after impacts of the definition on the state of California alone (see maps at right).

It has been the subject of debate and of several legislative attempts to excise or amend it, notably bipartisan legislation championed by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD).

Unfortunately the same definitions and restrictions have been included in the Waxman / Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009’’ which seeks to establish a federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) similar to the RFS.

The Society of American Foresters has published an appeal to its members to let their Representatives know their concerns about including these controversial definitions on this draft. Below is the text of their appeal.

SAF Member Action Alert: Biomass Energy

Action Alert--Attention all SAF members: The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy & Commerce has released a draft renewable energy and cap & trade bill. The draft bill would exclude federal lands and many private lands from producing biomass for energy counting towards a national Renewable Energy Standard. The Committee is moving quickly and plans to approve this bill in the coming weeks before Memorial Day.

The definition of biomass in this bill is prescriptive and would restrict biomass from public lands and a great deal of biomass from private lands, from counting towards a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). In turn, this would result in less energy from woody biomass rather than more.

Specifically, the Definition would NOT count biomass used to produce biomass energy from:

• ‘old growth’ or ‘mature’ forests (these terms are not defined)
• ‘plantations’ (planted trees) established after the enactment of the Act (again, term is not defined)
• Forests identified by a State Natural Heritage Program as rare, imperiled, or critically imperiled
• Any Federal Land, unless it’s near a structure or campground.

To read the definition click on this link to the draft bill and go to page 7 and 8.

The SAF website has a list of Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who need to hear from you.



Wood is necessary to meet a renewable energy standard: If as a nation we are to truly meet renewable energy goals—whether electricity or biofuels—wood must be allowed to make its full contribution. Renewable forest biomass will account for up to 1/3 of the energy needed to meet the RES

We should promote rather than discourage the use of renewable forest biomass. Limiting renewable forest biomass harms conservation, consumers, and the climate. Foresters have the expertise to help landowners sustainably manage forests for wood products and biomass energy while still conserving the environment.

Federal lands must be included: Many Federal forests desperately need treatments to improve forest health, control insects and disease and prevent catastrophic wildfire. Biomass removal in these forests could help to create renewable energy while also improving forest health and allowing forests to act as climate ‘sinks’ rather than ‘emitters’ (through insect & disease infestation and catastrophic wildfire).

Different regions of the country contribute different strengths to renewable energy generation. For instance, some states have more wood than wind. Limiting forest biomass hamstrings some states from meeting mandates, thereby increasing costs to consumers and creating regional disparities in economic development.

Green jobs – Biomass energy plants create 4.9 jobs for each MW of installed capacity. One plant can inject $150 million in upfront construction investment with $20 million spent in the local economy each year.

Definitions of eligible biomass feedstock should put working forests on an even playing field with other renewable energy sources.

Sustainable forest biomass reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) because it is carbon neutral

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April 17, 2009

New Report Challenges Searchinger ILUC Study

Coinciding with the National 25x'25 Summit earlier this month the alliance has just inaugurated their own blog full of news, reports, and commentary relevant to the mission of the organization - to get 25 percent of our energy from renewable resources like wind, solar, and biofuels by the year 2025.

A blog article published yesterday titled "New Report Challenges Searchinger ILUC Study" provides information about the work of two Australian researchers which criticizes the methods and assumptions employed by Tim Searchinger and others in the controversial study titled "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land Use Change", which was published in February, 2008.

Below are my comments to the article.

There are two paradigm shifts at play here.

The obvious one is the international effort to shift the production of liquid fuels from fossil, carbon positive, feedstock to renewable, carbon neutral or negative feedstock. The Catch-22 for renewables is its current unavoidable reliance on its predecessor for energy, transport, and fertilizers. Consequently, many of the factors that impact the carbon footprint of cultivated feedstocks like corn are a result of the very lack of alternatives that renewables are designed to provide. The corn ethanol industry in particular is already at work replacing every carbon input imaginable to improve its balance sheet but it will take time.

The second paradigm shift is the unprecedented global definition of acceptable technologies and markets before they have had a chance to incubate regionally. What innovations would we have sacrificed had we pre-regulated to this extent in the past? Nuclear bombs - which saved millions of lives by changing hot world wars into cold ones? Personal computers and the internet - which democratized worldwide communication and learning to an unparalleled extent?

Anticipating ill effects before feedstocks and products are developed is a risky business that threatens to kill research, development, and deployment - and rapidly shrinking investment. Are we to cede all future RD&D to deep pocketed corporations who have a vested interest in controlling threats to their markets? Can politically motivated legislators objectively thread the delicate needle of market definition and regulation?

The indirect land use conclusions arrived at in Searchinger’s paper are highly speculative and are better at looking backward than forward while new technologies and feedstocks alternatives are being developed. The prominence that such one-side speculation has been given in the public media is troubling.

The idea that low carbon fuel standards include factors based on speculation is prone to gross misuse and manipulation. By hamstringing technology and market development with such standards we virtually insure unfair perpetuation of the status quo - an industry that clearly would not have passed such scrutiny had similar lifecycle analysis models been applied one hundred years ago.

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April 14, 2009

25x'25: Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy

The 25x'25 Alliance held their National Summit March 31-April 2 in Arlington, VA. The theme this year was "Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy" which is significant because of the relatively equal footing given to forestry in an organization that has, up to this point, reflect a more agricultural emphasis. Last year the organization's National Steering Committee chartered a special Carbon Work Group to analyze this issue, file a report, and make its recommendations.

To date, a carbon “primer” has been developed by the 25x'25 Carbon Work Group and circulated in draft form among its agricultural and forestry partners and renewable energy stakeholders. That input was incorporated into a carbon discussion guide, an evolving collection of recommendations regarding climate change policy, its implementation, and what must happen for the agriculture and forestry sectors to deliver maximum greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Here is a link to the draft version of Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy: Solutions from the Land There is a shorter Executive Summary that facilitates accessing the longer document which was completed just in time for the Summit to encourage distribution and comments of the draft.

The Work Group facilitators ask that you please send your comments to Jeffrey Frost and Ernie Shea.

The Work Group has also developed a Question and Answer guide to support information education outreach work with interested stakeholders and has also consolidated a list of key documents and resources.
Click here to see a new video about Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy.

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March 9, 2009

EESI: Briefings on Woody Biomass and Renewable Energy

July 6, 2009 - After two years development, EESI has just released a new policy paper titled Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship . EESI convened a discussion series bringing together scientists, community groups, foresters, environmental advocates, federal agencies, and other experts to explore the opportunities and problems associated with greater use of woody biomass for energy.

The paper summarizes the most important issues surrounding the current use of woody biomass as a renewable energy resource, and identifies policy solutions that will promote sustainable harvesting of woody biomass resources as part of a larger effort to steward our nation's forests for a diversity of values, products, and ecosystem services. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, H.R. 2454), recently passed by the House of Representatives, contains a number of provisions relating to bioenergy.

The renewable energy paradigm shift will not happen without clear communication and education of policymakers at the highest level of Congress. One of the most influential agencies designed for this purpose is the EESI - whose Executive Director Carol Werner and staff are top notch accumulators and presenters of relevant information about these emerging industries and the policies needed to enable their development:

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization established in 1984 by a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress to provide timely information and develop innovative policy solutions that set us on a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy path.

EESI accomplishes these objectives in three ways: 1) Policymaker Education, 2) Networking & Coalition Building and 3) Policy Development.

A glimpse of their home page reveals that the breadth of their focus is staggering.

Below are abstracts from two stories that were emailed to me today about a briefing that was conducted March 4th in Washington, DC.

Forest Biomass and Its Role in a National Renewable Electricity Standard

On March 4, EESI held a briefing at the Capitol Visitor Center about the role that woody biomass from forest management can play in helping to meet a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).

Briefing Highlights
• Biomass, described by speaker Bob Cleaves as the "most poorly understood resource in the U.S.," is a low carbon source of renewable energy available in every region of the country. It is a readily available fuel source that can increase America's energy independence and largely reduce carbon emissions in the short-term, relative to fossil fuels.
• It will be very difficult for some states to meet a national renewable energy standard if forest biomass is not included in state or regional energy portfolios. In the Southeast, for example, biomass represents about two-thirds of the region's near-term potential for expanding renewable energy. "Biopower is our competitive advantage in the Southeast," said speaker John Bonitz.
• A very inclusive definition of forest biomass must be included in a national RES which permits greater use of forest feedstocks from both public and private land. Strict rules and oversight on biomass harvesting and environment concerns will ensure a sustainable biomass industry.
• A national RES, with a broad and inclusive definition of forest biomass, will provide tremendous economic benefits. It will boost rural economies, reduce our reliance on imported fuels, make the grid more reliable, foster greater energy security, and create jobs. Use of biomass for energy will not compete with the pulp and paper industry to a significant extent, and therefore will not threaten existing manufacturing.
• Biomass can provide renewable, reliable baseload power. Furthermore, it is a low-cost, easily implemented baseload generation source, particularly when used in cofiring applications (where biomass replaces a portion of fossil fuels, usually coal). Biomass can also replace all fossil fuel at an existing power plant (known as repowering), but this requires far more expensive and extensive modifications compared to cofiring and will not occur without policy drivers and incentives.

Click here for more information from the forest biomass briefing, including a video and presentations from the speakers.

Issue Brief: Biomass Cofiring: A Transition to a Low-Carbon Future

Biomass cofiring refers to the simultaneous combustion of a biomass fuel and a base fuel to produce energy, usually electrical power. The most common base fuel is coal. The most common sources of biomass fuel include low-value wood from forestry activities, crop residues, construction debris, municipal waste, storm debris, and dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, willow, and hybrid poplar. Most biomass feedstocks must undergo significant processing before they can be utilized for cofiring. The shape, size, and moisture-content of feedstock particles need to be adjusted to meet specifications.

Once the feedstocks are prepared, cofiring is a relatively simple process. A mixture of coal and biomass (typically containing less than 20 percent biomass by energy content) is fed into a modified coal-burning power plant to produce energy. Cofiring systems can be broadly classified as blended delivery systems, in which the two fuels are blended prior to injection, or separate feed systems, in which they are injected into the system separately. The former requires less modification to the power plant, although modifications are generally simple for both approaches. Additional modifications to the fuel-handling, processing, and storage systems may be necessary.

The entire issue brief is available here.
1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036-4819
(202) 628-1400

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March 8, 2009

A New Social Contract for Forestry

Here is an article that I didn't write but it offers an approach to solving the communications problem that currently stymies the deployment of forest management programs. I have written several articles about the sad state of affairs of the environmental litigation process in this blog. If you wish to participate in a dialog on this subject or contact the author, David Atkins, then visit this Timber Buy/Sell article.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are those of an individual and do not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of his employer.

A New Social Contract for Forestry –
Climate Change, Energy Independence a Path to a Sustainable World

Forestry has been in the cross hairs of environmentalists for 40+ years in the United States. This “Forty Year Civil War” has revolved primarily around federal forest lands. In spite of this, I think forestry has a very bright future, provided we complete a new social contract.

This “civil war” originated in the 1960s when the controversies around clearcutting and terracing on the Monongahela and Bitterroot National Forests exploded onto the national political scene. The old social contract that came out of the Progressive Era of Teddy Roosevelt has been rejected. At that time, the “experts” were given the authority to implement land management decisions on behalf of society. This model of top down decision-making crossed a broad spectrum of society, from health care to education.

The environmental protection laws passed in the early to mid-1970s, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act, attempted to define a more responsive decision-making process by inviting the public to give input before the experts made their decisions. However, the laws still held the experts solely responsible for making Solomon-like judgments on behalf of society at large.

Unfortunately, what we now have is a system for fighting decisions, through appeals and litigation, but not for resolving the disputes by finding common ground resulting in an acceptable decision to implement. The system is a ‘winner takes all’ approach wherein courts are asked to decide who is “right” and who is “wrong.”

The reality is a whole array of approaches to managing forests exist, not just a binary choice of right vs. wrong. For any particular living, dynamic forest ecosystem, there are an ever-evolving set of choices to be made between a multitude of resource considerations and societal values.

It is clear from the current litigation-stalled processes that citizens are not content to simply share their opinions. Rather, they want to BE the decision-making body, in consultation with the experts. This requires a new social contract for both the decision-making and disputes-resolution processes regarding public land management decisions in the U.S.

Over the past fifteen years a new boot-strapped social contract of “collaborative decisions” has grown in various parts of the country at the grass roots, community level. The inability to implement actions on the ground motivated people in a few places to re-examine the old battle lines. They achieved agreements by focusing on common ground. This new system is based on sustainable management; the requirement to blend environmental, economic and social needs and desires, now and in the long-term.

This new approach is hampered by the existing decision-making and litigious disputes-resolution process. Small minorities can over-ride the work of the community collaborative effort; the process can be dragged out for years and then end up in court for additional years. This is a powerful disincentive for open collaborative behavior.

I am bullish on Forestry’s future for two reasons: 1) the repeated examples of successful collaboration demonstrate this process can work; 2) there to two national/international issues, Energy Independence and Climate Change, that will greatly benefit from proactive, collaborative forestry practices. In a carbon constrained world and as a country that is a net importer of oil and gas, environmentalists and forest managers have a huge opportunity for discovering common ground. Forests as natural solar collectors with wooden batteries and their ability to capture and store carbon are an important contributor to a new sustainable world. Wood can conserve energy by substituting it for energy intensive materials like steel, concrete and aluminum. Wood can provide thermal energy, electricity and liquid fuels that can be carbon neutral. The solid wood can sequester C for decades to centuries. The need for collective, collaborative, adaptive management timely decision-making and disputes resolving processes has never been more critical or urgent.

This new social contract needs to be based on the following principles:
• power between the parties needs to be fair and equitable involving appointed and elected representatives of all interested parties;
• dispute-resolution needs to be timely and relatively low cost involving mediation rather than litigation;
• it needs to re-enforce collaborative behaviors and discourage confrontational behaviors by disincentivizing litigation;
• Sustainability - balancing social, environmental and economic desires, needs to be foundational

Such a contract assures all the participants that their perspective is legitimate; it eliminates the binary choice of right vs. wrong, it is timely and protects people’s right to challenge decisions.

I suggest we need legislation that captures the tremendous lessons learned from the boot-strapped grassroots processes that have grown out of many locations around the country, codify them in a system that provides access equity, timeliness, and representation in the decisions, and apply this system throughout the nation. We need to move past the old divisions and rancor, and recognize that the need to address climate change and energy independence requires a new social contract that provides structure for a new time.

For an expanded discussion, click here.

David C. Atkins
Forester and Forest Ecologist
Missoula, Montana
February 22, 2009

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January 20, 2009

Integrating biorefineries with paper & pulp mills

One prominent feature of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) is its renewable fuel standard that sets the trajectory for satisfying America's newfound thirst for alternative fuels. 36 billion gallons per year production by the year 2022. Considering that the U.S.' current annual production of biofuels is about 8 billion gallons that is a considerable amount of growth being virtually mandated by the U.S. Congress under the watchful eye of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Where is this fuel likely to come from? Can we "piggyback" any comparable industry and its existing infrastructure to help ease the transition between fossil fuels and biofuels?

The paper and pulp industry is starting to see a way to recover from its decades long fighting retreat. They are the biorefineries of the present. Their byproducts (paper and pulp) are more plentiful and valuable than the biopower and biofuels than they produce. But even so, the current combined output of heat, steam, and electricity made from combusting woody biomass and "black liquor" process residues make these mills the number one source of renewable energy in the country - more than all other alternative energy sources combined (including hydroelectric).

According to many within TAPPI (the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) the time is ripe for retooling the more than 200 chemical paper mills operated within the country.

TAPPI held its annual 2007 TAPPI Conference in Atlanta last May. This year's event is August 27-29 in Portland. It will be interesting to see how the organizers address the latest attempts to engage the industry in what may be a renaissance of its mission and accomplishments.

Below is an excellent story by the Senior Editor of TAPPI's monthly magazine. He highlights some of the key features of this established industry that may very well piggyback the future of bioenergy.

Pulp and Paper Industry Poised to Take Center Stage in Global Bioenergy Arena
International bioenergy conference explores new and emerging pathways, technologies, financial, legal, and operation issues.

by Ken Patrick

The pulp and paper industry is uniquely positioned to immediately produce significant amounts of biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts. With a mature, operating infrastructure capable of delivering double-digit billions of gallons of biofuels annually, generally without adding any new fiber processing capacity, many pulp and paper mills around the world are only a one-step investment away from becoming major renewable energy producers. Especially important, paper industry capacity that can be re-aligned and re-purposed toward bioenergy co-production would be 100% cellulosic feedstock based, with no agricultural attachments at all.

Considering that there are 200 or more similar chemical pulp mills in the U.S., and at least an additional 100 in Canada, basic arithmetic shows this barrelage capacity for Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil could total somewhere upwards of 420 million barrels per year, or between 15 and 20 billion gallons per year for the entire North American pulp and paper industry.

Pulp Mills as Biorefineries

Pulp mills are ideal sites for integrated biorefinery operations for four basic reasons. First, they are already set up to receive and process massive amounts of delivered roundwood and woods chips, served in this capacity by rail, truck and some also by barge operations. In the U.S. alone, pulp mills use more than 120 million dry tons of wood per year, and they have access to at least an equal amount of forest residuals and even a greater amount of agricultural wastes and energy crops if needed.

Second, these mills have basically the same existing infrastructures for warehousing and shipping out finished products around the country. Third, they have a well-established in-place administrative infrastructure and related human resources that can be extended to serve a biorefinery business without incurring significant new costs. Fourth, pulp mills have operating utility support systems for process water, electricity, steam and waste/environmental treatment that can easily be umbrella'd to support biorefinery operations without major new investments.

And possibly as a strong fifth reason, chemical pulp mills already operate as biorefineries of sorts, producing fiber used to make paper and paperboard as well as some specialized dissolving pulps used to make viscose types of "bio-plastics" and rayon materials. Bio-byproducts made from sulfate (or kraft) spent cooking liquors (black liquor) include ingredients used in making coatings, adhesives, detergents, paint, varnish, ink, lubricants, waxes, polishes, gasoline additives, agricultural products, etc. Turpentine is obtained by condensing exhaust vapors during the pulping of softwoods with the kraft process. There also is a spectrum of lignin-based byproducts produced from refinement of black liquors.

This same black liquor that, in fact, after it is thickened through evaporation and the byproduct streams removed, is currently used as a "fuel" to fire what are known as chemical recovery boilers, so named because their initial, primary purpose was to burn the hemicellulose/wood sugar content of the thickened, spent cooking liquor, resulting in a char bed deposit that can be regenerated backing into fresh cooking liquor chemicals. Heat from the combustion process is used to co-generate steam used in the process and electricity via turbo-generators. Today's mills produce on the average 60% of their power from wood residuals and spent pulping liquors.

Cellulosic Pathways to Bioenergy

Rather than burning these high volumes of spent cooking liquors directly in recovery boilers, integrated biorefineries can process them into an array of value-added cellulosic biofuels, including ethanol, various synthetic gases (syngas), synthetic crude oil and biodiesel. These fuels could be used to offset petroleum-based fuels being burned in the mill and/or to sell as transportation/motor fuels.

There are as many as 12 clearly defined pathways into integrated biofuel/bioproduct production at pulp and paper mills. These include the thermochemical approaches that generally involve gasification of either biomass and/or spent cooking liquor streams alone or in combination with advanced gas-to-liquid technologies such as Fischer-Tropsch-based systems, and various pyrolysis techniques involving fluidized bed boilers.

Other pathways involve established sugar platforms and value-prior-to-pulping (VPP) approaches, where hemicellulose content is extracted before cooking of wood chips in digesters in various ways, such as cooking in pure water to produce a "prehydrolyzate" that can be fermented to mixed alcohols or gasified to produce a syngas.

The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) recently conducted a detailed study of the most feasible routes to integrated biofuel production at pulp and paper mills, versus stand-alone cellulosic biorefineries, as part of its Agenda 2020 program. This study is detailed in a two-part series of reports just completed in the July issue of Paper360° magazine, the official publication of TAPPI (the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) and PIMA (the Paper Industry Management Association).

A committee of Agenda 2020 CTO's, representing 90%-plus percent of chemical pulp producers in the U.S., evaluated four general pathways that appear to be most likely for chemical pulp and paper mills based on existing infrastructures and operations. This study focuses basically on thermochemical approaches as being the most feasible, and looks generally at four related pathways.

The business case discussed in the AF&PA report is based on a post-2010 gasification biorefinery operation at a kraft pulp and paper mill as described in a recent report by Princeton University. The reference mill is in the Southeastern U.S. and produces 1,580 dry tpd of kraft pulp using a 65/35 mix of hardwood and softwood.

Compelling Payoff Potential

The main economic benefits of biorefining in the cases outlined by AF&PA for this reference mill include additional revenues from sale of synthetic fuels (511 tpd of dimethyl ether to be used as an LPG (propane) blend stock, or 2,362 barrels per day of petroleum equivalent or 4,757 barrels per day petroleum equivalent of Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil for refining to diesel and gasoline blendstocks at petroleum refineries), as well as a savings of 226 tons per day of pulpwood due to increased pulp yield, and slightly overall lower steam use.

Considering that there are 200 or more similar chemical pulp mills in the U.S., and at least an additional 100 in Canada, basic arithmetic shows this barrelage capacity for Fischer-Tropsch synthetic crude oil could total somewhere upwards of 420 million barrels per year, or between 15 and 20 billion gallons per year for the entire North American pulp and paper industry, based on existing infrastructure and operations only, without adding any new capacity.

This is a very significant potential considering that the President's 2007 renewable fuel standard (RFS) is 36 billion gal/yr by 2022, and that at least 21 billion gallons of this are to be obtained from cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels. This clearly indicates that the forest products industry, and pulp and paper mills in particular, are in a very unique position to help meet this critical national challenge.

TAPPI Bioenergy Conference

These issues, and specifically the AF&PA position paper study, will be explored in considerable detail at the TAPPI International Bioenergy and Bioproducts Conference (IBBC) to be held in late August in Portland, Oregon.

The 2008 Technical Conference Program features 14 sessions that will take attendees through an in-depth analysis of where the industry currently is on the biorefinery front to where it will be in the next five years and beyond. A key issue underlying all sessions is the immediate need to attract investment community involvement on an on-going basis. The intensive program explores not only the latest biorefinery technologies, but also developing markets and the legal-legislative-investment sides of the bioenergy/bioproducts equation

The IBBC program includes several sessions that examine biorefinery approaches already in commercial operation, with from-the-field updates by those "already doing it." Systems technologies being reported in these sessions cover pyrolysis, gasification/gas-to-liquid, acid hydrolysis, enzymatic, and other fermentation-based approaches.

Ken Patrick is Senior Editor for TAPPI and PIMA's Paper360° magazine.

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