By Emily Jones
If there’s one thing Georgia has a ton of — actually a billion tons — it’s trees. The state leads the country in acres of private timberland and volume of timber harvested. Some in the timber industry think we should turn more of that wood into electricity.
From several stories up at Exelon’s Albany Green Energy plant, you can see a massive pile of chipped up wood, known as biomass. A long conveyor carries it up into the plant, where it’s fed into a boiler.
The biomass burns to make electricity for Georgia Power. Around the corner from the wood pile, a long tube snakes off, carrying leftover steam to power a Proctor and Gamble plant.
From the top of the power plant, you can also see trees: miles and miles of forest in every direction.
But, “we’re not just going out and grabbing a tree, being able to use that tree,” said plant manager James Luckey. “Most of our fuel is coming from treetops, and mill residuals that come from paper mills or something like that.”
They burn the stuff that can’t be made into lumber or paper products. Advocates in the timber industry say there’s plenty of wood waste like that in Georgia that could be made into power.
Johnny Bembry owns a tree farm in Pulaski County. He ends up with waste when he thins his trees to prevent fires and disease.
“That waste from the thinning, it’s going to have to be burned,” Bembry said. “It’s either going to be burned in the woods and wasted, and release carbon in that manner, or it could be burned for energy creation.”
The Georgia Forestry Association, an industry group, is calling for more power plants around the state that burn biomass. They say it’s a good use for leftover wood, cleaner than coal, and renewable because you can keep growing trees.
“They’re talking about sustainability in terms of, ‘well, we replant,’” said Vicki Weeks of the Dogwood Alliance, which opposes biomass power. “We’re talking about, we can’t afford to lose 40 to 50 years in terms of CO2 uptake.”
A documentary about the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy, “BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?” tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry.
By independent filmmakers Marlboro Films, LLC: Alan Dater, Lisa Merton, and Chris Hardee.
A growing source of fiber furnish in both countries consists of sawmill byproducts and forest residues, together accounting for more than 80 percent of the total feedstock in British Columbia, Canada, and almost 50 percent in the U.S. South.
Over the past 10 years there has been a clear shift in fiber-sourcing for pellet manufacturers in the U.S. South from logs to residues, says the NAWFR. In 2008, when the first large pellet plant was built, practically all fiber consumed by the plant was “low-quality, small-diameter logs from adjacent forests,” says NAWFR. It describes that fiber source as a “high-cost fiber furnish, since it needs to be chipped, hammered and dried before it can be processed to pellets, which adds substantial cost to the manufacturing of pellets.”
Increasingly, pellet plants throughout the southern states have turned to sawmill byproducts
and forest residues that in the past were left at harvesting sites. The NAWFR says for the past five years it has tracked the fiber sources for the pellet industry each quarter in the two major producing regions of North America (British Columbia and the U.S. South), and it has seen two clear trends:
In British Columbia, pellet companies have moved from entirely relying on inexpensive sawdust from the local sawmills for its fiber furnish to increasingly supplementing its dominant fiber source with forest residues in the form of tree tops and branches left after harvest operations; and
In the U.S. South, there has been an increase in the usage of residuals at the expense of cut logs.
From the April issue of Biomass Magazine, this data-packed report from Forest2Market suggests existing North American infrastructure can light the way for biomass exporters.
By Stan Parton, Forest2Market
The industrial wood pellet industry is catching its breath after an astounding surge since the turn of the millennium. Global production of pellets totaled roughly 2 million metric tons (MT) in 2001, and roughly 28 million MT in 2015. As this market continues to evolve globally, it’s a good time to step back and analyze other U.S. forest product exports by region and type. This data can tell us a lot about raw material utilization, and help uncover new opportunities for biomass and wood pellet growth in foreign markets. New demand for industrial wood pellets is on the horizon, as directives from the Paris climate agreement begin to take effect, and Asian markets—particularly the South Korean and Japanese markets—represent new opportunities for U.S. producers.
In July 2014, DECC published the Bioenergy Emissions and Counterfactual (BEAC) model, which investigates the impact on carbon emissions of various ways of sourcing woody biomass from North America to produce electricity in the UK. The calculator estimates the greenhouse gas intensity by taking into account the counterfactual land use for the scenario (i.e. what the land or wood would have been used for if it was not used for bioenergy). BEAC shows that some scenarios could save considerable carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, whilst if others occurred they could cause emissions greater than fossil fuels. BEAC did not assess the likelihood of particular scenarios so, in spring 2015, DECC commissioned an independent study (led by Ricardo-AEA and including North American forestry experts) to assess the likelihood that the most carbon intensive BEAC scenarios are happening now or if they might happen in the future, and what might drive or constrain them.
The study found that the majority of the high carbon scenarios identified in the BEAC report are unlikely to occur, but there are four that may be already happening or may happen in the future, although their scale is likely to be limited or uncertain.
The research identified economic decision making as driving forestry practices: the main value of a tree is in sawtimber, not biomass for wood pellet production. It is therefore unlikely that demand for biomass would cause foresters to change behaviour to harvest sooner than they intended, or to switch to supplying wood for bioenergy, but they may increase the intensity with which they manage forests.
By Christine Souza
Despite the wet winter and far-above-average Sierra Nevada snowpack, California forests remain at risk from tree mortality, bark beetle infestations and overgrown landscapes, according to presentations at the 2017 California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference.
During the event, foresters and forest landowners discussed all those issues and communicated concerns directly to Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest regional forester, who participated as a guest speaker.
Shaun Crook, a timber operator and president of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, emphasized to Moore the need for effective forest management and that it be included in the agency’s updated forest plans, to reverse the damage happening in the national forests. The Forest Service is currently working on forest plans to serve as the land management framework for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra national forests, which are expected to serve as blueprints for other forests in the Sierra and across the country.
“As we go forward with the forest plan revisions and the (tree) mortality, we need to be more proactive with the green and timber sale program to start getting the forest back into that state that it was 100 years ago, before we can just let fire do its thing, or we’re going to continue to have the catastrophic fires like the King Fire and the Rim Fire,” said Crook, a contract logger and grazing permittee in the Stanislaus National Forest. “We need a guaranteed harvest level coming off of the national forest because without that, we won’t get this private infrastructure back.”
By Hannes Lechner & John Dawson-Nowak
In 2016, the wood pellet market in Europe reached a size of 19 million tons per annum (Mtpa), while production capacity stood at 23.5 Mtpa, and consists of two largely independent sectors with only limited interaction. The industrial market is focused on large-scale bioenergy generation, while the premium market is focused on small-scale residential and commercial heat generation.
Besides more growth potential in the industrial market to 2025, the likely expansion of the premium sector post-2020 offers an opportunity for North American producers to soften the impact of predicted demand decline for industrial pellets post-2027.
The use of residual forest biomass for rural development faces significant economic hurdles that make it unlikely to be a source of jobs in the near future, according to new research by economists from Oregon State University.
In a model of the forest industry, researchers in the College of Forestry combined an evaluation of costs for collecting, transporting and processing biomass with the potential locations of regional processing facilities in western Oregon.
Each location was chosen because it is adjacent to an existing or recently-closed wood product operation such as a sawmill or plywood manufacturing plant.The study, published in Forest Policy and Economics, focused on biomass generated during timber harvesting operations. Biomass consists of branches and treetops that are generally left in the woods or burned. In some highly accessible locations, these residues are ground up or chipped and used to make a product known as “hog fuel.”
“There’s a lot of interest in focusing on the use of biomass to meet multiple objectives, one of which is support for rural communities,” said Mindy Crandall, who led the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State and is an assistant professor at the University of Maine. “We thought this might provide some support for that idea,” she said. “But from a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn’t all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support.”
As the world works to replace fossil fuels, wood pellets are playing a key role in decarbonizing power grids. European nations, in particular, have invested heavily in pellets for both heating and electricity generation. To supply this increased demand, global trade in pellets has doubled since 2012, with U.S., Canadian and European producers all playing a role. How this supply stream may evolve is the focus of the European Pellet Supply and Cost Analysis, a new study from RISI, an information provider for the global forest products industry.
ACS Sustainable Chem. Eng., 2016, 4 (12), pp 6355–6361
The use of renewable biomass for production of heat and electricity plays an important role in the circular economy. Degradation of wood biomass to produce heat is a clean and novel process proposed as an alternative to wood burning, and could be used for various heating applications. So far, wood degradation has mostly been studied at ambient temperatures. However, the process needs to occur at elevated temperatures (40–55 °C) to produce useable heat. Our objective was to study wood degradation at elevated temperatures for its potential application on heat production. Two (a thermotolerant and a thermophilic) fungi with different degradation strategies were chosen: lignin-degrading Phanerochaete chrysosporium and cellulose-degrading Chaetomium thermophilum. Each fungus was inoculated on nonsterile and sterile birch woodblocks to, respectively, study their wood degradation activity with and without natural biota (i.e., microorganisms naturally present in wood). The highest wood decay rates were found with C. thermophilum in the presence of natural biota, followed by P. chrysosporium under sterile conditions. The estimated theoretical value of heat production with C. thermophilum under nonsterile conditions was 0.6 W kg–1 wood. In conclusion, C. thermophilum seems to be a promising fungus to degrade wood together with natural biota, as sterilization of wood is not feasible in practice. Further testing on a larger scale is needed to implement the obtained results and validate the potential of biological wood degradation for heat production.