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TimberWest November/December 2013

July/August 2014

Turning Challenge into Opportunity
Ted Hufford, owner of Timberline
Logging always knew going in it
wasn’t going to be easy.

Keep it Simple
Barnes and Sons Logging in Lewis County, Wash., has that “Go for It” spirit

Any Job is Possible
Pulley Logging of Sedro Woolley
takes on anything from thinning
to helicopter logging.

Safety at Tght Landings

Time for Congress to Improve
the Health of Forests
Guest Column, Nick Smith, Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.

Pacific Logging Congress Showguide

DEPARTMENTS

Tech review - portable grinders

Woody Biomass Column

In the News

Association News

Machinery Row

 

 

 

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The College Crowd Takes on Woody Biomass

By Barbara Coyner

If you are flying out of a Pacific Northwest airport, chances are that you might soon be seated in a jet powered by woody biomass. In fact, it might already be happening.

The sophisticated woody biomass jet fuels of today – and tomorrow – are the product of years of testing and many trial runs. After the woody biomass is transformed from its crude beginnings to a highly refined biofuel, it is run through engines, and the engines are deconstructed and studied for corrosion, as well as overall performance.

Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliance

Behind some of these intense studies is a group known as NARA, or Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, which is composed of university scholars and scientists. The Department of Agriculture provided seed money of $40 million to Washington State University and another $40 million to the University of Washington in 2011, making it one of the largest USDA grants ever handed out. The grants cover a five-year period.

For the logging contractors working in the remote western woods, such well-funded academic research is a million miles away. Yet in reading the NARA publications online, it is clear that the link between academics and producers is vital. Moreover, researchers are challenging high school students to delve into woody biomass power too.

Students are sinking their teeth into theories and scientific experiments, giving presentations at regional gatherings, vying for who can come up with the best ideas. This is just one way that young people can be invited to learn about forestry cycles and the contributions of loggers in producing alternative and renewable energy sources. (Read more about NARA’s Imagine Tomorrow Competition at http://nararenewables.org/feature/newsletter-17.)

woody biomass

Potential Sites

Beyond the emerging educational opportunities, there is the woody biomass research itself. For example, the Western Montana Corridor study (http://nararenewables.org/feature/newsletter-17#story2) is an in-depth section on potential sites for the production and storage of woody biomass. As the study lays it out, biomass is brought to a conversion facility where residuals are converted into carbohydrates, which are then processed into isobutanol, or biojet fuel. The conversion process is similar to the long-practiced method of sulfite pulping, making an old pulp mill facility a perfect conversion site.

So where are some good potential sites? Many might be right in your own backyard. In fact, a vacant millsite near my Princeton, Idaho, home turns out to be a feasible site, not because it’s a pulp mill, but rather because it has other attributes such as central location, railroad access, and several useable outbuildings. The study considers this site a possible feeder location that could serve a hub facility at the now defunct pulp mill in Frenchtown, Mont., 223 miles away.

Montana Corridor Study

The Montana Corridor study by NARA lists an industrial site at Libby as a potential conversion hub, with Idaho depot sites at Bonners Ferry, Priest River, and Athol, and Montana sites at Noxon, Fortine, and Thompson Falls. The study delves into the pros and cons of each site. For example, the Bonners Ferry site was previously a Louisiana Pacific mill site, with rail connections, sewer, water, outbuildings, and commercial zoning all working in its favor; not to mention abundant vacant land for biomass storage. Such a feeder system has to be part of the equation if costs are to be kept down, and Bonners Ferry fills the bill. By contrast, Noxon and Priest River are not conveniently located near rail lines, making the shipping of materials more costly.

The old Smurfit-Stone pulp mill site at Frenchtown also comes under the microscope in the NARA Western Montana Corridor study. The mill closed in 2010, but the location remains prime, being at the junction of I-90 and highways 200 and 93. With 3,200 acres, wastewater ponds, and railroad spurs coming into the grounds, the site would make a feasible conversion hub. As for the feeder sites, the study lists the old Plum Creek sawmill grounds at Pablo, Mont., along with the Anaconda Smelter superfund site near Deer Lodge, the old mill grounds at Princeton, eight acres at Darby, Mont., spare land around a still-operating mill at Kamiah, Idaho, and the abandoned mill operation at Bonner, Mont. In each instance, researchers have evaluated these potential depot sites as possibly advantageous because of existing rail lines, good location, remaining outbuildings, or any number of other attributes. Such attributes have to be considered, given the low commercial value of woody biomass.

Research Results

These are but some of the examples of research being churned out by NARA participants. No doubt pinpointing actual locations and the advantages of each processing site can help woody biomass processors get real about the end game. After all, biomass storage, convenience of location, connectivity to rail lines, and existing infrastructure are all vital components for turning wood waste into jet fuel.

The steady stream of residuals has to be handled efficiently and economically in order to get investors and the public to buy into the plan. An added bonus is that with college students now doing some of the research, there is likely a new awareness about woody biomass by a part of the public that might have had little knowledge of such wood products potential.

A member of the NARA Outreach Team, Craig Rawlings of the Forest Business Network, sums up the in-depth studies this way: “Whether or not an ounce of jet fuel comes out of this project, this is very solid research that will benefit any industry that utilizes logging slash. No matter what you use this stuff for, the value is low, and the cost of collecting, processing, and transporting is high. A major component of this project focuses on lowering these costs and improving efficiency.”

As a postscript, an online report details the importance of biofuels to the military, as assessed by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Read more at http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/10634/new-video-highlights-the-importance-of-biofuels-to-the-military.

Map courtesy of N. Martinkus, W.P. Shi, N. Lovrich, J. Pierce, P. Smith, and M. Wolcott. 2014 - Integrating biogeophysical and social assets into biomass-to-biofuel supply chain siting decisions.