Wood: renewable fuel of past/future

It is an exciting time to be in the biofuels industry and all forest owners are now in. In the last five years, the situation for forest producers in the southern U.S. had changed dramatically. Within easy driving distance (and so market distance) of my farms, three pellet mills have recently opened. Couple this with a probable return of demand for structural timber, plus the decision of utilities like Dominion Power to substitute wood chips for some coal and things are looking good.

I participated in an online seminar about the growing demand for wood pellets, sponsored by "Biomass Magazine" and learned some interesting things. Wood pellets represent an old technology. People use them for home heating. It has not been a very sexy part of the market because, unlike solar, wood pellet use tended to be concentrated among poorer parts of the population, especially ordinary folks in rural areas. The most important reason for this was availability. Wood pellets are bulky and so shipping them far from the forests they came from was cost prohibitive and unlike solar or wind power, which would also be cost prohibitive w/o subsidies, pellets got few breaks from governments. But that has changed.

The European Union wants to get 20% of its power generation to renewables by 2020. There is no way this can be done by ramping up solar and wind, even in the most optimistic scenarios. Only woody biomass can get them to their targets. Even in Germany, with its enormous subsidies for solar and wind power, 38% of non-fossil fuel energy is generated by wood & in Europe as a whole, about half of all renewable power comes from various incarnations of wood (sticks, chips, pellets or sawdust). In fact, good old-fashioned wood has been the chief beneficiary of renewable energy mandates and its role will grow for at least another quarter century. Europe consumed 13 million tons of wood pellets in 2012 and demand is expected to rise to 25m-30m a year by 2020.

The big practical advantage of wood is that it can be used in existing power generators and substituted for coal w/o major renovations and with only two caveats. The big differences between wood and coal have to do with its energy density and reaction to water. Wood is only about 2/3 as energy dense as coal, so more bulk is required. Coal is also essentially waterproof. It can get rained on for days and still burn just as well. Wood has to be kept dry. These disadvantages can be addressed. The bigger "problem" for the Europeans is that they cannot produce enough wood to meet their own energy demand. American forests have come to the rescue.

The southern U.S. sustainably produces enough wood every year to fuel as many generator plants as the Europeans are likely to convert to wood in the next twenty-five years. We have several advantages in being the big suppliers. Logistically, it is inexpensive and easy to move wood pellets from the eastern U.S. to Europe. Our forests are near roads and railroads that lead to ports that can take bulk cargoes. Once on board ship, it is about a ten day voyage to Europe. Sea transportation is efficient and cheap. Another important reason is that American forests are managed for sustainability.

Most of our forests have third party certification through organizations such as the American Tree Farm System, the world's oldest third party certification & the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the biggest forest certification program in the U.S..

Most of the wood used for pellets comes from "round wood," i.e. stems too small to be used for lumber and or residue from logging operations. Some of this was/is used for pulp and paper, but that market has been declining.

Let me make the point that healthy forests MUST be thinned. If the trees grow too close together, you invite insect pests and all the trees grow more slowly and are not as healthy. There has never been a time since the last ice age when North American forests were not "managed" by humans. Native Americans regularly burned forests and so forests in Virginia in 1607 tended to be more open, i.e. fewer trees per acres and less understory, than they are today. We have learned to manage forests much better in recent decades, using good thinning techniques and proper use of fire. Most pine ecosystems are fire dependent and trees like oak and hickory require some fire in order to regenerate. Intelligent thinning of trees and some grazing can substitute for fire in some cases and is desirable where fire dangers are high.

Strong markets and sustainable forestry are mutually supportive. Forest owners rarely can afford to do good management if they cannot find a market for their forest products. If you just "let it grow" it will grow poorly, invaded by exotic bugs and invasive species, and be prone to disastrous fires, as well as devastating insect attacks.

Our goal is to protect biodiversity, preserve wildlife habitat & safeguard water quality while we sustainably harvest our trees and promptly regenerate the forests. To do that, we need help from markets and reasonable public policies. I don't know enough about the relative value of pellets versus coal in an economic sense to voice a strong opinion. But in the ecological world, it is a great initiatives, not only or even primarily because it replaces a polluting fuel like coal, but because it helps us manage our forests the way they should be managed, the way we want to manage.

BTW - Americans forests sequester about 12% of the CO2 produced U.S. industry, cars and homes. Well managed forests do it better, not only in the wood, but also in soils. It is a good thing.

Posted by Christine & John at July 7, 2013 2:52 PM
Comment #367963

If we could just capture all the hot air coming from the mouths of our politicians in DC, we would have all the energy we would ever need.

Posted by: JWL at July 8, 2013 3:20 PM
Comment #367968

Wood’s renewable, but at what rate? There’s a reason we transitioned to fossil fuels.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 8, 2013 4:48 PM
Comment #367972


I believe in “all of the above” energy sources. Wood can never supply all the energy we need. But it can and will make a bigger contribution than it does today.

Trees grow faster than they used to because of better genetic stock and better methods of silvaculture. In the southern U.S., it takes 30-35 years to grow trees to maturity. Within that time, there are at least two thinning that produce the kinds of cuttings used by the chip and pellet makers.

As I wrote in the article up top, I am confident that we can sustainably produce enough wood for the foreseeable energy used for the next few decades. Anybody who makes prediction longer than that is talking out of his ass, but I suppose it will be different.

Posted by: CJ at July 8, 2013 6:45 PM
Comment #367994

We must also remember trees are growing much faster today because of the increased levels of CO2.

Posted by: Paul at July 9, 2013 10:01 AM
Comment #368003


They are growing faster mostly because we have better genetics and better methods. CO2 does indeed help plant growth, but I know of only one study of its effects on forestry. Trees grew faster, but not that much.

Posted by: CJ at July 9, 2013 7:22 PM
Comment #368010

I’ve got a productive field that, once the farmer decides not to farm anymore, we will move into longleafs. In talking to my forester about how long it takes for longleafs to establish, he told me that the times have been dramatically improved over just the past 5 years using just a slightly different planting depth. Stands planted 10 years ago are already producing straw, and stands planted five years ago are much taller than they’ve ever seen.

Methods are important.

Posted by: George in SC at July 10, 2013 9:33 AM
Comment #381082

coach outlet stores online
coach outlet coach outlet online
cheapest red bottom heels
michael kors clothing for women
louis vuitton sale
michael kors duffle bag
michael kors jet set handbag
oakley lens
louis vuitton bags outlet
outlet coach
affordable red bottom heels
purses michael kors
the coach outlet store
coach cheap outlet
louis vuitton tivoli
michael kors coupons
coach outlet online stores
michael kors watches rose gold
louboutin men red bottoms
michael kors gansevoort
coach usa outlet
cheap authentic christian louboutin shoes
outlet for louis vuitton
sale louis vuitton outlet
outlet louis vuitton
louis vuitton tote
new coach bags
www.michaelkors.com watches
wholesale oakley sunglasses
coach outlet online factory
oakley for women
coach factory outlet sale
michael kors mk5055
authentic louis vuitton handbags cheap
coach outlet sawgrass
coach poppy bags
christian louboutin madame butterfly bootie
michael kors chronograph watch
michael kors kors
michael kors bags outlet store
cheap coach purses outlet
coach purses outlet stores
oakley eyepatch
coach outlet in las vegas
cheap michael kors purses for sale
crossbody bags coach
louboutin red bottom shoes
louis vuitton outlet store
michael kors sale outlet
christian louboutin red bottoms for men
oakley optical
coach outlet factory online store
coach bags outlet sales
oakley polarized
christian louboutin rollerball loafers
coach factory outlets online sale
sale on michael kors handbags
oakley ladies sunglasses
mens oakley sunglasses
oakley deals
coach purses
louboutin on sale
oakley sunglasses sport
red bottoms outlet
oakley sunglasses review
coach handbags outlet store online
michael kors brasil
louis vuitton online
louis vuitton bags used
oakley coupon code
oakley radars
louis vuitton neverfull
oakley twenty
life coaching
coach handbags online
michael kors mk8107
coach outlet waikele
coach purses cheap
michael kors handbags outlet on sale
vintage louis vuitton
shoe with red bottom
louis red bottoms
louis vuitton discount outlet
michael kors darrington shoulder tote
michael kors cheap outlet online
michael kors white ceramic watch
michael kors jewelry
coach poppy bags
louis vuitton san francisco
louis vuitton purses 2013
where can i find louis vuitton outlet stores
red bottom shoes wiki
michael kors overstock
coach factory outlet locations
michael kors handbags outlet online
michael kors watch for women
what are red bottoms shoes
michael kors slim runway
coach factory outlet purses
louis vuitton sunglasses for men
where can i buy red bottom heels
coach outlet store online free shipping
christian louboutin for less
women watches michael kors
official michael kors online outlet
christian life coach
red bottoms shoes
red bottom outlet
coach outlet waikele
michael michael kors handbags
louis vuitton handbag
coach outlet grove city
red bottoms for women
christian louboutin espadrilles
prescription oakley sunglasses
michael kors lilly
louis vuitton sunglasses prices
coach outlet diaper bag
michael kors metallic handbag
louis vuitton speedy bags
coach outlet wrentham ma
louis vuitton speedy bag
coach outlet online.com
oakley sunglasses accessories
red bottom shoes outlet
cheap oakley oil rigs
discounted michael kors
discount michael kors outlet online
louis vuitton bags outlet authentic
louis vuitton don
handbag coach
oakley antix sunglasses
coach knockoffs
red bottoms shoes outlet
oakley sunglasses frogskin
louis vuitton handbags cheap
neiman louboutin
christian louboutin bridal
oakley riddle
authentic michael kors handbags
is louis vuitton outlet authentic
michael kors premium outlet
life coaching
louis vuitton outlet dallas
christian louboutin rollerboy spikes
michael kors snakeskin purse
michael kors outlet store sale
pre-owned louis vuitton handbags for sale
michael kors outlet watches sale
discounted louis vuitton purses
michael kors tote
michael kors runway
handbags by louis vuitton
oakley 4 1
oakley sunglasses where to buy
michael kors carla sandal
coach outlet houston
coach swingpack
oakley for women sunglasses
coach duffle
louis vuitton handbags prices
women red bottom shoes
cheap michael kors handbags
coach handbag outlets
where is a michael kors outlet
oakley lens
michael kors retail stores
michael kors luggage bag
michael kors mk5039
coach purse outlets
louis vuitton pocketbooks
coach handbags online
red bottom shoes for men cheap
michael kors studded handbag
michael kors charlton crossbody
michael kors outlet online legit
red bottom heels louboutin
louis vuitton discount outlet
louis vuitton lockit
louis vuitton sunglasses prices
oakley minute sunglasses
michael kors factory outlet sale
louis vuitton computer bag
oakley jawbone sale
wholesale louis vuitton
louis vuitton mens wallet
oakley antix sunglasses
louis vuitton delightful
black red bottom heels
coach clutches
coach outlet waikele
coach outlet tulare
coach factory outlet sale online
oakley coupon
michael kors free shipping
louis and vuitton
loui vuitton outlet
oakley twitch
where can you buy louis vuitton bags
michael kors plus size
coach purses outlet store
cheap louis vuitton bag
coach sale handbags
louis vuitton purse sale
louis vuitton handbags 2014
coach purse outlet locations
coach purse coupons
michael kors raincoat
coach wristlet outlet
oakley new sunglasses
women red bottom shoes
coach website
oakley sunglasses stores
coach purse coupons
michael kors outlet shoes
oakley outlet sale
louis vuitton monogram vernis
oakley sunglases
shop michael kors outlet online
coach outlet coach outlet
michael kors suits
michael kors bags sale
michael kors outlet cheap purses
coach wallets on sale
cheap michael kors handbags
oakley antix sunglasses
michael kors store
louis vuitton official website
life coach certification
oakley whisker 6b
louis vuitton speedy 40
frogskins oakley
coach purses sale
coach cheap
coach factory outlet coupon
loui vuitton bags for cheap
loui vuitton bags
coach outlet handbags
michael kors store locations
christian louboutin fifi
christian louboutin neiman
michael kors outlet online cheap
louis vuitton neverfull pm
cheap oakley sunglasses for military
is louis vuitton outlet authentic
oakley military sunglasses
red bottoms heels for cheap
coach outlet ellenton
discount oakley sunglasses online
coach purses outlets
loui vuitton purses for cheap
louis vuitton bag sale
michael kors watches for women on sale
louboutin red
coach outlet allen
louis vuitton uk sale
michael kors 2014
oakley flak
cheap loui vuitton handbags
coach handbag outlet
red bottom shoe outlet
michael michael kors jet set
coach bags clearance
wholesale oakley sunglasses
the coach factory outlet online
michael kors outlet livermore
oakley necessity
black shoes red bottom
government oakley
saks fifth avenue louboutin
oakley sunglasses review
latest michael kors bags
coach outlets stores
oakley splinter sunglasses
coach diaper bag
christian louboutin 2011
coach factory outlet jobs
louis vuitton speedy bags
louis vuitton factory outlet
coach factory online store
handbags michael kors outlet
michael kors watch set
factory coach online
michael kors clothing
michael kors outlet bags
coach tote
coach outlet site
louis vuitton speedy
oakley sunglasses whisker
does michael kors have an online outlet
michael kors online store
louis vuitton sneakers for men
michael kors python bag
michael kors online
louis vuitton dallas
louis vuitton factory online
louis vuitton 2011
red bottoms cheap shoes
cheap oakley sunglasses
michael kors hamilton bag
michael kors shoes for women
coach sneakers
coach outlet store sale
louis vuitton loafers
oakley sunglasses gascan
oakley felon
christian louboutin size 11
authentic coach factory outlet online store
rent louboutin shoes
michael kors grayson
official michael kors online
oakley promo code
coach outlet factory online sale
michael kors totes on sale
red bottoms men shoes
coach luggage outlet
coach outlet online factory
gascan oakley
christain louboutin
handbags coach outlet
michael kors raincoat
free shipping michael kors
michael kors coin purse
shoes with red on the bottom
coach outlet sale
christian louboutin france
coach bag outlet online
christian louboutin boots
black heels red bottoms
oakley sunglass frames
sale michael kors watches
cheap oakley sunglasses for sale
michael kors pocketbooks
red bottom boots for cheap
michael kors leather watch
michael kors uptown astor
michael kors handbags outlet on sale
wholesale oakley sunglasses
louis vuitton diaper bag
oakley sunglass store
louis vuitton totally pm
michael kors leather
cheap louis vuitton purses for sale
christian louboutin official website
bolsas louis vuitton
christian louboutin glitter pumps
coach stores
coach bags sale
michael kors men watches on sale
discount louis vuitton handbags online
oakley crosshair 2.0
coach factory outlet online clearance
michael kors bedding
coach legacy wallet
michael kors discounted handbags
cheap michael kors purses outlet
michael kors bags cheap
black red bottom shoes
life coach
loui vuitton handbags on sale
discontinued oakley sunglasses
discount authentic louis vuitton handbags
michael kors cheap
oakley valve
michael kors studded handbag
red bottom shoes christian louboutin for men
oakley sunglasses accessories
michael kors jet set handbag
michael kors dresses
michael kors shorts
oakley probation
michael kors outlet online sale
michael kors purses outlet
cheap michael kors handbags free shipping
michael kors michael kors
oakley whisker
red bottom shoes for men
where can i buy red bottom shoes
louis vuitton las vegas outlet
authentic michael kors
louis vuitton on sale handbags
louis vuitton scottsdale
coach handbag outlet online store
oakley juliet polarized
louis vuitton speedy 40
coach on sale
michael kors slim runway
womens red bottom shoes
michael kors purses
coach shoes
michael kors factory online
oakley military sales
louie vuitton
louis vuitton designer handbags
oakley twitch
michael kors shoes on sale
kors by michael kors
michael kors discount watches
louis vuitton tuxedo
red bottom pumps shoes
coach outlet arundel mills
michael kors black
louis vuitton handbags outlet usa
coach outlet site
oakley sunglasses outlet store locations
coach diaper bag outlet
michael kors overstock
usa coach brand bags
louis vuitton never full
cheap michael kors
handbag coach outlet
louis vuitton soho
louboutin shoes for women

Posted by: haokeai at July 21, 2014 2:33 AM
Post a comment