The Green Living Guy

Let’s talk the economics of forest biomass. For 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 an analysis by economists at 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 forest 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.”

Future Feasibility

While researchers don’t dismiss the possibility of reducing costs by increasing the efficiency of biomass operations. Yet the future feasibility and economics of forest biomass is such a development. So it may depend on public investments and the creation of new markets. And while the study considered the possibility of generating biomass from restoration or thinning operations on federal forestlands, it concluded that the additional supply does little to change the economic feasibility of processing facilities.
It would take changes in technology from transportation to processing as well as the development of new value-added products — such as aviation fuel and industrial chemicals — to improve the economic feasibility of biomass, scientists say.

The study may be the first to combine a model of biomass operations with specific locations for regional processing facilities. That’s where the material could be processed and stored.

Researchers identified 65 likely locations in western Oregon for such facilities. All which they call “depots.”

In addition, the cost of harvesting. Also chipping and loading biomass at timber harvesting sites. For it comes to about $37.50 per dry ton, researchers estimated. Operating costs of a regional depot — including labor, fuel, maintenance, electricity and supplies. For they would add another $11 per dry ton. These estimates do not include transportation and depot construction.

“The actual levels of these costs that operators experience will be really critical to feasibility,” added Crandall.

Researchers have explored the potential for biomass to be used to make aviation fuel. That was said John Sessions. John is an OSU professor of forestry. One who did not take part in this analysis.

Sessions has also studied the use of forest harvest residues. That’s to produce aviation fuel in a project led by Washington State University. While it is technically possible, the economic feasibility of making aviation fuel from biomass would depend on generating income from co-products as well. The first commercial airline flight using aviation fuel. All made from forest harvest residues. That’s was flown by Alaska Airlines last month. I mean from Seattle to Washington, D.C., said Sessions. Thereby using residues from this project.

Other Efficiencies

Other efficiencies in biomass processing and transportation. For it could improve economic feasibility, added Sessions. They include reducing its moisture content. Also and increasing its density to reduce trucking costs. The scale of processing facilities could also be adjusted. That’s to minimize the cost per ton.

Crandall and her colleagues estimated that a depot operating three shifts per day. Therefore  producing 75,000 dry tons per year. For it would create about 19 jobs.

They also considered the possibility that an increase in material from federal forests would make a difference, but transportation costs would rise because such lands tend to be remote from likely depots.

Potential for Biomass

The potential for biomass, the researchers said, will likely depend on the ability to achieve other aims. That’s in addition to generating biomass as a product. Also for wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration. Finally energy and rural economic stimulus.

In addition, support for the research came from the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance. It was also led by Washington State funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: OSU College of Forestry
: For a century, the College of Forestry has been a world class center of teaching, learning and research. It offers graduate and, 12-28-16 undergraduate degree programs in sustaining ecosystems, managing forests and manufacturing wood products; conducts basic and applied research on the nature and use of forests; and operates 14,000 acres of college forests.

Source: CORVALLIS, Ore.

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