The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Forest Biomass Economics 101

Dr. Jay O'Laughlin holding...wood.
If you've been more than a little interested in the biomass energy posts here at Go Wood, but have had a hard time getting your arms around the why's and wherefore's of the issue, then you'll benefit from taking an hour to view an excellent online presentation entitled "Forest Biomass Residues: Opportunities and Challenges in Idaho" presented by my friend Dr. Jay O'Laughlin of the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources.

The last blog post showed you biomass harvesting up close and contrast, this presentation is a great view of the biomass energy issue from 40,000 feet, and answers all the basic questions related to the industry.

  • Who wants forest biomass, and how much is it worth?
  • Can foresters and landowners turn "slash and trash" into cash?
  • How far can biomass be economically transported?
  • What two factors have recently curtailed or put on hold many biomass operations and projects?
  • How does the government attempt to help biomass energy be more competitive with fossil fuels?
  • How and why do different government energy policies and programs, such as EISA, the Farm Bill, the 2007 Energy Act, and BCAP, define and exclude different categories of biomass?
  • What significant capital cost advantage do most biomass CHP projects have over wind power projects?
  • What is the "triple win" of forest biomass utilization?
  • Since wood can be converted to liquid transportation fuel, shouldn't woody biomass be worth more than it is?
  • What are the approximate economic multipliers of the biomass energy industry?
  • What is the US Energy Information Administration forecasting for biomass energy production over the next 25 years?
  • What role will short-rotation woody crops play in this future biomass supply?
  • What social benefits of biomass energy production actually exceed the value of the energy production itself?
Each of these questions is a topic of much study and variation over the different regions of the country, but Jay provides the "short and sweet" answer for each, at least in terms of current conditions in the Northwest. While the economics are slightly different here in the Northeast (biomass tends to be worth a little more here, because of the higher energy prices we get to pay), and Jay doesn't go into the different conditions that pertain to in-woods harvesting and chipping versus biomass residuals, the basic fundamentals as explained in the presentation apply just about anywhere.

So, if you want to bring yourself up to speed on the topic, or just need to check your assumptions, you couldn't get a better overview for an hour's worth of your time. Click on the link below...

Publications referenced in the presentation are:



jayo said...

Chuck, Thanks for the nice comments and taking the time to outline the presentation. This was prepared for a series of Cooperative Extension LEAP workshops (Logger Education to Advance Professionalism) so I needed to get it right.

Chuck Ray said...

I think you did!