The Pine Beetle Problem: Making Renewable Energy Lemonade from Biomass Lemons
by Bruce Dorminey (Renewable Energy World) …Armed with a $200,000 U.S.D.A. two-year research grant, Fernando Resende will start work on a fast pyrolysis mobile reactor next year that could revolutionize how foresters and the timber industry currently deals with millions of acres of Mountain Pine Beetle-killed softwood trees.
The goal is not only to produce an economically-viable new source of renewable liquid bio-fuel targeted for use as bio-diesel or aviation biojet, but to mitigate forest fires and beetle infestations in Lodgepole and Ponderosa pines over large swaths of the Pacific Northwest and the Intermountain West.
Climate change and moratoriums on logging in the 1990s are thought to have only exacerbated the infestations which normally reappear every forty years or so. The most recent pine beetle epidemics appear to have peaked within the last five years, and though their tree kills will create problems, they will also create potential renewable energy biomass feedstocks for another couple of decades.
… Although such pyrolysis promises high bio-oil yields, the whole process would require fairly extensive onsite prepping.
The pine beetle kill biomass would first have to be logged, milled and dried into particles that would enable its fast pyrolysis. Then once the wood had been converted to bio-oil, it would still need off-site refining to ready it for a commercial transport market.
…“Once the tree becomes infested, its value drops dramatically,” said John Ball, a forest health specialist at South Dakota State University in Brookings. “We’re left with huge amounts of biomass that can increase fire risk and that no one can use. So, to find a means to convert it to something usable would be incredibly valuable. Even if this technique was limited and fairly expensive, it would still be great.”
…“[In South Dakota], we’re paying $18 a tree to have infested trees cut,” said Ball. “So even if this fast pyrolysis method cost $3 a tree, we still save fifteen bucks a tree.” READ MORE