Wood Becomes High-Tech, Biomass Power Gains Steam

In this new wood economy, where does biomass power fit in? Do these new products represent competition for wood fibers?
By Bob Cleaves | March 06, 2018

These days, wood is making a comeback. It’s hard to find a hip new restaurant—especially one that subscribes to the farm-to-table trend—that doesn’t use wood furniture, flooring or signage. Lumber and housing markets are strong, and cross-laminated timber is making it possible to build 10-story tall buildings out of wood. Our nation has never before used as much cardboard packaging, and the volume will only grow as Amazon, Blue Apron and other tech companies deliver goods straight to the doors of consumers. And beyond that, scientists in Maine and elsewhere are hard at work trying to make glass, fuel and other materials out of wood fibers, in a cost-effective way.

In this new wood economy, where does biomass power fit in? Do these new products represent competition for wood fibers?

The answers are very straightforward. As the end user of the lowest-value wood fibers, biomass power is and will continue to be an essential part of the supply chain, as long as we are making products out of wood, and as long as we have forests to maintain.

Occasionally, we hear from elected officials or biomass detractors who want to focus exclusively on promoting the new, fashionable uses for wood. You’ll hear no arguments from us on the need for research and development, or on “making wood cool again,” but declining to support biomass as a part of the forest economy is short-sighted.

While the power market trends have been unfavorable for biomass in recent years, we are optimistic that this won’t hold true forever. Setting aside the instability of power prices over the long term, our grid is set for some major changes in the coming years. Few in the power sector have fully taken into account the massive new electricity demand that is going to occur as electric vehicles flood the market, and as tech companies unveil fleets of autonomous electric vehicles for delivery. The demand for clean, baseload power from nonfossil fuel sources is only going to increase.

Biomass Power Association has some exciting policy initiatives planned for 2018 that we hope will increase the value of the power that biomass facilities supply to the grid. If your company isn’t yet involved with our association, we’d love to hear from you, and to tell you more about how joining BPA will benefit your organization. Contact me to learn more.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association