Biomass awards center discussion on new messaging, markets

By Ron Kotrba | February 04, 2020

The 13th Annual International Biomass Conference & Expo welcomed nearly 900 attendees Feb. 4 in Nashville, Tennessee, as the event kicked off with two important awards presentations.

Biomass Magazine editor Anna Simet presented Bruce Lisle, CEO of Energex Corp., with the Excellence in Bioenergy Award for his 30 years of market and industry development in the wood pellet sector.

“I guess I’ll quote the Grateful Dead and say, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Lisle said.

Lisle took the audience through a brief history of the dawn of the U.S. wood pellet market from the early to mid-1990s. “We as an industry bound together, and it worked because we worked collectively,” Lisle said, adding that he has a new charge for the biomass industry to take on.

“We are under attack, and there’s nothing we’ve done about it yet,” said Lisle, explaining that the biomass industry has not effectively fought the unmerited attacks misguided “environmentalists.”

He recalled a biomass event a few years ago where the attendees were “flash mobbed” by the Dogwood Alliance.

“Renewable energy is great, but in this country, we’re faced with the problem of not collectively working together to counter what I’m seeing right now,” he said. The biomass industries “need to get it together,” Lisle said, in order to cohesively relay messages such as, despite growth in our industries, “there are more forests now than there were in 1900.”  

Lisle was nominated for the Excellence in Bioenergy Award by his son Kenny Lisle.

Simet also presented the Groundbreaker of the Year Award. “This award is focused on great projects that serve as models for others,” Simet said.

This year’s award went to Carlton Owen, president and CEO of the U.S. Endowment of Forestry and Communities, whose torrefaction project in Oregon—Restoration Fuels—is featured on the cover of the March/April 2020 print issue of Biomass Magazine.

“Over the past decade and half, we’ve looked for solutions to the challenges faced by North American forests, with dead and dying trees,” Owen said. “We found only one scalable option—torrefaction. We did not want to get into a for-profit business, but we came to the conclusion that no one wanted to do it—so we did it, and we’re all in. But it’s been a challenge for our team.”

Owen said there are at least 80 million acres of private forestland in the U.S. that need restoration. “We lost 55 percent of the pulp and paper market since 1990,” he said. This market played an important role in the utilization of forest residuals that, when left unused, lead to a decline in overall forest health.

“Restoration Fuels, if successful, will grow new markets,” Owen said. “It will create a significant, sustainable, transformative change for our sector. It will invigorate forest heath. We’re doing what others can’t or won’t. Forests are vital to our country and our planet. This project will be looked at in one of two ways—either a grand slam out of the park, or one heck of a strikeout. As a person of faith, if you believe in prayers, we need yours. We will produce better opportunities for you and the people of our nation.”