Bewildered by Biomass

By Rona Johnson
I recently ventured away from my little biomass world to attend a class reunion in Edinburg, N.D. (No, I'm not going to tell you which reunion it was, or when I graduated from high school because it has no bearing whatsoever on this column.) I realize that not everyone is hip-deep in biomass, but I was surprised at some of the responses I received when I mentioned that I was the editor of Biomass Magazine. Most of the people I talked with didn't know what biomass was, and many were quite amused that there was a whole magazine dedicated to biomass. Obviously, even if those people were hip-deep in biomass, they wouldn't know it.

A few people, however, did understand the importance of biomass and why I was so excited about the industry. I also brought along a stack of magazines just to prove that I wasn't a raving lunatic.

I don't really expect everyone to know what biomass is and why it's so relevant to the national security and environmental future of this country, but it would have been nice not to go through a half-hour explanation every time someone asked me what I do for a living. I guess we'll just have to work harder at getting the word out.

One of the things that people found difficult to grasp is the wide variety of technologies that exist to convert biomass into power, fuels and chemicals, including gasification. For example, in this month's magazine we delve into gasifying railroad ties, aquatic biomass, woody biomass and municipal solid waste into fuel and power. Because there are so many gasification projects going on right now that we could have written about, we tried to get as diverse an array of those projects as we possibly could. I hope you'll agree that we succeeded. Now I just need to send this issue to all my classmates.

I would also suggest that you take a look at the contribution titled "Filling a Need: Forest Plantations for Bioenergy in the Southern US," which starts on page 44. The article is written by researchers at North Carolina State University who don't believe there will be enough logging residue to supply all the bioenergy plant projects that are being developed.

They propose that we start planting short-rotation bioenergy plantations. I don't know if our forests will be able to sustain all the plants that are being proposed, but I think it's prudent to plan for that eventuality.

I thought this article was timely because of the studies that came out recently concluding that Pacific Northwest forests can store huge amounts of carbon dioxide if they aren't disturbed. I'm sure thinning will be a part of forest management as long as there are forest fires, but it's another factor that foresters will have to contend with when they make their management decisions.

As always, let me know if there are any topics that you want to see covered in the magazine.

Rona Johnson