Wood Energy Call to Arms

By John Karakash | January 05, 2012

Every segment of the wood heat industry—companies working together to design, manufacture, sell/purchase, install, operate, maintain and supply fuel used for heating and cooling—will see increased revenue and respect, when (not if) wood fuel becomes a mainstream renewable choice for heating and cooling in commercial class buildings. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is just one of the laws requiring many buildings to use a larger share of renewable fuels and emit less fossil-source carbon. EISA is in force today, and modern wood thermal systems can help achieve those goals. 

Under EISA, all new commercial buildings must comply with Net-Zero Energy Building standards by 2030; 50 percent of commercial buildings need to reach NZEB performance levels by 2040, with 100 percent in compliance by 2050. The mix includes large stores and retail complexes, commercial office buildings, hospitals, high-rise apartments, resort hotels and casinos, and similar structures. 

While these buildings are among the most cost-effective applications for biothermal energy, they have generally been overlooked by the industry. More than 10 billion square feet of floor space will undergo renovation over the next 20 years, according to the Department of Energy Commercial Building Technologies program, with 40 billion square feet more being built new. American companies wishing to capture that growth energy will need to take action, making investments in design, manufacturing facilities and staff development that take the best of today’s products and service offerings up a level. This is a choice, with the alternative likely to be loss of sales to greater importation of fully automated wood equipment from Europe.

One facility alone, which is operated by Frohling in Stritzing, Austria, employs hundreds of people to make 23,000 wood-fueled boilers a year. The equipment has capacity and convenience in the range needed for the U.S. commercial building market. Recent indications show growing acceptance from important players.Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning engineers and the U.S. DOE are the best examples. The change will require greater collaborative development among all companies, design engineers and fuel suppliers to seek and deserve assistance as an emerging green technology. Help can be available for companies wishing to adapt and enter this more difficult market, which has dollar savings further removed from decision makers than is the case with traditional markets, especially since engineers need to convince the public of the reliability, operational safety, and fuel supply security of wood-fueled boilers.  

American firms can also achieve success, but not until one or more of the manufacturers decides to make it happen. Allies and advocates are willing to help in the effort but the true winners, the companies that will benefit most from that growth success, need to strike the match that lights the fire. I hope one of them starts the process soon.

Author: John Karakash
Resource Professionals Group
BTEC member
(570) 434-2300