Wash. biomass study: ample supply for existing, new users

By Anna Austin | March 13, 2012

Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark has unveiled the results of a comprehensive state forest biomass study, findings of which indicate that only about one-third of the state’s commercially available biomass is currently utilized.

Goldmark began a March 13 press conference by explaining what the study considered to be biomass—a byproduct of routine timber harvests, largely composed of tree limbs, tops and other wood waste created during the processing of trees prior to hauling the logs off site. “Until recently, biomass was piled in slash piles adjacent to roads where logs were hauled off site, and then burned on the spot,” he said, emphasizing that biomass is not saw logs.

Since Goldmark took office in 2009, one of his major efforts has been creating value from the state’s forest biomass. “Over successful legislative sessions since that time, I’ve received authorization from both the legislation and the governor to facilitate power projects with businesses to convert forest biomass to energy in different locations across the state, modify Department of Natural Resource sales requirements for valuable materials to allow for long-term supply agreements, to partner with Washington State University and the University of Washington to conduct a power project to convert forest biomass to jet fuel, and finally, to conduct a statewide study to determine the supply of commercially available forest biomass,” he said.

In order to encourage commercial utilization of forest biomass while ensuring ecological health of the forest landscape, it’s crucial to understand the potential supply and also study biomass left on the landscape for forest health, Goldmark pointed out. To accomplish this, a $1 million grant was provided to the state DNR by U.S. Forest Service. The University of Washington and TSS Consultants won the competitive award to conduct the biomass supply study across the state landscape, across all ownerships.

The Washington Forest Biomass Supply Assessment commenced in 2010, and Goldmark said a major conclusion is that 4.4 million bone dry tons (BDT) of forest biomass was produced by state logging operations in 2010, and out of that number, 1.4 million BDT, or roughly 30 percent, was potentially available for commercial use. “Out of that 30 percent, only about 30 was utilized in 2010, leaving another .08 million BDT available for additional utilization,” he said.

That conclusion demonstrates that there is ample supply of forest biomass for both existing and new users, according to Goldmark.

An additional finding of the study is that sufficient biomass is left scattered on the landscape, both preexisting biomass and as the result of timber harvest. “Approximately 66 percent of the forest biomass produced during logging operations stayed on the landscape,” Goldmark said. “So this study demonstrates there is ample supply of forest biomass to support expansion of Washington’s bioenergy sector…it is a key link to ensure [the state’s] bioenergy sector is based on sound science and sustainability principles.”

The study also projects future biomass production as a result of forest operations for 2010, 2020 and 2030. The database will be able to be summarized by forest type, ownership and forest management across different landscapes in Washington using a calculator tool that will be released later in 2012.

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