Forest Service funds wood-to-energy initiatives

By Luke Geiver | July 26, 2012

The U.S. Forest Service has awarded a total of $4 million to 12 different wood-to-energy projects throughout the country. During a conference call to announce the funding, both Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and the USDA’s Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack voiced their excitement for the wood-to-energy initiatives, calling the funding “significant,” based on the future economic and wildfire prevention benefits the woody biomass utilization efforts will bring.  According to Tidwell, the majority of the projects will focus on using woody biomass for either power or thermal applications.

“We are seeing a great deal of interest [in woody biomass] in communities across the United States,” Vilsack said, including the states of New Hampshire, Colorado, Idaho and Virginia, all places that will receive part of the $4 million in funding. The projects are not only aimed at allowing funding recipients the opportunity to develop wood-to-energy applications, but also for the Forest Service to develop more ways to reduce the risk of wildfires.

In 2011, the Forest Service reduced fire threats in roughly 123,000 acres of land across the country, a forest thinning and prescribed burn effort that produced nearly 267,000 tons of woody biomass. Although the Forest Service is already participating in more than 70 wood-to-energy projects, Tidwell said the Forest Service hopes to be involved in more based on the positive link between slash pile removal and woody biomass utilization with wildfire prevention. The Forest Service is more successful at suppressing a fire and keeping fires out of communities when slash piles are removed for use in bioenergy rather than left to burn, he noted. He also said that a watershed is more likely to recover at a faster pace if woody biomass is removed after logging or thinning practices.

In addition to their excitement about new wood-to-energy projects, both Tidwell and Vilsack voiced their support for a new pilot scale lab that will develop nanocellulose from woody biomass. According to the USDA, the facility in Madison, Wisconsin, will support an emerging market for wood-derived renewable materials. Vilsack cited protective vests made of the wood-derived material that could offer an extremely light weight and bullet resisting material option as an example of the wood-based renewable materials the lab will develop. Vilsack anticipates that over the next decade, “we may see literally billions of dollars if not hundreds of billions of dollars” generated from the economic activity and technology utilization related to the use of wood-derived nanocellulose material.