Forest Waste to Fuel

The emerald ash borer is contributing major volumes to the flow of wood waste in Minnesota, which is home to nearly 1 billion ash trees.
By Anna Simet | October 26, 2022

The brilliantly colored leaves brought by Minnesota’s autumn are fading and falling. Massive, healthy trees abound my neighborhood and much of the town, but that’s not necessarily representative of the current state of all of Minnesota’s forests, which are in perpetual need of managing and thinning (an issue not unique to Minnesota). Notably, the emerald ash borer is contributing major volumes to the flow of wood waste in the state—which is home to nearly 1 billion ash trees—and our page-12 feature, “Minnesota’s Biomass Revival,” underlines just how crucial biomass- and waste-to-energy plants are for wood waste disposal. Says Ken Smith, CEO of Ever-Green Energy, subsidiary of the District Energy St. Paul, “We’re one of the very few outlets for that material. If we didn’t continue, there is no Plan B. There is no alternative.”

About 50% of the metro tree waste the facility takes in is EAB-infested. And while wood waste disposal is a critical function of the facility, using biomass there keeps $12 million in the local economy each year. Besides discussions with operators of biomass-using energy plants in the state, freelance writer Susanne Retka Schill chats with Eric Schneck of the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, which is supporting revived efforts to better utilize forest resources. This includes a resolution that promotes statewide fuel or energy standards for low-carbon, renewable biofuels from woody biomass and other feedstocks, as well as development of strategies and policies to attract new markets.

On that note of forest restoration and energy production, you won’t want to miss our page-16 feature, “Power with a Purpose,” in which staff writer Katie Schroeder interviews Brad Worsley, CEO of Arizona’s lone biomass plant, Novo BioPower. This feel-good piece lays out the history of the plant, and why the Worsleys felt compelled to keep this facility alive (and profitable), while greatly contributing to the health of the state’s ponderosa pine forests.

 While the aforementioned features are focused on wood waste to power, other end markets for this vast resource are quickly emerging, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the explosive renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) markets. Wood is a being eyed as a promising feedstock for the industry, the development of which may unlock previously uneconomical sources of forestry waste. You’ll find a roundup of recent renewable diesel and SAF news on page 6.

Finally, you may have noticed within the magazine—or online—that Biomass Magazine and Pellet Mill Magazine have launched a podcast platform (see preview on page 8). We’re always looking for new guests, so if you’re interested, please reach out.

Author: Anna Simet
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