Oregon biomass developer has three plants in the works

By Lisa Gibson | July 20, 2011

Three Dimensional Timberlands LLC is devoting its resources to the development of biomass pyrolysis facilities to produce biochar and bio-oil in Oregon, as well as ensuring the sustainable woody feedstock to supply them. Some of the biochar will be used for cofiring in coal plants.   

Development of the company’s first facility is well underway in Oregon’s Curry County, about 12 miles north of Gold Beach on the state’s southwest coast. The plant will produce about 24 tons per day each of biochar and bio-oil from about 3 tons per hour of woody biomass sourced from two major prime timberland owners, according to Chip Weinert, partner with Three Dimensional Timberlands. No supply contracts are finalized for the slash and other unmerchantable wood, he clarified, but agreements are in place. All three of the company’s plants will employ a proprietary pyrolysis process that has been proven on a commercial scale, but never implemented on that level, Weinert said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of feedstock here,” he said of the Pacific Northwest, adding that the Curry County plant would have a sufficient supply for the next 180 years, even if nothing was ever replanted.

The site for the Curry County biomass plant once held a wood mill, but it burned down years ago, Weinert said. He hopes to close on the site within the next couple weeks, and if all goes as planned, the new biomass plant could be operational within a year. The company’s other two plants are further behind in development, but will both be larger than the Curry County plant. A plant in western Oregon’s Coos County will be more than triple the size, using about 10 tons of wood per hour, and yet another in Clatsop County on the Columbia River will use 20 tons per hour, Weinert said. All are on the Oregon coast and the latter two will have the advantage of deepwater ports and rail lines. He confirmed that the company will be looking for customers across the Pacific Ocean. “It’s first steps first,” he said. “We have to get Curry up and running.”

While no offtake contracts are in place for the Curry County plant, Weinert expects the biochar will go to customers for one of three uses: coal replacement; high-quality barbecue briquettes; or soil amendments. The bio-oil can be a direct replacement for heating oil, he added, although 30 percent of bio-oil produced will be recycled back into the system. He anticipates each ton of feedstock will yield one-third of a ton of each product.

Three Dimensional Timberlands found that without heavy government subsidies, it’s not economical to produce power from biomass. “Here in the Pacific Northwest, it just doesn’t pencil out to compete with hydroelectric dams,” he said.