Sustainability dominates SE conference panel

By Lisa Gibson | November 02, 2011

The U.S. has an established wood market but how much wood can be used for bioenergy without affecting material prices or forest sustainability? “Woody Biomass: Supply, Demand and Sustainability,” a panel at the Southeast Biomass Conference & Trade Show Nov. 1-3 in Atlanta addressed those questions, to attendees’ delight.

Forest2Market has a tipping point analysis it uses for its clients to determine if existing wood resources can sustain their new projects. “At what level can we stretch our forests before we tip it over the edge?” questioned Daniel Stuber, operations manager for Forest2Market. The objective of the analysis, he said, is to determine forest and economic sustainability of additional consumption in a wood basin, determining the possible future fuel mix, 20-year projections by timber product, and forest health.

The resources the analysis uses include Forest2Market’s delivered price benchmark database, proprietary ecometric models, GIS mapping technology, the U.S. Forest Service Inventory Assessment, and independent thought and research.

The analysis takes two approaches: a multiple scenario approach in which good, better and best projections are taken into account; and the tipping point approach, which analyzes maximum consumption a wood basin can sustain without adverse impacts. The analysis takes into account a number of economic and independent variables including the client’s diesel fuel forecast, inflation, and softwood timber harvests and residual sawmill chips tied to the housing forecast.

Based on a number of assumptions in three scenarios, Stuber showed an example analysis done for an electric utility. The analysis accounted for renewable capacity, wood fuel required per megawatt, additional demand value, and high sustained price, each different values in the different scenarios. The tipping point, it showed, was between 525,000 and 750,000 tons, depending on the scenario.

Speaker Will McDow, manager of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Southeast Center for Conservation Incentives, said biomass will play a big role in U.S. renewables. He presented a statewide feedstock availability model for North Carolina that takes into account both electricity and liquid biofuels from wood. Under four different scenarios, McDow illustrated to attendees how much electricity and biofuels can be produced with the resources around the utility, without negatively impacting the wood basket. A 5 percent electricity standard with production of 100 million gallons of biofuel is sustainable, he explained. Moving up toward 10 megawatt standards brings a more adverse impact on resources, as does the move toward 300 million gallons of biofuels, especially when both are increased.

Attendees were curious about the assumptions made in each of the analyses discussed in the panel, as well as the findings, specifically the increase in carbon with an increase in liquid biofuel production in McDow’s model. Amanda Lang, operations manager for Forisk Consulting, also presented on the panel, addressing Forisk’s model to evaluate how bioenergy demand will affect wood raw material prices.

For information on the conference, click here.