Another way to use wood


A lot of people outside the timber world don’t even know what the word “biomass” means, but that probably won’t be true for much longer. Biomass — the woody material left over from timber harvesting or thinning — has the potential to be a potent source of energy, and everyone from the federal and state governments to the business community is realizing this.

President Obama recently spoke about his support for biofuels, including those made from wood, as he drums up support for his climate change bill. And Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to reporters about the first biofuel rule created by the president, including some carrots offered to the wood products industry.

The National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) applauded the president’s new biofuel rule but said current federal law still does not allow biomass from most private forests.

NAFO President David Tenny:

By excluding private forests as a part of our nation’s renewable energy strategy, the (2007) EISA biomass definition forecloses a critical part of the solution to reducing our dependence on foreign, high carbon sources of fuel.  That hurts the quality of our air, the energy independence of our nation and the ability of forest owners to invest in long term health of their forests.

As we previously wrote about, Peter Goldmark, Washington State’s Commissioner of Public Lands, recently announced that the state is partnering with four companies on biomass projects using wood waste from state forestlands. In a separate deal, Maryland-based Duke Energy and global firm Areva said they will build a $250 million biomass plant in Shelton, Mason County. Their new biomass energy startup is called Adage.

The project drew strong support Thursday from political and community leaders in Mason County, a rural Western Washington county with a 10.7 percent unemployment rate and long reliance on the timber industry.

“There’s a great labor force here – ready, willing and able to work,” said state Rep. Fred Finn, a Democrat whose district includes Mason County.

…(W)ood debris is viewed by Adage and other companies entering the field as a renewable natural resource that can be converted to energy to reduce both foreign dependence on oil and greenhouse gas emissions from uncontrolled burning.

“This is part of the next chapter in the forest products industry,” said Mason County Commissioner Lynda Ring Erickson.

This is great news for timber communities, great news for forest landowners and great news for the burgeoning biomass industry.