Charcoal to the rescue


The prospects for biomass, both as an economic and environmental driver, are so high that it seems like new discoveries and developments are announced nearly every day.

The Tri-City Herald just wrote a story about biochar, which is a type of charcoal that is produced when biomass, including wood waste, is burned through a low-oxygen method called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis decomposes biomass into not just biochar but also bio-oil and syngas.

The bio-oil could be a valuable replacement for fossil fuels and biochar could be powerful tool for carbon sequestration.

From the Herald story:

The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has estimated that if the United States were to pyrolyze 1.3 billion tons of various forms of biomass annually, it could replace 1.9 billion barrels of imported oil with bio-oil. That would represent about 25 percent of the annual oil consumption in this country. In addition, USDA estimates the country could sequester 153 million tons of carbon annually by adding biochar to soils.

A subsidiary of Honeywell called UOP received a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a demonstration biochar plant in Hawaii. And BioChar Products, a startup in Halfway, Ore., is conducting a Forest Service-funded project to test portable pyrolyzer units in forests.

Research will yield more clues into potential applications of biochar and bio-oil. Economics also will play a key role in how the technology is developed, said Jim Bartis, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. who specializes in energy.

“We know we can implement (the technology) now on a small scale,” Amonette said. “We can’t wait 50 years to get all the bugs out.”

In other news, E Magazine just weighed in on the debate over Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) vs. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainable wood products.

As One Voice wrote about last week, some parties, like Seattle millionaire Peter Goldman, are trying to destroy SFI, an independent standard that has certified 135 million acres in North America. SFI is the established leader here, while FSC has had more success certifying wood products overseas.

As the E Magazine story points out, the timber industry is concerned that people like Goldman are opposing the SFI standard at the expense of the entire North American forestry industry. If SFI, which has been successful for 16 years, is undermined, then the only wood left for consumers will be FSC-certified timber from places like Russia and Sweden.