Conference focuses on energy from forest products

Richard Bogren  |  1/4/2011 1:15:40 AM

News Release Distributed 04/28/10

BATON ROUGE, La. – Current forest products along with other plants that can be used to produce plant-based alternative fuels can have a significant effect on Louisiana’s economy, according to a host of speakers at a recent two-day conference April 22-23.

This conference presents an area of energy production that’s important to Louisiana, said LSU AgCenter chancellor Bill Richardson.

“Louisiana’s future in biofuels is cellulose, unlike the Midwest, where they focus on corn and soybeans,” Richardson said.

Sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the conference was designed to present information on wood-based biofuels, biomass and bioenergy for the forest industry, landowners, energy companies, investors and policymakers, said Rich Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center in the LSU AgCenter and conference organizer.

“Biomass will be a part of our country’s energy base,” Lee Alexander told a Louisiana wood-based biofuels and bioenergy conference recently.

Alexander, the west region manager for International paper’s Global Sourcing-Fiber Supply division, said if new supply and new demand don’t balance, balancing energy with current demand will be difficult.

“Policy should promote forest health and sustainability,” he said. “We can’t afford to let policy undermine sustainability.

Traditional forest product uses must both compete and coexist with bioenergy, Alexander said. “Louisiana loses if we get it wrong.”

Louisiana is on the leading edge of developing new bioenergy companies, said Ned Stowe with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute in Washington, D.C.

In Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved 25 conversion facilities and has 126 contracts with $2.8 million in matching payments under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program – dubbed BCAP – in the 2008 farm bill, Stowe said. He estimates Louisiana would be in the top four states producing biomass based on data from the U.S. Forest Service.

“This kind of value-added processing has a multiplier effect in the economy,” said Kelsey Short with Louisiana Economic Development. “The biomass multiplier is 3.3 additional jobs in the economy for every job in bioenergy.”

Short said bioenergy can exist in one of three basic biomass business models – wood to electricity, wood to pellets and wood to liquid fuel, which has not yet been developed on a commercial scale.

Short said Louisiana Economic development offers a variety of programs to assist new enterprises in the state. “We see ourselves as helping minimize risk,” he said.

The country must beware of unintended consequences of BCAP, said John Bradfield, director of environmental affairs for the Composite Panel Association, an industry trade group. BCAP provides incentives for fuels from biomass feedstock for 2009 through 2012.

The United States produces two percent of the global oil supply and uses 26 percent, said Larry Teeter, director of the Forest Policy Center and a professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn University.

“If worldwide oil consumption increases, what happens to prices?” Teeter said rhetorically. “Interest is shifting to energy from wood, including cellulosic ethanol.”

Teeter said BCAP and federal policies toward energy independence encourage the development of biomass-related products.

Pricing trends in biomass and forest products for electrical generation are tied to fossil fuel prices, said Pete Stewart, an expert in the wood fiber supply chain. His areas of expertise include emerging markets, wood supply and demand, pricing wood raw materials and cost structures in the North American forest products industry.

Stewart said the increasing European demand for wood pellets will lead to a two-tiered market, with coastal areas producing wood pellets for export and other areas of the country serving the domestic market.

Along with directly burning wood burned, woody biomass can be converted into gas that’s burned to product electricity.

Two pounds of wood can yield one kilowatt of electricity, said Les Groom with the U.S. Forest Service in Pineville, La.

One of the products used to generate electricity is syngas, which comes from gasifying cellulose, Groom said. It’s also a chemical feedstock for other products, he added. Research at Pineville is looking at blends of wood with other products – such as switch grass and rice hulls – to produce syngas.

“Any combustible carbon-based material can be gasified,” Groom said. “Syngas with proper temperature and pressure will yield diesel and ethanol.”

Rick Bogren

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