Woody Biomass Utilization for Renewable Energy and Forest Health

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the award of more than $4.2 million in grants to 13 small businesses and community groups developing innovative renewable energy projects and new product development using woody biomass from hazardous fuel reduction projects on National Forest land.

“Energy derived from woody biomass, switch-grass and other sources has enormous potential benefits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, developing clean, home-grown energy, and providing economic opportunities for rural America,” Vilsack said. “Markets for woody biomass can also bolster forest restoration activities on both public and private lands, improving the ecological health of our forests and reducing the impacts of global climate change.”

Earlier this week, Vilsack released a report which provided a roadmap on how America can meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) Biofuels Report 6/23/2010. All regions can contribute to meeting America’s long term energy needs, and USDA’s Forest Service released its strategic direction for bioenergy and biobased products that ties directly to the Obama Administration push to develop alternatives to fossil fuel use in the U.S. The report says there’s an opportunity for America’s forest resources to significantly contribute to U.S. energy security, economic development and environmental quality that will result in:

  • Wood-based energy and bioproducts that enhance the environment/li>
  • Secure, sustainable, renewable energy sources/li>
  • Strong rural economies

Woody biomass includes small-diameter and low-value wood residue such as tree limbs, tops, needles, and bark that are often byproducts of forest management activities. Innovative uses for such biomass can help offset expensive thinning operations and enhance the health and resilience of forest ecosystems.

Grant recipients are required to provide at least 20 percent of the total project cost. Non-federal matching funds total more than $9 million. In Arizona, for example, Cooley Forest Products will purchase a mobile canter saw allowing them to process small logs at a forest landing, thereby reducing transportation costs. West Range Reclamation in Colorado can now acquire a delimber/debarker allowing them to efficiently process beetle-killed trees.

The Forest Service Woody Biomass Utilization grant program was established in 2005 and is administered by the State and Private Forestry, Technology Marketing Unit, at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The program has provided over $30.6 million toward various projects, ranging from biomass boilers for heating schools and prisons, to helping forest-based businesses acquire equipment to improve processing efficiencies. In total, 123 grants have been awarded to small businesses, non-profits, tribes, and state agencies working to improve forest health while promoting jobs, green energy, and healthy communities.

Read Technologies for Converting Biomass to Useful Energy: Combustion, Gasification, Pyrolysis, Torrefaction and Fermentation from Amazon.