A new state study reports that Washington forests have enough supply of waste wood to more than double biomass energy production statewide. Area pulp-and-paper industries say they need to study development costs further to see if they can expand biomass energy production.
"There's tremendous opportunity across the landscape," state Commissioner for Public Lands Peter Goldmark said this week.
In 2010, loggers left 1.4 million bone dry tons of tree branches and other leftover wood in slash piles, which all could be used to fire biomass boilers, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Instead, only 439,000 to 558,000 tons were actually used, according to DNR.
The study, the first of its kind nationwide, only included biomass produced during logging operations, not branches that fall naturally on the forest floor and provide nutrients for other trees, Goldmark said.
The agency plans to release a calculator later this year to help industries identify large biomass supply spots. Transportation costs are one of the largest factors in deciding where to build a biomass energy facility, which is why developers look more closely at forested regions.
Officials at two of the state's largest biomass energy producers, Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging Inc. and Weyerhaeuser Co., say the DNR study is good news for industry. At the same time, they say they aren't prepared to immediately ramp up biomass energy production.
"If there's a way to be able to use more biomass in a sustainable (and economical) manner, then that's good news. But I think everyone struggles with a way to use biomass in a way that's economically viable," Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said, adding that the company is still analyzing the DNR study.
Longview Fibre is seeking to boost its renewable energy generating capacity by 54 megawatts. The company plans to complete the project in 2015 after three Puget Sound-area environmental groups dropped an appeal in December.
Company spokeswoman Pat Case said Longview Fibre uses biomass to help power the mill and sells excess power. The company has no current plans to expand further, she said.
Both companies have used black liquor (a pulping process byproduct) and hog fuel (burned excess saw dust and wood chips) to power their pulp mills.