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Calculator estimates biomass potential

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

A biomass calculator is designed to help determine the amount of woody biomass available for potential biofuel development. University of Washington research scientist and engineer Luke Rogers says the tool helps determine the viability of bringing in a biofuel facility. The tool also indicates that the U.S. Forest Service needs to step up forest health efforts if they are to have an impact.

SPOKANE — A new calculator can be used to estimate the amount of biomass materials available on forest lands.

University of Washington research scientist and engineer Luke Rogers developed the calculator as part of the Washington Forest Biomass Supply Assessment in 2012.

The calculator determines the amount of material that would be left over after a commercial timber harvest, Rogers said. That material is typically left behind or burned.

Potential users include investors interested in building a new biomass facility or infrastructure like chippers to remove material from the forest land, policy makers supporting legislation to help the biomass industry and the DNR.

The calculator shows that if the U.S. Forest Service doubles or triples its current program to treat federal forest lands in Washington, it could “substantially resolve” the majority of forest health issues on eligible lands by 2025 or 2030, Rogers said.

“The existing program of treating about 6,000 acres a year doesn’t ever get us to the point where we’ve tackled the majority of forest health issues,” he said. “There needs to be some more aggressive treatments going on in order to get us there any time soon.”

The calculator is meant for a watershed scale or larger. It has less use for private landowners, Rogers said, because it’s impossible to model individual landowners and their specific operations.

But the tool could be useful to a group of landowners interested in developing a new industry on a countywide or watershed-wide basis.

Rogers said landowners could compare the cost of the current practice of burning slash piles, including obtaining air quality permits, to bringing in somebody to take the material to a biofuel facility.

“Even if you had to pay to have somebody come in and do that, and it was less than you’re paying now to get your air quality permits and pay to burn, that would be a win as well,” Rogers said. “There is a real opportunity for landowners to be able to change the way they do business and provide a product, rather than carbon into the atmosphere and smoke.”

He sees the calculator as a good start toward understanding the floor-source biomass available in Washington. Future companion tools could be expanded to hardwood biofuels, such as planting short-rotation poplars, and all agricultural, municipal or construction wastes as feedstock for biofuels.




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