Nav: Home

Economics of forest biomass raise hurdles for rural development

December 28, 2016

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- The use of residual forest biomass for rural development faces significant economic hurdles that make it unlikely to be a source of jobs in the near future, according to an analysis by economists at Oregon State University.

In a model of the forest industry, researchers in the College of Forestry combined an evaluation of costs for collecting, transporting and processing biomass with the potential locations of regional processing facilities in western Oregon. Each location was chosen because it is adjacent to an existing or recently-closed wood product operation such as a sawmill or plywood manufacturing plant.

The study, published in Forest Policy and Economics, focused on biomass generated during timber harvesting operations. Biomass consists of branches and treetops that are generally left in the woods or burned. In some highly accessible locations, these residues are ground up or chipped and used to make a product known as "hog fuel."

"There's a lot of interest in focusing on the use of biomass to meet multiple objectives, one of which is support for rural communities," said Mindy Crandall, who led the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State and is an assistant professor at the University of Maine.

"We thought this might provide some support for that idea," she said. "But from a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn't all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support."

While researchers don't dismiss the possibility of reducing costs by increasing the efficiency of biomass operations, the future feasibility of such development may depend on public investments and the creation of new markets. And while the study considered the possibility of generating biomass from restoration or thinning operations on federal forestlands, it concluded that the additional supply does little to change the economic feasibility of processing facilities.

It would take changes in technology from transportation to processing as well as the development of new value-added products -- such as aviation fuel and industrial chemicals -- to improve the economic feasibility of biomass, scientists say.

The study may be the first to combine a model of biomass operations with specific locations for regional processing facilities where the material could be processed and stored. Researchers identified 65 likely locations in western Oregon for such facilities, which they call "depots."

The cost of harvesting, chipping and loading biomass at timber harvesting sites comes to about $37.50 per dry ton, researchers estimated. Operating costs of a regional depot -- including labor, fuel, maintenance, electricity and supplies -- would add another $11 per dry ton. These estimates do not include transportation and depot construction.

"The actual levels of these costs that operators experience will be really critical to feasibility," added Crandall.

Researchers have explored the potential for biomass to be used to make aviation fuel, said John Sessions, an OSU professor of forestry who did not take part in this analysis. Sessions has studied the use of forest harvest residues to produce aviation fuel in a project led by Washington State University. While it is technically possible, the economic feasibility of making aviation fuel from biomass would depend on generating income from co-products as well. The first commercial airline flight using aviation fuel made from forest harvest residues was flown by Alaska Airlines last month from Seattle to Washington, D.C., said Sessions, using residues from this project.

Other efficiencies in biomass processing and transportation could improve economic feasibility, added Sessions. They include reducing its moisture content and increasing its density to reduce trucking costs. The scale of processing facilities could be adjusted to minimize the cost per ton.

Crandall and her colleagues estimated that a depot operating three shifts per day and producing 75,000 dry tons per year would create about 19 jobs.

They also considered the possibility that an increase in material from federal forests would make a difference, but transportation costs would rise because such lands tend to be remote from likely depots.

"Just like with real estate, it's 'location, location, location' that matters here, and national forest lands are not uniformly distributed across the landscape," said Darius Adams, co-author on the paper. "They are frequently in less accessible areas, and it would cost more to transport material."

The potential for biomass, the researchers said, will likely depend on the ability to achieve other aims in addition to generating biomass as a product: wildfire risk reduction, forest restoration, energy and rural economic stimulus.

Support for the research came from the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance led by Washington State funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
-end-


Oregon State University

Related Biomass Articles:

Upgrading biomass with selective surface-modified catalysts
Loading single platinum atoms on titanium dioxide promotes the conversion of a plant derivative into a potential biofuel.
A novel biofuel system for hydrogen production from biomass
A recent study, affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) has presented a new biofuel system that uses lignin found in biomass for the production of hydrogen.
Biomass fuels can significantly mitigate global warming
'Every crop we tested had a very significant mitigation capacity despite being grown on very different soils and under natural climate variability,' says Dr.
Traditional biomass stoves shown to cause lung inflammation
Traditional stoves that burn biomass materials and are not properly ventilated, which are widely used in developing nations where cooking is done indoors, have been shown to significantly increase indoor levels of harmful PM2.5 (miniscule atmospheric particulates) and carbon monoxide (CO) and to stimulate biological processes that cause lung inflammation and may lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
Biotech breakthrough turns waste biomass into high value chemicals
A move towards a more sustainable bio-based economy has been given a new boost by researchers who have been able to simplify a process to transform waste materials into high value chemicals.
How preprocessing methods affect the conversion efficiency of biomass energy production
Research on energy production from biomass usually focuses on the amount of energy generated.
Supercomputing improves biomass fuel conversion
Pretreating plant biomass with THF-water causes lignin globules on the cellulose surface to expand and break away from one another and the cellulose fibers.
Whole-tree harvesting could boost biomass production
Making the shift to renewable energy sources requires biomass, too.
Left out to dry: A more efficient way to harvest algae biomass
Researchers at the University of Tsukuba develop a new system for evaporating the water from algae biomass with reusable nanoporous graphene, which can lead to cheaper, more environmentally friendly biofuels and fine chemicals.
Symbiotic upcycling: Turning 'low value' compounds into biomass
Kentron, a bacterial symbiont of ciliates, turns cellular waste products into biomass.
More Biomass News and Biomass Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.