Beetle report provides useful options

Columnist Jim Hilton delves into mountain pine beetle report from 2006.

The authors of this 100 page report use the term bugwood for trees killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. This detailed report published in February 2006 provides some valuable information on what goes into providing an estimate for a return on investment on a variety of uses for bugwood biomass. The study was funded by the provincial government with the work done by a Vancouver company.

The details are listed at the end of this article.

The executive summary provided the following information:

“This study examines the technical and economic feasibility of converting the biomass resource in pine-beetle killed trees (bugwood) into energy products. Seven different technological approaches were examined: the Lignol process to make ethanol, small-scale CHP (combined heat and power), bio-liquid, cellulignin briquettes, gasification to make methanol, pipeline quality synthetic natural gas (SNG), and pelletizing. Of these processes only pelletizing is currently considered commercial in B.C.”

Each study shows details of capital costs, salaries, fuel, electrical use, feedstock harvesting and transportation and any incentives or carbon credits. The most profitable scenario was a 50 ton per hour plant that shipped the pellets to an Alberta coal plant with a return on investment of 15 per cent.

The report is loaded with tables, charts and graphs and pictures on the factors that go into what it takes to make a profit on the various end products. Although the majority of process were not considered viable at the time of writing the report the authors provide some valuable advice for the government and industry regarding how some of the alternative processes could become viable.

Some of the suggestions recommended for further investigation are:

• Confirm the cost of harvesting bugwood and resolve discrepancies between various studies quoting different costs.

• Assess market value and potentials for products made from bugwood in domestic and foreign markets, and identify possible sites and/or partners for community or industry CHP installations.

• Develop a bugwood-for-energy strategy that links in with B.C.’s Alternative Energy Strategy, and analyze how several plants of various technologies could work together synergetically to use this resource cost-efficiently.

• The harvesting of non-stem wood or forest fire fuel load reduction may present an economic opportunity for BC that has so far been ignored. In Scandinavia, special processors collect branches and small diameter stems to form bundles which are then utilized in energy conversion plants. According to FERIC, the density of non-stemwood is still low even if bundled, and the cost of bundlers is high (i.e., on-site chipping of such wood may be another option to be considered for B.C.)

• Detailed economic and feasibility studies should be encouraged, possibly through public / private partnerships, for specific locations and applications as some of the assumptions in this report (e.g. averaging transport distance), the availability of waste fibre, and local community and/or industry needs for energy may have masked a site-specific economic opportunity.

• The feasibility of micro or small community-scale wood gas systems, such as mobile self powered whole log or branch chippers could be evaluated.

Most of the technologies presented in this report and other reports concerning bugwood require further development and refinement of expertise and knowledge to bring them to commercialization. Information has been presented to suggest the most promising opportunities.

This study further recommends the creation of a comprehensive bugwood-for-energy strategy for BC based on additional studies to identify markets, biomass energy facility locations, and co-ordination of the different approaches to bugwood utilization.

The goal would be to use the bugwood resource; to enable accelerated rejuvenation of affected forests and to create new biomass energy industries that can source other forestry energy feedstocks to continue to function after the bugwood is no longer available.

To my knowledge very few of the recommendations have been taken seriously since the publication of the report and the focus has been on large scale programs like hydroelectric or LNG plans.

That is unfortunate because many of these smaller ventures have a much better employment opportunity relative to the amount of feedstock used.

Jim Hilton is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.


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