Wood Potential Form of Renewable Energy: Minimising Wildfires

Creative Commons/Joadi

Creative Commons/Joadi

Can natural waste products be an endless fuel source? Converting these waste products to energy, can it support thousands of rural jobs? This is already a reality in many places, with wood as that fuel.

The U.S. Forest Service, through its Woody Biomass Utilisation program, is reportedly working to develop renewable wood energy markets. They are offering technical assistance and grants to both public and private sector partners through the program. The agency is seeking to enhance locally produced energy and blend it with improving the forest health and resilience by extending support to reusing the excess wood from forest thinning, urban tree trimmings, and manufacturing facilities focusing on forest products. This includes trees that are killed by insects, fires, diseases, and hurricanes.

Years of fire suppression have the forests in the U.S. overstocked with deadwood, ignitable twigs, and ladder fuels, which reportedly spread wildfires. How can healthy forests be fostered with these catastrophes? The answer lays in converting these fuels to energy, which could also reduce the risk of wildfires.

The Forest Service works with the government, private landowners, and businesses to reduce wildfire risks by reducing unwanted forest fuels. The solution includes wood energy facilities, which convert unwanted forest fuels into energy. Bio-energy when burned under controlled conditions, using filters reportedly remove 95% of polluting emissions.

The good news for rural communities is that there are large quantities of wood waste available nationwide. One of the success stories is that of a collaborative forest landscape restoration program project, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, which spans 2.4 million acres in Arizona. To strengthen bio-energy infrastructure and markets which include cogeneration and wood pellets, the Government, private partners, and industry are collaborating. Last year, a new relationship was built with White Mountain Apache Tribe which added 5,000 acres of wood product substances to existing industries. Another partner, Salt River Project, is reported to have initiated a test burn which involved around 3,900 tons of biomass.

According to Forest Service National Lead for Renewable Wood Energy, Julie Tucker, the facilities using wood for various purposes are normally located in rural communities. It is here that the infrastructure investments and jobs are needed the most. She said that a typical biomass power plant could have annual expenditures of over $20 million. She added that these plants could employ around 120 workers, inside the plant and support around 60 indirect jobs.

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