State DNR selects UW researchers to assess forest biomass supply statewide

biomass
Forest biomass can include slash left after forest treatments that thin out fire-prone overstocked tree stands. Photo: DNR

Woody biomass is great in that it grows — that is, it’s renewable — but much remains to be learned about how and where it could become a viable way to produce cleaner energy on a large scale. We have millions of acres of trees in Washington but to get down to figuring out where and how that might turn into a source for a biomass industry will require research. DNR today announced that the University of Washington, School of Forest Resources was selected as part of the research team to study the supply prospects of Washington’s working forests. It will be the first study of its type in the nation to examine the economic and environmental aspects of a state’s biomass supply potential.

Today’s research project announcement is part of DNR’s efforts to ensure that the harvest of biomass for use in clean energy products is done  in a manner that does not harm clean water, forest habitat or species.

Forest biomass can be converted to energy and energy products in a number of ways in addition to direct combustion. These include:

  • Gasification. Forest biomass can undergo several forms of gasification to create energy and energy products: slow/fast pyrolysis, reforming, Fischer-Tropsch, and hydrolysis/fermentation.
    Slow pyrolysis is the process of exposing forest biomass to heat over time to create bio-char. Bio-char can be used as a soil amendment on agricultural lands. 
    Fast pyrolysis is the process of exposing forest biomass to high heat (450-550 degrees C) in oxygen-deprived environments at a rapid pace to produce bio-oil.  Bio-oil can be used in co-firing or further refined to a bio-fuel.
    Reforming forest biomass includes reactions such as cracking, dehydrogenation, and isomerization into hydrogen-containing gases called syngas.  Syngas can be further processed to a bio-fuel.
    Fischer-Tropsch is the process of converting syngas to liquid fuels and other forest biomass based liquids.
    Hydrolysis/fermentation is the extraction of cellulose and hemicelluloses, which can be treated with enzymes to produce ethanol, bio-diesel, and other energy products.
  • Pellets. Forest biomass can be converted to wood pellets that can be used in both residential
    and commercial heating units.
  • Co-firing. Forest biomass and forest biomass based products (bio-oil) can be mixed with traditional fossil fuels in boiler systems to generate energy on-site.
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