Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Coming Soon: Wood-Based Biofuels

Foreign Confidential™ energy intelligence: cellulosic ethanol is a costly joke--the energy of the future that always will be of the future. This is true regardless of the feedstock that is used to make the alternative fuel--switchgrass and other energy crops, or wood.

But other wood-based biofuels are becoming a reality.

In the Netherlands and Canada, projects are underway to prove commercial production of ready-to-use bio-coal and bio-gasoline, respectively, from an ideal, inedible feedstock--biomass. Commonly called waste wood or junk wood by loggers, biomass as the term is used in timberland management refers to the lowest grade wood that is typically left over from responsible forestry operations. Treetops, twigs, branches, bark, even stumps and some roots are all considered biomass--tree parts that can't be used to make lumber or paper or even firewood. (Click here for a broader definition of biomass.)

Some European, North American, and Japanese companies are focused on converting woody biomass into bio-propane.

Meanwhile, Finland's giant UPM forest products company is set to begin construction of the world's first wood-based renewable diesel plant, a 150 million euro facility that will convert pulp (made from a somewhat higher grade wood than biomass) into a drop-in motor transport fuel.

The wood-based biofuel that is closest to being commercialized is bio-coal, which is made through a roasting-like process called torrefaction. Moisture-resistant bio-coal can be transported, stored, ground up and burned just like coal. Thus, bio-coal can be blended (co-fired) with coal to cut carbon dioxide emissions in line with Europe's 20/20/20 mandate: 20% "carbon" reduction by the year 2020.

Prediction: EU utilities, dependent on coal-fired power plants, will increasingly look to North America for feedstock. For the foreseeable future, there is nowhere else to go to source massive amounts of certifiably sustainable biomass from legal logging operations.

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