2017 Trends in Scrap Wood-to-Fuel Markets

Oregon Demolition Scrap Wood Trends

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Scrap wood is part of a small but growing biomass industry that experienced challenges in the last few years. Impacting the recycling efforts of demolition contractors was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule, whose purpose is to control emissions from industrial boilers and other sources. Some scientists argue that using recycled wood waste for fuel is a much greener option than coal. While some feared that closing waste-to-energy outlets for scrap wood and other discarded materials would have unintended negative consequences, alternative fuel providers and recyclers feel optimistic about the biomass fuel industry’s growth as energy price increase in 2017.

Biomass Overview

Biomass is a resource that creates energy from wood, crops, landfill gases and biological waste. Woody biomass uses the woody parts of trees and plants. For centuries, people have used wood as their main source of energy for heating and cooking. Today, woody biomass is generally the byproduct of restoring or managing forests. An Oregon demolition company may contribute to biomass production by recycling salvaged wood that was never treated or painted.

Industries that create wood products produce a significant amount of waste. Loggers, for example, leave about 47 million metric tons of forest residue on the East Coast alone, according to the Energy Biosciences Institute. This residue includes branches, tree tops and stumps. Wood thinning for forest fire prevention produces over 100 tons of residue. Furthermore, milled logs represent another source of energy, as about 40 percent end up as trimmings and sawdust.

The simplest way to turn wood residue into energy is to burn it. Utility companies often co-fire wood scraps and pellets with coal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and become more sustainable. In addition to using wood pellets, the energy industry is finding ways to turn wood waste into ethanol economically and efficiently. The process involves heating the wood at low oxygen levels to produce carbon monoxide. Proprietary bacteria feed on the carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and produce ethanol as a byproduct.

As wood-to-energy technologies advance, the damage for residue and scraps will continue to increase. To protect forests, several states have rules that require loggers to leave a certain percentage of woody material behind to promote natural ecological processes, particularly in areas with nutrient-poor soil.

Factors Affecting Wood Recycling

Over 500 recycling facilities in the U.S. sort and process scrap wood. The individuals running the operations often look for additional end markets for the recycled materials. Factors that affect the end markets for scrap wood include:

  • Quality of inbound wood
  • State regulations regarding the type of scraps in boiler applications
  • Proximity to boilers that accept scrap wood
  • Seasonal demand
  • Proximity of plants that process composite materials
  • Emissions concerns

While the U.S. has gone to great lengths to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and imported energy, venture capital investments have not yet opened the doors for wood recycling as they have for other types of renewable energy.

Benefits of Woody Biomass

Across the globe, billions of pounds of wood waste pile up in landfills daily. Using the wood is a smart way to turn waste into energy that’s cleaner and less expensive than some of the sources used today. Because wood has low sulfur levels and minimal heavy metals, it will not produce acid rain. The net carbon dioxide produced during wood combustion is also minimal because the amount of respective gas produced equals the amount that a tree would consume during its life. After burning wood, industries may turn it into fertilizer, further extending the lumber’s lifecycle.

Woody Biomass Trends

In 2015, wood and wood waste contributed to about 2 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S. In 2016, the country produced just over 9,240 trillion BTUs of bio-fuels and consumed over 1,800 trillion BTUs of woody biomass. This was a significant drop compared to previous years, as the country consumed between 1,995 to over-2,000 trillion BTUs of woody biomass since before the year 2000.

Throughout the last decade, regulatory efforts that controlled emissions from wood-fueled boilers and end markets from scrap wood have affected Oregon demolition companies. Some experts argue that the EPA’s Boiler MCAT rule will unintentionally shut the doors to waste-to-energy outlets for scrap wood. To accommodate the stringent regulations, some recycling plants sort wood into different categories, such as fuel, mulch and RDF. Depending on a facility, its geographic location and local demand, some facilities sell up to 75 percent of its tree trimmings and scraps to biomass markets.

The recent plateau in demand for woody biomass led to an excess of production capacity across the globe. Some attribute this to warmer winter temperatures. While the demand for woody biomass decreased in the U.S., the industry has grown worldwide—about 10 percent annually. With the two primary sectors—co-firing plants and those who use pellets for heat—looking to reduce energy costs, some expect the industry to grow by 30 million tons per year through 2025. Areas that will experience the greatest growth include the United Kingdom and Asia, which are likely to consume the excess capacity. With petroleum prices continuing to increase, the woody biomass market is expected to grow, which is good news for green Oregon demolition services that focus on recycling.

The future of scrap wood-to-fuel markets is optimistic. It is also bright for Oregon demolition clients who seek innovative ways to reduce landfill waste and turn unneeded materials into energy. As the U.S. moves into a new era under a new administration, Elder will keep an eye on new reuse and recycling opportunities.

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