Has Construction & Demolition Wood Biomass Fuel Lost its Spark?

wood biomassWood recovered from industrial demolition or construction sites is often sold to a recycling facility specializing in processing this debris. The wood can then be used as mulch, compost, alternative day cover for landfills and biomass fuel. Biomass fuel is a renewable energy source primarily derived from wood, garbage, agricultural crops, and landfill gas. As the world turns ever increasingly toward renewable energy sources, such as algae-based fuels, biomass is receiving more attention. However, because the fuel must be burned to create energy, its environmental impact is causing many to look for cleaner sources.

How is “Biomass Energy” Created?

Simply put, biomass contains energy derived from the sun. The materials in the biomass (plants, wood, etc.) absorb the sun’s energy and then convert the resultant carbon dioxide and water into nutrients. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy is released as heat.

Examples of biomass fuel uses include crops converted into ethanol and then burned as fuel and even animal manure and human sewage converted into biogas (a mixture of different gases). The type of fuel created depends on the makeup of the biomass. For example, ethanol for use in vehicles, a liquid biomass fuel, is made when corn and sugarcane crops are fermented.

Biomass fuel accounted for about “5% of total primary energy use in the United States in 2017. Of that 5%, about 47% was from biofuels (mainly ethanol), 44% was from wood and wood-derived biomass, and 10% was from the biomass in municipal waste.” There is extensive research being done to try to find more applications for biomass fuel.

Biomass Could Contribute to Oregon’s Economic Growth

Biomass energy comes from a variety of sources. In the Pacific Northwest, examples “of biomass resources available …include woody biomass, spent pulping liquor (byproduct of pulp and paper making process), agricultural field residue, animal manure, food processing residue, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, and wastewater treatment plant digester gas.”

In Oregon, the biomass fuel industry has a direct economic impact. For example, increased forest biomass utilization would result in job creation, predominantly Oregon’s rural areas. According to a report by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, “Production of 150 MW of electricity from woody biomass would create about 900 jobs. This does not count indirect job creation, which is usually in the range of 2 ‐ 3 indirect jobs per direct job.” Oregon currently has 17 woody biomass facilities as well as an additional 21 facilities that use woody biomass to create space heat for both hospitals and schools.

Is there a market for biomass?

fire woodThe primary factor affecting the value of biomass feedstock depends largely on how clean it is and how available it is to local markets. The market for biomass fuels varies across the country. Some areas, such as Chicago, have “almost no market for C&D wood, except for ADC for landfill.” Areas like these “don’t care if there’s grit, plastic or it’s mixed with painted wood or contaminated wood.” On the other hand, biomass fuel can be good for business. In fact, some states give environmental credits to companies and institutions that use renewable energy sources.

Unlike fossil fuels, biomass fuels are carbon-neutral, as the sources of the fuel store as much carbon as is released when they are burned. However, “wood smoke contains harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter.” There are a number of filters that one can install to reduce the amount of pollution. Additionally, if wood is harvested faster than the plants can grow, it can cause deforestation. Using fuel efficient devices and planting fast-growing trees can help combat this and help improve the environment.

Obstacles to keeping it viable

There are many logistical and market-driven obstacles in the way of making biomass fuels as profitable as they could be. Unlike fossil fuels, the wood waste needs to be properly stored and carefully fed it into burners. Weather can cause the wood to become unusable, and it can spontaneously combust if left in the heat too long.

Some say there are “no new markets for biomass fuel.” However, all is not lost. The future of scrap wood-to-fuel markets is ever-changing. It is also bright for Oregon demolition clients who seek innovative ways to reduce landfill waste and turn unneeded materials into energy.

Get details on the financial benefits of demolition asset recovery and how we can help you offset demo costs as well as further your green-building initiatives.

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