Making the Most of Woody Biomass

Biomass brings powerful opportunities for sustainability and efficiency for well-situated businesses and institutions that are willing to make a long-term commitment.
By John Ward | September 21, 2014

In my time as a project manager, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a number of projects involving the combustion of wood biomass. These projects have included applications such as district heating for university campuses and process steam for manufacturing. I’ve seen some organizations make highly effective use of the technology, while others floundered.


What sets these two groups apart? While every project has its own distinctive challenges, nuances, and advantages, the organizations that are most successful in their decision-making are the ones that have most carefully considered the following three questions:

• How readily can you source wood biomass?


If you have to source woody biomass from across a great distance, expending a great deal of transportation fuel in the process, then the prospect of burning biomass suddenly grows less green, less efficient, and less cost-effective.


As with any fuel source, decisions about biomass should be made with a high degree of geographical and contextual awareness. Facilities that are located in regions with a heavy concentration on forest products are particularly well-positioned to take advantage of wood biomass as a fuel for district heating, process steam, etc. As the distance between the facility and the fuel source increases, the rationale for wood biomass becomes less compelling.


Of course, for smaller-scale wood biomass burning solutions, other sources of wood fuel might be available, leading to the next question:
 
• Does your organization already produce suitable wood byproduct?


Although they may not be located near traditional sources of wood biomass fuel, many businesses, such as those working with plywood, furniture, or wood mulch, may be ideally situated to burn wood biomass in a highly efficient way, making use of waste products that are generated by their operations. Businesses of these types would do well to consider how a wood biomass boiler might be integrated into their processes.


Regardless of how much promise biomass seems to have for a given business, however, it must have a good answer to the third question:

• Have the business’s decision makers made an informed, organizational commitment to biomass?
Sometimes, lone voices can dominate discussions about energy strategy. But in order to serve an organization most effectively, a biomass solution requires sustained, organization-wide commitment.  Once a singular, driving voice is no longer present, a promising effort may fall apart.


Before making the decision for woody biomass, an organization’s decision makers must all be on the same page and be prepared to commit to sourcing and upkeep for the long haul. This may require in-depth consultation as well as education for the organization’s decision makers.


Biomass brings powerful opportunities for sustainability and efficiency for well-situated businesses and institutions that are willing to make a long-term commitment. Through careful analysis and implementation, an organization that has the resources and the will can leverage those opportunities very effectively for the long term.



Author: John Ward
Project Manager, Fosdick & Hilmer Inc.
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