Satellite-based tools estimate woody biomass supplies

By Anduin Kirkbride McElroy
Web exclusive posted Feb. 12, 2008, at 12:10 p.m. CST

An Illinois-based company has tailored its satellite technology to help clients figure out how much woody biomass is available in a given area.

Lanworth Inc. is an information technology company that specializes in the application of aerial and satellite remote sensing for natural resources management. For the past seven years, it has enabled companies in the forest products industry to estimate pulp and timber volumes. "Now, we added another module that will help clients figure how much woody biomass can be extracted beyond sawmill and pulp extractions," said Shailu Verma, vice president of Lanworth. "It has been a natural extension for us to deploy our tools to organizations pursuing wood-pellet plants, biomass boilers, cellulosic ethanol or other woody biomass-based facilities."

Lanworth has records of global forest covers that date back to the 1970s. "We track growth of forest covers and are able to put the trajectory of growth of any forest in the world," Verma said. "Then we build proprietary models that can tell us how much woody biomass is available." The models use soil, elevation, slope, wetlands and other data layers to estimate extraction costs, as well as the total delivered cost of fiber to a processing site. The models also show the environmental impacts of additional biomass harvesting. "I believe we can help make these significant investment decisions, which not only have an important impact on the economics of fiber supply in a region, but also help manage the region's environmental balance," Verma said.

Lanworth also performs similar analyses for crops. "We assess how many acres were planted, and how much yield would come out of corn, soy and wheat across the world," Verma said. "Our presence right now is largely in the United States, and we also have clients in Brazil and Argentina. Very soon, we'll be working in the Baltic states." The imaging is also used by clients to understand acreage and yield expected in the palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Verma said the woody biomass technology is used by pellet manufacturers, while the crop technology is utilized by large agribusinesses and hedge funds that are actively trading commodities.