Biobased Bounce Back

Group recommends Minnesota maintain its logging infrastructure and grow its forest-based products industry.
By Lisa Gibson | January 05, 2011

The BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota has released a paper with four recommendations designed to ensure long-term availability of forest biomass, foster development of new markets and maintain logging industries.

The state’s forest products industries have not been immune to the global economic downturn and three of its five oriented strand board mills have shut down since 2007, dropping wood consumption by 20 percent, or 1 million tons. That brings the state’s surplus to 3.2 million green tons, according to the paper, “Minnesota’s Forest Biomass Value Chain: A System Dynamics Analysis.” “We’re at a point where a lot of wood isn’t being used,” says Tim Welle, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota project manager. “We need industries to come in and use that so there’s an incentive to continue to manage the forests.”

Forest management is a prerequisite for successful long-term growth in any forest-based industry, so the first recommendation is to rely on it, as well as increased utilization, to ensure a long-term supply of raw materials. Underutilization of the forests is threatening the state’s logging infrastructure, the paper says.

The second recommendation is to support efficient utilization of that forest wood for heat and power generation, which would also help develop markets for the timber industry. The alliance recommends changes to existing policy tools, including an expansion of the Conservation Improvement Program to include credit for biomass-fired combined-heat-and-power facilities. The program mandates utilities meet an ongoing annual 1.5 percent energy savings, but Welle says it’s getting harder and harder for them to meet that standard year after year. The recommendation also states that tax credits for expenditures on wood energy equipment should be comparable to tax credits for other types of renewable technologies. In 2009, the state had 41 facilities using wood for heat and electricity, some cofiring, for a total consumption of 1.8 million green tons. 

“Recommendations one and two are to keep loggers working to keep the infrastructure that we have today and really maintain it so that we can continue to manage forestry and can continue to rely on our forests for our economy,” Welle says.

The other two recommendations focus on the state’s next-generation high-value opportunities that can serve as the bellweather of the economy for the next 100 years. “We’re really trying to grow the pie,” Welle says. Recommendation three is to actively pursue emerging high-value opportunities such as advanced biofuels and biochemicals that can sustain themselves in the longer term. And recommendation four is to foster cooperation in the implementation of all the recommendations. “Enormous potential exists if Minnesota can manage its forest biomass supply chain in such a way that creates opportunity for both traditional and emerging forest-based industries,” the paper states.
“The quick story we want to tell is the forest is in a position that we need to act now to keep our communities vibrant, to make sure that we have the employment infrastructure to have a healthy forest-based economy in Minnesota,” Welle says.