Rocky Mountain Research

Research station launches complex bioenergy research initiative.
By Lisa Gibson | June 22, 2011

Armed with a $5.3 million federal grant, a U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station laboratory in Montana will embark on a multifaceted research initiative to develop new systems for bioenergy production using wood waste and residues from forest restoration treatments.

“The main goal is to address what we think are some critical issues with regard to using woody biomass in the West for energy feedstock,” says Greg Jones, principal investigator for the biomass grant and research forester with the Rocky Mountain Research Station.

The five-year research effort includes:

• Experimental forest operations research to develop advanced feedstock logistics and improve feedstock supply chains.

• Development of new trucking and processing systems to reduce feedstock costs by improving access to dispersed forest treatment residues.

• Development of multifacility spatial models of forest biomass feedstock flow.

• Field research and modeling to evaluate the effects of biomass harvest on water resources, soil resources and forest ecosystem.

• Research and development of a gasification system for forest industry deployment.

• Product development focused on biochar soil amendments, activated carbon and liquid fuels from synthesis gas.

• Consequential cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis of all system products.

• Financial models for the gasification systems co-located at sawmills.

• Market and nonmarket economics research to quantify the costs, benefits and tradeoffs of the conversion technology if deployed in the forest sector.

The team has been able to produce a fairly high-energy syngas, as well as biochar, from a preliminary gasification system and feedback from the forestry industry about its utilization has been encouraging. “There is certainly interest in this industry if it’s feasible,” Jones says.

Transporting and processing residue from remote areas will also be an important aspect of the research, Jones says, adding that little access for wood chippers and other equipment makes biomass harvests in those areas a challenge. “A lot of these remote areas in our part of the world are accessible only by logging roads.” The group will also look for areas in need of improvement in existing equipment designs, says Nate Anderson, forest researcher with the Rocky Mountain Research Station.


1 Responses

  1. Erich J. Knight



    The Paleoclimate Record shows agricultural-geo-engineering is responsible for 2/3rds of our excess greenhouse gases. The unintended consequence, the flowering of our civilization. Our science has now realized these consequences and has developed a more encompassing wisdom. Wise land management, afforestation and the thermal conversion of biomass can build back our soil carbon. Pyrolysis, Gasification and Hydro-Thermal Carbonization are known biofuel technologies, What is new are the concomitant benefits of biochars for Soil Carbon Sequestration; building soil biodiversity & nitrogen efficiency, for in situ remediation of toxic agents, and, as a feed supplement cutting the carbon foot print of livestock. Modern systems are closed-loop with no significant emissions. The general life cycle analysis is: every 1 ton of biomass yields 1/3 ton Biochar equal to 1 ton CO2e, plus biofuels equal to 1MWh exported electricity, so each energy cycle is 1/3 carbon negative. Beyond Rectifying the Carbon Cycle; Biochar systems Integrate nutrient management, serving the same healing function for the Nitrogen and Phosphorous Cycles. A 50% reduction of NH3 loss when composting. Ag manure char absorbs phosphorus for nutrient credit income, CHP, Biomass Crop & energy grants and when carbon comes to account, another big credit. The compounding soil benefits; reduced nitrogen loss & soil Nitrous-oxide emissions and a 17% increased water efficiency are documented in trials across soil types and climates. The production of ammonia and char from biomass and other third generation companies aiming for drop-in fuels, can free agriculture from fossil energy. The Agricultural Soil Carbon Sequestration Standards are the royal road for the GHG Mitigation; This stakeholder effort with the USDA & EPA, Reviewed by both Congressional Ag Committees, who asked for expansion to ISO status, the goal now is to get the world on the same soil carbon page. Economic at all Scales; Local economic stimulus is at all scales of development, from the Global Clean Cook Stove Initiative, to base load manure systems, to industrial biomass power production. Replacing "Three Stone" stoves with biomass stoves, the health effects equal the eradication of Malaria & AIDs combined. Delivering carbon credits to developing countries would further economic stimulus. Given the lack of leadership in pricing carbon, companies are taking charge. WalMart is sourcing local produce, training small farmers and presenting bold leadership with their Sustainability Index Program. Vendors now must supply full cradle-to-cradle life cycle analysis. They are now crunching that data to formulate true carbon footprint labeling, empowering consumer choice. The Major Endorsements include: Dr. Jim Hansen, Dr. James Lovelock, Nobel laureates; Al Gore and Dr. Mario Molina, Politicians; Tony Blair, Tony Abbott, Secretaries Salazar & Vilsack, Environmentalist; Tim Flannery, Bill McKibben, Richard Branson & his Carbon War Room. The photosynthetic "capture" collectors are up and running all around us, the "storage" sink is in operation just under our feet, conversion reactor are the only infrastructure we need to build out. Carbon, as the center of life, has high value to recapitalize our soils. Yielding nutrient dense foods and Biofuels, Paying Premiums of pollution abatement and toxic remediation and the growing Dividend created by the increasing biomass of a thriving soil community. Since we have filled the air , filling the seas to full, soil is the only beneficial place left. Carbon to the Soil, the only ubiquitous and economic place to put it.


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