Meeting Exploding Biomass Demand Sustainably

By Tim Portz | May 06, 2013

The production cycle for this issue of Biomass Magazine fell smack dab in the middle of the International Biomass Conference & Expo, which our team just wrapped up. More than 1,200 of you joined us in Minneapolis, and I’m not alone when I suggest that this year’s event was the strongest in the conference’s six-year history.  Our efforts to establish the International Biomass Conference & Expo as the preeminent annual venue for the varied sectors that together form the biomass industry we are so happy to serve are truly succeeding.

In keeping with tradition, we opened the conference with a moderated conversation featuring the leaders of the various biomass industry associations.  This year, we asked association leaders to share with our audience news about facilities under active construction and expansion. We were delighted to hear of robust activity in all biomass industry sectors. Each of the association leaders pointed to policy certainty as a critical component and the number one catalyst for the continued and accelerated expansion of their segment. Interestingly, foreign energy policy is emerging as one of the largest catalysts for domestic biomass energy activity. Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, briefed our audience on the tremendous market signal being sent to the American Southeast by the architects of the U.K. Renewable Obligation Certificate scheme.

The appetite for U.S.-produced American wood pellets is music to the industry’s ears, but the Europeans want and are demanding a fiber supply that can meet both performance and sustainability criteria. This issue of Biomass Magazine examines each of these in turn.  Chris Hanson’s feature, “The Weight of Biomass Analysis,” lays out the most common tests performed on wood pellets, the manner in which the tests are performed and the reason buyers demand that these metrics be met. Anna Simet’s feature,  “Certification Uncertainty,” outlines the challenge the industry faces in bringing enough forest acres under active certification to satisfy the appetites of foreign pellet buyers.  While institutional landowners can afford the investment of getting their acres certified, it isn’t feasible for many smaller private landowners. Simet’s feature suggests that the forestry industry and certification segment are already working on this problem so that the sustainability requirements of foreign buyers don’t create a supply bottleneck stateside.

Clearly, the underlying point of certification requirements is to prove the overall sustainability of the supply chain. As our industry ramps up to satisfy growing demand for biomass inputs and biomass-derived energy, our customers and the public at large will have to be assured we are doing so sustainably. The job that now falls to our industry is to work with our customers, our partners and the scientific community to stake out an objective and measurable definition of what sustainability is, while developing and deploying a  cost-effective means of guaranteeing our supply and production chains operate inside of those parameters.