The Endowment supports the conversion of waste and residual wood to heat and electricity (wood-to-energy) as well as a range of renewable fuels (bio-diesel, pellets, etc.) when done sustainably and based on sound science. Where practical we favor projects that support rather than compete with traditional forest products manufacturing facilities. Wood-to-energy projects support all aspects of the Endowment’s mission and our three focal areas: 1) Healthy, working forests; 2) Forest value streams; and 3) Vibrant, forest-reliant communities.
Programs & Projects
Wood-to-Energy Joint Venture I The Wood-to-Energy Joint Venture I (JVI) is a partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (the Endowment). The Endowment and the Forest Service each contributed funds to create a competitive grant program focusing on the potential of woody biomass to generate green energy and spur rural development. The specific focus of JVI is to:
Provide funding to help take promising technologies from the lab to the near-commercial stage, and;
Advance new, sustainable procurement models to address concerns about woody biomass resource sustainability.
The forest products industry – through co-generation of power at mills – represents the bulk of wood-to-energy production, but in many areas new or expanded markets are needed to provide management tools to enhance forest health and to generate revenue streams for forest owners. Both strategies will help keep forests as forests. The wood-to-energy industry, developed in concert with traditional wood products industry where possible, offers a tool to advance forest retention, create value streams for forest owners, promote local wealth capture, and create jobs. The JVI partnership was designed to further these opportunities.
Projects funded through JVI include:
North Star Renewable Energy (link to project overview) This project, the only one of its type in the portfolio, was designed to:
Model construction of a wood-to-energy facility at a scale that fits both forest capacity and local community resources, with a significant local/community-ownership component (40%);
Support area sawmills by purchasing as much as practical of the wood-to-energy facility’s fuel supply from locally-generated wood waste; and,
Create local family-supporting jobs in a majority-minority, forest-reliant community.
What are the Next Steps in Scaling-up Wood-to-Energy? To explore potential next steps in advancing appropriate conversion of public and private facilities to wood-to-energy systems, the Endowment engaged Dovetail Partners (dovetailinc.org). The work resulted in the report: Financing Woody Biomass Clusters: Barriers, Opportunities and Potential Models for the Western U.S. Available at: http://www.usendowment.org/financingwoodybiomass.html
The following six projects were identified as promising strategies and were funded to help take their processes to near-commercial stage or to advance new, sustainable procurement models:
Greenwood Clean Energy (Greenwoodusa.com), of Bellevue, WA, manufactures residential and light commercial, indoor wood gasification boilers with BTU output monitoring mechanisms that meet expected Phase II EPA air pollution standards. The objectives of this project were to: sponsor ten technology demonstrations that confirm market potential; validate distributed energy production; monitor capabilities of these appliances, and; advocate woody biomass as a clean energy solution in residential settings.
Phoenix Energy (phoenixenergy.net), of San Francisco, CA, is pioneering a system that converts wood into synthetic natural gas (syngas or producer gas) through the process of gasification. Syngas is used to fuel a specially modified natural gas distributed generator system to produce electricity and heat. The Merced, CA, facility (partially financed by the Endowment) represents the first successfully permitted gasifier facility in CA’s modern history. The facility is on the premises of a pallet recycler that provides fuel; waste from nearby vineyards is also used for fuel. Biochar is an important by-product produced by the company.
NC State University
Traditional measures do not accurately price low-quality wood for energy markets because weight and volume do not reflect energy content. NC State researchers worked to cast biomass as an energy commodity versus simply a waste product. With data from drying trials, hypothetical pricing schemes were developed based on producers being compensated for delivery of net BTUs, rather than wood weight or volume. The project’s ultimate goal was to help provide an industry standard price, at least region-by-region, for biomass delivered as an energy product. Their final report may be found here.
Environmental Defense Fund
Low-value wood procurement systems for biomass energy production require balance between markets and forest sustainability. The EDF Raleigh, NC office investigated meeting wood pellet demand for the European nations with mechanisms to “move landowners along a pathway to more advanced certification standards.” Their work included a policy analysis of the European Union pellet market and role of the southeastern U.S. in supplying that demand, including programs to help landowners meet sustainability requirements through more rigorous certification systems. Read their final report here.
G4 Insights, Inc. has partnered with Placer County, CA, to build, operate, and test their thermo-chemical process technology for converting forest biomass to pipeline quality biomethane for transportation uses. Placer County will use the biomethane to power county vehicles previously using natural gas. The project will test biomethane using CA standards including pipeline distribution and emissions. It also examined the feasibility of a forest biomass conversion technology with the potential to divert a large fraction of the growing backlog of woody biomass waste streams generated from forest restoration and forest fire fuel reduction treatments to fuel sources. HM3
HM3 Energy (HM3energy.com), of Gresham, OR, is testing a torrefaction process (“roasting” wood in an oxygen free environment to remove moisture and volatile gases) to supply woody biomass-based fuel to offset coal use in electricity production. The technology is 81% energy efficient (19 % is used in collecting, transporting, grinding and delivering wood). The torrefied briquettes have a higher heating value than coal and projected comparable pricing when the costs of installing and operating pollution control devices are accounted for.
Wood-to-Energy Joint Venture II
Based upon the successes generated in JVI, the Forest Service and the Endowment agreed to extend the partnership in what we’ve termed Wood-to-Energy Joint Venture II (JVII). This second round of investments targets two primary objectives:
Piloting approaches to developing sustained public and private capital at the state level to create cost-effective sources of revolving loan funding to aid in conversion of institutional or commercial facilities to wood-to-energy; and,
Following-on with targeted investments made under JVI to move the most promising concepts to fruition.
An expected steep decline in availability of federal and state funds in coming years suggests that the challenges to fund important wood-to-energy projects will become even greater. When the forest industry was unable to adequately monetize its forestland assets, new models were developed (Timber Investment Management Organizations [TIMOs] and Real Estate Investment Trusts [REITs]) that brought large sums of private capital into the market to create new investment models and asset classes.
The wood-to-energy community could benefit from new financing models that bring private capital to their markets. New pathways for legitimate technologies and viable businesses to access capital could offer a systemic, transformative, and sustainable means to advance the wood-to-energy sector. With an easing of financial barriers, key success factors for the wood-to-energy field will develop: 1) sustainable sources of raw material, 2) cost-effective harvesting/transportation systems, 3) efficiency enhanced conversion technologies, and 4) new technologies that support distributed community-scale conversion.
Projects funded through JVII include:
Wood-fired Boiler Efficiency Standards Unlike other energy production systems (natural gas, electricity) there is no single recognized standard for rating the efficiency of wood-fired boilers that are used in combined heat and power systems such as those placed in institutional settings. The Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC) approached the USDA Forest Service in 2012 seeking financial support for development of an efficiency rating standard and the project is being funded through the JV2 with additional support from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund and BTEC member companies. The standard is under development.
Local Energy for America Fund (LEAF) Learnings from JVI, the results from our Manchester wood-to-energy convening, and interviews conducted by Dovetail Partners, all identified lack of affordable financing as one of the largest single bottlenecks to conversion of facilities to wood-to-energy systems. To address this important need, the Endowment and the USDA Forest Service each committed $750,000 to create a grant program that would fund projects related to this issue. Specifically, projects would be funded to test models to attract private capital loans, rather than grant funding, to finance conversion to wood-to-energy systems. Based on a range of criteria, the states of Oregon and New Hampshire were chosen as pilots.
Wood2Energy.Org (link to webpage) In 2008 the Endowment, with support from a number of partners, contracted with the University of Tennessee to create a comprehensive database of wood-to-energy producing and consuming facilities across North America. The resulting product – www.wood2energy.org – is recognized as the most comprehensive database of its type in the nation; yet, there is significant room for improvement in order to enhance user interaction and information completeness.
Input from industry experts led to updates that include taking a regional approach to updating and “scrubbing” wood2energy.org. As the Northeastern Region of the U.S. is among the most densely populated with wood-to-energy facilities and state-level data systems are fairly robust, this region was selected as the pilot. That work was accomplished in 2012 at a cost of just $9,000.
The Pellet Fuels Institute, Biomass Power Association and Biomass Thermal Energy Council have joined JVII partners in advancing the completeness and quality of the system.