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Woody Biomass Utilization

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Pyrolysis Session, New Fact Sheet and Smallwood Conference Summary

Last week I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, for the Smallwood 2012 conference.  I was on the planning committee and it was great to see over 200 people in attendance.  The conference started with some good introductory presentations looking at the background to the Southwest forest products industry (Todd Morgan, University of Montana) and to broader federal policy issues (Butch Blazer, USDA).  The conference then split into two tracks and covered topics ranging from collaboration, ecosystem restoration, grants and incentives, pre-treatment, technologies and products, markets and other topics.  

General Session

I was fortunate to be moderating a panel on pyrolysis technologies.  I started with a brief introduction to the range of pyrolysis technologies including slow pyrolysis, torrefaction and fast pyrolysis.  The tables below compare pyrolysis technologies, outputs and markets. 

The speakers and topics were:

  • Jim Ippolito (USDA-ARS Northwest Irrigation & Soils Research Laboratory) – Biochar Opportunities
  • Andy Soria (University of Alaska) - Pyrolysis Oil Opportunities
  • Larry Felix (Gas Technology Institute) – Torrefaction Opportunities

Jim gave an excellent introduction to the uses and properties of biochar which can be produced from a variety of processes.  I appreciated that, in addition to covering pyrolysis technologies, Andy and Larry introduced the audience to two alternative technologies: hydro-thermal carbonization (to produce a product similar to torrefied wood) and liquefaction using supercritical fluids (to produce a bio-oil).  

The speakers did a great job at helping the audience to understand a complex topic and the opportunities and challenges that it presents.  There is currently significant interest in pyrolysis due the range of potentially useful products that could be made from forest biomass.  However, this is still an emerging technology and it may be years before some of the technologies and products become a reality.  

We have recently written a fact sheet on pyrolysis which is available here for download if you wish to learn more.  It is currently in a draft form awaiting review.  I would be grateful to receive comments on it.  

The presentations from this session and the rest of the conference will be available shortly on the Forest Products Society website.

Posted on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM
  • Author: Gareth J Mayhead

Smallwood 2012 Conference (May 1-3 2012) Forest Restoration and Biomass Utilization

The Smallwood Conference, with a theme of Forest Restoration for a New Economy, is at the start of May and has a great agenda lined up.  The agenda topics for the Flagstaff AZ conference include:
•    Policies and incentives
•    Collaboration (including CFLR projects)
•    Harvesting
•    Pre-treatment of biomass in the woods
•    Wood products
•    Thermochemical processes including pyrolysis, torrefaction, co-firing, electricity, biorefining
•    Business practices
•    Marketing
•    Environmental and safety compliance

There is also the opportunity to attend one of three field tours focused on forest restoration and biomass utilization.  This conference is highly relevant to those working in forest restoration and management in California, and a good opportunity for networking and learning.

I am the planning committee and will be moderating a session on pyrolysis based technologies.  The speakers will look at pyrolysis basics, the use of char, bio-oil opportunities and torrefied wood to help you understand the status of this family of related technologies. 

Other speakers from California include Tad Mason (TSS Consultants) and Craig Thomas (Sierra Forest Legacy). 

For more information check out the website.

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 3:02 PM
  • Author: Gareth J Mayhead

Collaboration in Forest Management

I attended the “Wildfire 2” (AKA Building on Science to Implement Landscape Level Treatments for Fire Resilience) conference in McClellan last week.  The conference, organized by UC Cooperative Extension and the Forest Service, was a follow-up to the Pre- and Post-Wildfire Forest Management Conference held in February 2010.  Wildfire 2 built on the foundations of knowledge presented at the first conference and aimed to look at some of the broader social sustainability impacts of collaboratively based forest management.

A highlight of the second day was a panel discussion involving some of the key partners in the Dinkey Creek Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) project on Sierra National Forest.  In 2007, part of the Dinkey Creek area was slated to be a timber sale (that never happened).  The broad collaborative process regarding what a redesigned project might look like took place during 2009 and they won the CFLRP process in 2010. 

Larry Duysen of Sierra Forest Products (SFP) gave a description of his family’s business in Terra Bella.  SFP was established in 1968, among 8 sawmills, that drew sawlogs from Sierra and Sequoia National Forests.  In 1988 the first litigation on a Sequoia National Forest timber sale signaled the beginning of the end for most of the sawmills in the southern Sierra Nevada.  The sawmills were trapped between the Forest Service and the environmental organizations.  SFP is now the only remaining sawmill and has lost 120 of its original 250 employees.

Sierra Forest Products, Terra Bella, CA

Craig Thomas of Sierra Forest Legacy, one of the organizations behind some of the litigation, described how he concluded that after 15 years of argument and fighting that no one was benefiting from the constant court battles.  He reached out to senior managers in the Forest Service and they agreed to work together to bring the science community in to develop principles for forest ecosystem management based on sound science.  This led to the publication of GTR-220: An ecosystem management strategy for Sierran mixed-conifer forests.  More importantly, he started a constructive dialogue with the Duysen family to try to understand their business needs and to identify areas of agreement with respect to forest management. 

As the collaborative process was broadened to include a greater number of groups and individuals, Gina Bartlett, of Sacramento State University Center for Collaborative Policy, was brought in to facilitate.  It was challenging but progress was made as trust developed.  At the start of the process very few of the people involved would consider working cooperatively with each other (16%) or trusted each other (9%).  At the end of the process trust was complete and all were working cooperatively to submit the CFLRP application.  Effective facilitation was essential to meditate and to ensure that all views were fully represented in the process. 

Mose Jones-Yellin is the project coordinator for Sierra National Forest.  As a Forest Service employee he values the fact that the collaboration gives legitimacy to land management decisions. 

The main elements of success were identified as joint fact finding (including receiving technical assistance from scientists in order to inform decisions and site visits) and developing trust between the partners. 

For me the progress made at Dinkey Creek gives cause for optimism for the progression to sensible, consensus based public forest management in California that delivers a wide range of benefits to communities, wildlife and the economy. 

The presentations will be posted on the conference website shortly.

Posted on Monday, May 2, 2011 at 4:15 PM
  • Author: Gareth J Mayhead

Redwood Region Logging Conference

The Redwood Region Logging Conference was held from March 17-19 2011 at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka.  The event was well attended despite the wet and cold weather.

Forestry and construction equipment greets visitors to the 73rd annual RRLC

Gareth Mayhead from the University of California Woody Biomass Utilization Group gave a class on Woody Biomass Utilization Opportunities on Friday morning.  We looked at the broad policy landscape, trends in California and grant opportunities including the FSA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Forest Service Woody Biomass Utilization Grant.  A pdf of the presentation is at the bottom of this post.

Mayhead WBUOppsMar182011Web
Mayhead WBUOppsMar182011Web

Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 4:19 PM
  • Author: Gareth J Mayhead

SAF Conference

We have posted the presentations from our session at the Society of American Foresters (SAF) conference last week on the Woody Biomass Utilization website here.  The session was part of the Economics and Business Trends track and was titled "Connecting wildfire, forest health, biomass utilization and carbon".  The aim of the session was to present the interconnectedness of a number of issues that UC Cooperative Extension works with in the forestry sector.


We started with the premise that fuels reduction does work at controlling fire behaviour in many cases so is a worthwhile activity.  Then we looked at realistic options for the utlization of woody biomass material.  We focussed on products and processes that are proven to work now and discussed some current projects.  We then tackled the carbon issue and made the point that perhaps selling forest carbon is not the silver bullet that some in the forest sector think it is.  The real carbon benefit is through substitution of wood for fossil fuels or by using wood products instead of more energy intensive alternatives. 

We had an excellent audience and good discussion after the presentattions.  The other sessions at the conference were very interesting.  Carbon, biofuels and policy featured highly on the agenda. 

Contact SAF if you are interested in purchasing the CD of conference proceedings. 

Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 4:58 PM
  • Author: Gareth J Mayhead

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