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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is wood Wisconsin's gold rush?

From an article by Chad Dally in The Daily Press (Ashland):
While the Industrial Revolution changed the foundations of the United States' economy, the dependence on fossil fuels to spur it along created the need a century later for what some have dubbed a "bio-based revolution" emphasizing the use of alternative and renewable energy as the foundation of the future.

Within Wisconsin's 16 million acres of public and private forest land there lies a key piece of that renewable energy future in woody biomass collecting throughout the forest floor. The tops of trees, branches and other dispersed, gnarly bunches of slash that loggers previously left in the woods is attracting more and more commercial attention for its possible usage as wood pellets for heat and power, and fuel for utility company boilers.

But is there enough? Consider some of the competitors for the resource:

• There are at least seven pellet plants in the state and Superior Wood Products is hopeful it will receive permits needed to construct its own pellet plant in Ino, located in Bayfield County. The company aims to produce 100,000 oven-dried tons of pellets each year, which could generate up to 4,775 kilowatt hours (kWh), according to the company's Web site.

To produce the pellets - and the heat to dry wood that becomes a pellet - the company will need about 200,000 tons of green wood, said Don Peterson of Renewable Resource Solutions, a consulting firm assisting Superior Wood Products.

• Northern States Power's Bay Front plant in Ashland will convert a coal-fired boiler to one using wood waste to create synthetic gas. If the plant comes online in 2012 as expected, the plant will nearly double its use of woody biomass, from 200,000 tons to between 330,000 and 360,000, said Dave Donovan, Xcel's manager of regulatory policy.

• Flambeau River Biofuels in Park Falls obtained a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy toward a plant that will convert 1,900 tons of forest residue into 40 million gallons of fuel and 2 trillion Btu of heat and power.

• Even schools like Glidden in Ashland County have installed wood-fired boilers to help offset their energy needs with renewable fuel.

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