Restored Forests Absorb More Carbon

My last blog announced the grand opening of our demonstration plant. We had no idea how busy we would be over the next two years. While we had already performed a successful 72-hour continuous run before that grand opening ceremony, we continued to make the most of having a demonstration facility. For the next two years, we made many more production test runs, using a variety of feedstocks, and making improvements to make our process more cost effective and energy efficient along the way.

Our last production run used torrefied sawmill residues that were densified into these sturdy, water resistant torrefied briquettes. With the demonstration phase behind us, now all our efforts are toward having a first commercial plant producing TorrB® biocoal.

While our most recent run used mill residues as feedstock, it is HM3’s ability to use actual forest residues as feedstock for our process that sets it apart from other technologies. This use of forest residues could be extremely important for long range management of forests, and, in turn, their ability to absorb huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the long-range benefits of forest restoration. A recent one, conducted by Lisa A McCauley (a spatial analyst at the Nature Conservancy) and others, concluded that quick restoration of forests means less fuel for wildfires and more storage for carbon in the long run.  The abstract on their research for a presentation at the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting in Kentucky can be found here: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/eap.1979 The ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists that addresses issues such as natural resource management and ecological restoration.

They conducted their analysis based on restoration operations in northern Arizona, where the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) has been working collaboratively to restore forests. I have visited the area three times since last November and have seen first-hand the enormous restoration work being done there. Here lies the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world, and untreated areas are thick with small diameter trees that would provide fuel for catastrophic wild fires under the right conditions. As many as 600 or even 900 trees are crowded together per acre, so a lightening strike can start a fire that can spread all too quickly.

The huge amounts of forest residue left over from large restoration operations are usually disposed of in pile burns. And this is the reason why the community members, foresters and 4FRI members I spoke to about HM3’s torrefaction technology are excited. They will perform far fewer pile burns if TorrB® biocoal production uses that forest residue as feedstock.

As a result of my travels, HM3 Energy is working collaboratively with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute and Coconino County to make commercial biocoal production there a reality. Small trees and brush will be cleared out of the forest more economically, and thus more rapidly when used as the feedstock for HM3’s process. In turn, the first of many TorrB® biocoal plants will turn the abundantly available biomass into carbon neutral fuel that directly replaces coal in coal power plants. Forest health in treated areas will increasingly improve and the forest will become more efficient at absorbing carbon. A win-win solution if I ever saw one!

You can learn more about 4FRI’s work in restoring forests here: https://4fri.org/

HM3 Energy