Forest management and failure to thin

Man thinning underbrush in forest

The Rim Fire in California is just a couple thousand acres away from becoming the
third largest fire in that state’s history. Let’s look at the statistics so far:

  • Started August 17
  • 237,341 acres (371 sq. miles) burned so far
  • Bay Area water supply threatened at one point
  • $77 million cost to date

Here’s something of note—nearly half of the Rim Fire burned in the first two
days
. Fire experts attribute decades of fire suppression and other human-caused
changes to spreading the fire. Once the blaze reached Yosemite National Park, where
the National Park Service has performed fire control projects to reduce stocked fuels
in recent years, and lets naturally sparked fires burn, the fire slowed down its
advance.

My question is… how can we NOT afford forest management? Why not reduce stocked
fuels through thinning and then torrefy that biomass to produce energy dense biofuel?

“My view is that unless we get ahead of the fuels/restoration problem in forests that
once experienced frequent fire, wildfires influenced by climate change will burn them
at severtities and spatial scales that will not conserve forests into the future,”
says Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at the Unversity of California,
Berkeley.

The increasing severity of wildfires should concern all of us who look at forests as a
way to capture carbon dioxide. How California’s Rim Fire Grew So Big is a very
informative piece at livescience.com. You’ll also find a time-lapse video
of the fire
on the same site.

Torrefaction – wildfire prevention and rural jobs

forest fire-post

Welcome to my very first blog. Naturally, I’ll talk about biomass torrefaction, something HM3 Energy has been working on since 2009. Biomass is what’s created from thinning overgrown and unhealthy forests, waste from sawmills and forest products manufacturing and after-harvest agriculture vegetation. It can be woody waste materials left over from home construction and remodeling. Our technology combines the age-old value of thriftiness with new-age innovation to produce renewable energy, more rural jobs and cleaner air from biomass.

We are now in the wildfire season in the US.  Forests that have not been managed (often due to underfunding) and are overstocked with fuel in the dry summer air and vulnerable to forest fires. These intense wildfires don’t discriminate between old growth and underbrush. They burn it all, filling the air with particulate and leaving a swath of blackened stubs and ash.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Woody biomass can collected before a wildfire occurs, as a part of wildfire prevention. This woody biomass feedstock can be used in the commercial production of torrefied biomass briquettes – a much more energy dense, water resistant biomass fuel that can actually replace coal in coal-fired power plants without modifications. Because it has 20 percent more energy than raw (traditional) wood pellets and burns more cleanly than raw wood pellets, it is a superior product for wood boilers as well.

Today, Oregon is just one example of a state that has chronic unemployment in rural communities. Oregon has millions of acres of federal, state and private forest lands that need management and thinning, or risk damage from fire and disease. With an end user of the forest slash, these piles would no longer be burned in place. They would be used to produce torrefied biomass, a carbon neutral energy, and thousands of rural jobs.

Many of you are familiar with raw wood pellets. Torrefied wood is a very different type of product that uses low value feedstock (forest slash) to produce very high energy briquettes that handle like coal, and have a similar BTU to coal, but without the terrible toxic emissions that coal spouts into the air.

There is a global race to commercialize this technology in the most efficient way, and HM3 Energy is proud to be acknowledged as one of the foremost contenders in the field. Stay tuned for more.

HM3 Energy