Forest biomass is an overlooked opportunity for change
Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 23:01
Forestry is a big part of Northwest economy, accounting for about 7 percent of Oregon’s economic output, according to oregonforests.org. Biomass is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the forestry industry, and has perhaps been overlooked as part of a solution to our energy and environmental woes.
Biomass is not necessarily a new thing, but it may help us solve some of the problems we as a nation, or the Northwest as a region, face. Biomass is defined by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as the by-product of forestry management practices. Biomass is often burned on-site, or left to decay.
However, the initiative of companies such as Hermann Brothers Logging and Construction Inc., in Port Angeles, Wash., has lead to biomass being used in ways beneficial to both the forestry industry and the environment.
The Hermann Brothers company transport the biomass from its operating site to biomass cogeneration plants — plants generating electric and thermal energy — in Port Angeles, where the plants then use the biomass for energy and heat.
Biomass provides both clean energy that can be transferred to a power grid, and heat that can be used for industrial purposes. Considering the pollution from factories and other buildings of industrial use, biomass may provide an answer for finding clean energy that is both renewable and beneficial to those involved.
The reduction of forest fire fuels and the prevention of disease are benefits of utilizing biomass. While fires are beneficial to forest ecosystems — allowing natural regeneration for forest sustainability and health — overly destructive ones severely damage the forestry ecosystem and industry. By cutting down on fire fuels, foresters both lower the chance of fires occurring, and allow for controlled fires to be more manageable by minimizing excess fuels. The prevention and reduction of diseases and pests is yet another benefit of using forest biomass. Many diseases can affect forest health and forest harvests, which can affect ecological health.
Due to the current increase in demand, the use of biomass would also create jobs. Forest biomass jobs are green, sustainable and provide a living wage for employees. This would help boost our overall economic output.
The use of biomass can impact us here in the Northwest and nationally. Energy from oil and our dependence upon foreign oil are national concerns.
If we adopt forest biomass as an alternative energy source, we can decrease our dependence on foreign oil — provided we, as a nation, adapt forestry biomass as an alternative energy source. This seems feasible in the Northwest, and in many other regions of the United States as well, because we have abundant forestry resources.
The adoption of forest biomass may cause some to become concerned about an increase in tree harvests. This can be overcome through replanting strategies used by timber companies, in addition to other management practices. This assures forest harvests for future generations, and also ensures that others may uphold the beauty of Oregon’s forests.
We must also be careful not to use too much biomass — this is because the biomass serves ecological purposes, such as nutrient cycling, creating soil organic matter and hydrological function. This is where we must be careful to implement carefully throughout and nonobstructive management practices.
The many potential uses for forest biomass can help alleviate some of the concerns over the environment and energy. Considering we can generate both heat and energy from forest biomass, what is stopping us from using it as a more widely accepted source of energy for factories? There is a current growing demand for biomass, according to Timber West magazine. With this increase in demand, there are opportunities to utilize a resource from which we can benefit.
Energy from forest biomass would be worth investing at state and national levels. Through research, we can refine the biomass process to get the most benefit.
The opportunity for human and ecological gain is now, and we cannot let it pass.
We have an opportunity to find a green energy in a place we have perhaps overlooked, and forest biomass may be more efficient than some of the other alternative energies we currently use, such as ethanol. We also have a chance to cut down on forest pests and diseases that can affect our forests ecologically, and reduce forest harvest output. Forest biomass is an opportunity we must explore and research.
Tyler Pike is a junior in agricultural sciences. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Pike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.