By Rob Chaney – The Missoulian
Photo by Forest Service
The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance has granted the University of Montana $500,000 for a five-year study of wood-based petrochemical substitutes.
“We will learn a great deal about the regional viability and sustainability of a woody-biomass fuel industry,” said Todd Morgan, forest products research director for the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which manages the grant. “I’m glad UM will play a role in gathering and sharing that knowledge.”
The project is part of an $80 million effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen the nation’s biofuels industry. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the program last week, saying it would develop regional energy markets, foster new jobs and decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
The Montana research will look at how much unused woody material is generated during logging activity in various market conditions, forest types and sale formats. For example, slash piles for commercial logging projects are different from hazardous-fuels thinning projects, and that could affect the value of the leftovers.
“We look at the cost of transporting,” Morgan said. “It’s low value wood slash, with low density, and it’s expensive to transport long distances. We need a product that makes up for the cost of transporting.”
The study will examine forest activity in Idaho, Washington and Oregon as well as Montana. It will compare the relative values of wood slash from the typically privately owned, fir forests or poplar plantations in Washington with the more mixed-species public land forests in the Rocky Mountains.
Meanwhile, researchers at Washington State University are exploring what kinds of fuels and other products can be produced from slash and other wood residue. The UM study will look at the kinds of businesses or institutions that might use those products. Morgan said that ranged from military jet bases to airports, plane manufacturers and airlines.
The study will also involve Peter Kolb of the Montana State University Extension Forestry Office and Craig Rawlings of the Missoula-based Forest Business Network.
More information about the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance, its work and its partners is available at www.nararenewables.org. For more information on the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, visit www.bber.umt.edu.