HSU, Green Diamond Join in Milestone Biomass Research

Humboldt State University, Green Diamond Resource Company, Korbel, CA, and 10 other partners are teamed under a $5.3 million federal research and development grant to evaluate forest biomass-timber slash and other harvesting waste-as an energy-efficient source of feedstock to produce biofuels and other bio-products.

Humboldt State’s Department of Forestry and Wildland Resources will receive $500,000 from the $5.3 million U.S. Forest Service project, which will include appraisal of gasification systems for industry’s use on-site in woodlands. A portion of the research will be conducted on Green Diamond land in California. The company is headquartered in Seattle.

The biomass initiative is one of eight R&D grants nationwide financed by a total of $42 million from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy. The next-generation energy projects are part of the Obama Administration’s drive to curb reliance on imported oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up economic development in rural locales like the Redwood Coast, hard hit by the contraction of the timber industry.

“Expanding biofuels and bio-products production using forest biomass as feedstock would contribute to achieving broad national energy objectives,” said HSU Forestry Professor Han-Sup Han. “But significant barriers have hindered the advancement of new bioenergy and bio-products technologies in the forest sector.”

To determine if those barriers can be overcome, HSU will partner with the University of Montana, Washington State University, Green Diamond and other companies, the Coquille Indian Tribe and several U.S. Forest Service agencies to determine the feedstock potential of forest biomass. Their work will include:

  • measuring the impact of biomass harvests on soil and water resources and on forest ecosystems
  • research and development of gasification systems that industry could deploy in the field
  • experimental forest operations to gauge logistics and supply chains
  • development of processing and trucking systems that could improve access to forest waste and cut costs
  • financial modeling to evaluate the feasibility of locating gasification systems and sawmills together
  • economic research to quantify the costs, benefits and tradeoffs of forest-sector conversion technology and weigh the potential of forest biomass to revive the rural industrial base depressed by the restructuring of the international forest industry

Professor Han and Green Diamond Vice President and General Manager Neal Ewald say forest biomass certainly has the potential, not only to reduce emissions and revive rural economies, but also to bolster land management, including restoration initiatives that could reduce the threats of catastrophic fire, insect and disease outbreaks in prize forests. But the team hopes to learn if the if obstacles to harnessing biomass are surmountable.

“This research and development effort will help us to determine both the technical and financial feasibility of integrating new conversion technologies into existing operations,” Professor Han said.

Added Ewald, “We’ll also gain a better understanding of bio-products, how they perform, whether they’re truly efficient substitute sources of energy and if they can be marketed profitably. That’s why this project takes an integrated approach, encompassing everything from the conversion, logistics and distribution of biomass feedstock to whether we could combine advanced conversion technologies with our existing forest facilities.”