Biofuels: From Wood To Wing?

The northwest United States has an abundance of forest residuals – underbrush and slash– left over from harvesting and forest restoration treatments, as well as mill and urban wood waste. All of these feedstocks are forms of woody biomass. This abundance of woody biomass creates considerable potential for wood-based bioenergy development in the region, particularly […]

The northwest United States has an abundance of forest residuals – underbrush and slash– left over from harvesting and forest restoration treatments, as well as mill and urban wood waste. All of these feedstocks are forms of woody biomass. This abundance of woody biomass creates considerable potential for wood-based bioenergy development in the region, particularly for advanced liquid biofuels, such as biojet fuel. Since the region is already known as a global center of aviation innovation, thanks to companies like Boeing, the northwest has a significant interest in developing renewable aviation fuels.

One way to accomplish this is by utilizing bioenergy feedstock such as slash—the tops and limbs from trees that are left over from timber processing, generally referred to as “post-harvest residuals.” These feedstocks can produce heat, electricity, and liquid biofuels. However, we currently don’t know the realistic economic, environmental, and social ramifications of utilizing these resources. For instance, the carbon neutrality of wood-based bioenergy is strongly debated, especially when we take into account the fossil fuel used to harvest, transport, and process the biomass, or the impacts from different replacement species and their growth rates. On the flip side, many forest residuals are either burned or left to decay in the forest, leading to more CO2 entering the atmosphere. We surveyed stakeholders in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon to determine what benefits and drawbacks they perceived from harvesting and processing biomass in their communities.

While many alternative fuel options are being developed for ground transportation and electricity generation, the aviation sector will rely on high energy-density liquid fuels with the same characteristics as petroleum-based jetfuel for the next twenty to thirty years simply because of the way planes are currently designed. The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) – a collaboration among universities, government, and industry— examined how to produce liquid biojet fuels from slash and other forest waste and urban wood waste in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. NARA examined the economic and environmental feasibility, as well as the social sustainability of a regional wood-based biofuels supply chain that involves feedstock harvesting, transportation, and processing. For a sustainable wood-based biojet fuel industry to thrive, not only is it important to understand the economic and environmental aspects, but also its social acceptability. Ultimately stakeholders, or those who directly influence and are affected by a policy or industry decision, will be the ones impacted by its production, employed in the industry, and who will use the fuel and define forest health and management practices for their region. Previous studies found stakeholder support for, and perceptions about, the emerging biofuels industry are important for determining whether they will accept or reject facilities opening in their communities.

From The Blue Review: https://thebluereview.org/from-wood-to-wing/

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