Wood Energy

Staying Power

This issue marks the end of the fourth year since the introduction of Wood Bioenergy magazine. If you’ll recall, we only published it twice in year one, then four times in year two and four in year three, and then six times this year. We expanded our readership into international circles; and the magazine became the host of the biennial Bioenergy Fuels & Products Conference & Expo in Atlanta.

This progressive growth in a way mirrors the evolvement of the new generation wood energy movement. From the outset, for both our magazine and the wood energy industry, the question was: Will it stick?

It appears to have done so.

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From Left: Dan Shell, Western Editor; David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor; David (DK) Knight, Co-Publisher/Executive Editor; Jennifer McCary, Senior Associate Editor; Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-chief Rich Donnell recalls that when he started at Hatton-Brown Publishers, Inc. in 1983, a wood energy movement in the U.S. had come and gone as oil and gas prices began to decline. Even Ronald Reagan in 1978, before he was president, had spoken in favor of biomass power plants as a solution for the nation’s energy independence. He did so on his national radio show at the beckoning of Morbark Industries founder, Norval Morey, who really started the movement in the mid 1970s and touted his new whole tree chipper as the preferred method to process wood waste into chips for biomass power plants. Indeed, with cost incentives and guaranteed utility contracts, biomass power plants sprang up in the North and in the West. Some of them continue to operate today, but the momentum for the most part was lost.

What that movement didn’t have was the international factor, which is why the current wood energy movement appears to have staying power. We’ve reported over and over again in this magazine of the large wood pellet plants that have started up or are being built in the U.S. to ship wood pellets to off-shore biomass power plants, many of which are mixing pellet with coal or doing away with coal altogether, or are simply new wood biomass power plants. The international energy infrastructure is rapidly changing toward renewable energy sources.

It has been a slow process, but also in the U.S. some new and/or converted wood biomass power plants have come on. Whether this momentum will transition into a truly new wood energy infrastructure as seen overseas is a major question, and will depend largely on how federal and state governments implement renewable energy directives. That is, are we serious about this or not? Meanwhile wood pellets as a heating source remains viable throughout the U.S., especially in the Northeast. We’re talking consumer markets here; we all know that industrial wood heat energy or cogeneration has been around a long while.

As Ronald Reagan said in 1978, “Less than half of the waste or junk wood in our forests can be used to produce steam or electricity equal to what we produce with the oil we import. And the forests will be healthier and more attractive.”