Wood Bio Conference Speaker Pete Madden: “This is going to be an incredible decade for our sector.”

Going into the seventh Wood Bioenergy Conference & Expo, organizers said the lineup of keynote speakers, on paper, was the best in the history of the event. The real thing was even better. Speakers from their wide-ranging perspectives provided a crystal clear picture of how the wood-based energy shapes up today and what to expect moving forward.

The avalanche of insightful information prompted one attendee to comment, “You never get to hear so many important people from the leading companies talk at one event, but we heard them here.”

“Here” was the Omni Hotel at CNN Center, Grand Ballroom North, which is where the event has been held since its inception, and this time during March 29-30. Several “big picture” keynote talks were interspersed between two-dozen technical presentations on subjects such as Fire Prevention, Raw Materials, Process Optimization and Developing Technologies. And when not enjoying the presentations, the attendees were able to comb the exhibit area, where 50 leading equipment and technology companies set up shop.

As evidenced in the keynote talks, the momentum is not only the result of a growing number of production-related projects, but also due to the increasing awareness of the environmental benefits that wood-based energy brings to discussions on carbon emissions, carbon capture, climate change and forestland management.

Part of the mid-morning keynote sessions, Pete Madden, who previously spoke at the Wood Bio Conference when he was president and CEO of Drax Biomass NA, returned this time as president and CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.

Madden emphasized the Endowment’s mission to collaborate with public and private sector partners to advance systemic, transformative and sustainable change for the health and vitality of the nation’s working forests and forest-reliant communities. It was established in 2006 at the request of the U.S. and Canadian governments in accordance with the Softwood Lumber Agreement.

The group manages a perpetual endowment of $270 million and also raises funds to make grants, loans and capital investments. It has awarded more than 200 grants, committing $93 million of its own funds to leverage $875 million from partners. “When possible, we favor market-based approaches to drive outcomes,” Madden said.

Given increasing challenges with catastrophic wildfires, drinking water sources and a high proportion of smaller diameter material from private and federal lands that that do not have a market, the Endowment began to focus on wood-to-energy as a priority and as a solution.

As an example, in 2018 the Endowment approved the development of the Restoration Fuels facility in John Day, Ore., intended as a commercial demonstration facility to prove production of torrefied fuel, facilitate large-scale customer trials, and prove out cost structures of integrating this product with existing mills to provide markets for sawmill residuals and small diameter thinnings from restoration and other forest treatments.

Today Restoration Fuels, LLC is a 100% subsidiary of the Endowment, with initial production of 30,000 TPY and expanding up to 100,000 TPY. Construction of the $25 million project, which sources biomass from nearby national forests, was completed in 2021.

It features a range of proven technologies, including low-temp belt drying , a rotary kiln reactor equipped with burner and economizer to recycle thermal energy for the torrefaction and drying process, densification with CF Nielsen briquetting presses and an integrated, centralized control system.

When the pandemic hit, the facility was about 75% complete, and so the project team had to overcome labor shortages, supply chain delays and various other pandemic issues. “The Endowment and our Board stuck with our vision for this project, and we have begun to produce torrefied fuel, biochar and other high-carbon products,” Madden said.

“We are just getting started,” Pete Madden said of the Endowment, noting that they have established a new carbon fund to help landowners and the forest products sector develop new markets and value streams, and the Endowment is developing an impact investment fund so that it can leverage larger amounts of capital. “This is going to be an incredible decade for our sector.”

Look for continued coverage of the Wood Bioenergy Conference & Expo and its nearly two dozen technical presentations and nine keynote presentations in coming issues of Wood Bioenergy magazine.

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