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Development, Production, and Logistics

The Northwest Advanced Renewable Alliance (NARA) is evaluating supply chains of wood material to be used to sustainably produce aviation biofuels and chemicals. Almost half of the Pacific Northwest is covered by forests, which are currently used for a host of different products. There are many points along the supply chain where wood residues exist and can provide a significant source of biomass for fuel and co-product production. These points begin with logging residues currently burned in the forest and extend to significant amounts of wood that end up in landfills as construction and demolition waste. NARA is developing tools and analyses that will help optimize existing harvesting, transportation and processing systems to supply a biofuel/bioproduct industry.

Assessing the Use of Forest Residues and Existing Forest Crops for Sustainable Biofuels Production

Residues from Pacific Northwest forests that end up in slash piles are currently underutilized and could be a potential feedstock for biofuels. NARA is developing models and silverculture regimes plus conducting research to determine the amounts of forest residuals available and how much can be removed without affecting land productivity and wildlife.

“We’re very confident we can grow a lot of biomass,” says Greg Johnson, director of forest research at Weyerhaeuser Company, which is coordinating sustainable production efforts. “The big challenge is finding ways to deliver biomass at competitive costs — it has to pay its way out of the woods.”

Projected Outcomes from NARA feedstock research are:

  • Estimates on the amount of available biomass in the Pacific Northwest
  • Better understanding of the impact of harvesting wood residues on forests and soils
  • Accurate estimates of bioenergy feedstock yields that they can expect to have with a regular crop rotation
  • Better understanding of management that would be required to boost forest/energy crop productivity
  • Improved design of forest restoration on public land that could ensure productivity

Assessing Harvesting and Transportation Methods

Collection and transportation costs of forest materials are a major obstacle to having a commercially viable bioenergy industry. “Biomass residues are often left on site and are the lowest value products in the forest”, says John Sessions, Distinguished Professor of Forestry and Strachan Chair of Forest Operations Management at Oregon State University, who is coordinating feedstock logistics for the NARA project. To make wide-scale collection and transport of forest residuals economically viable will require increasing efficiency.

NARA researchers are developing models to assist landowners to plan harvesting operations for timber and forest residuals at the most efficient cost. In addition, they are testing multiple ways to increase efficiencies with forest residual transport and processing.

The NARA researchers aim to increase efficiency in collection and transportation and to reduce supply chain costs in several ways:

  • Evaluating current harvesting and transportation methods
  • Reducing collection costs
  • Increasing the density of forest residues before transport
  • Improving transportation efficiency
  • Assessing methods to meet feedstock specifications

Genetic Research to Identify Douglas Fir Traits Good for Biofuels and Timber Products

NARA researchers have established that Douglas-fir trees show dramatic variation in carbohydrate and lignin composition plus variation in the level of lignocellulosic recalcitrance. Further research indicates that these variations are most likely due to genetic variation. In a long-term approach to improve the feedstock characteristics for biofuel and co-product production, NARA is developing tools for breeders to use to select for improved traits.

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