Senator Ron Wyden, representing the State of Oregon, has introduced a bill that would encourage the use of low-carbon biomass energy to heat and power homes and businesses while also creating jobs in rural areas.
The BioEnergy Act 2015 would establish a competitive, cost-share grant programme at the Department of Energy (DOE) to improve technologies for drying and compressing woody biomass. This would improve the fuel quality and allow biomass producers to more easily transport wood products from forested areas to market. It would also help to establish new technologies, from new power plant designs to neighbourhood heating systems, for using biomass for heat and power.
Expanding the uses for the small trees that overcrowd forests would help to restore healthier and more resilient forests in Oregon and across the country, as well as reducing the risk from wildfires.
“Oregonians in rural communities have already found that using biomass energy can be a low-cost, low-carbon way to heat their homes” said Senator Wyden. “This bill will reduce wildfire risks by putting to good use the hazardous fuels that overcrowd our forests, and create jobs in rural Oregon by making it easier to take biomass projects from the woods to other parts of the country.”
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently awarded an innovation grant to Integrated Biomass Resources, based in Wallowa County, Oregon, for a system to trap steam that would otherwise escape. This will be used to dry sawdust for compressed biomass logs.
“The combined approach to support distributed processing and transportation/logistics is extremely important to the economic viability of biomass energy in Northeast Oregon” added David Schmidt, president of Integrated Biomass Resources. “If we’re ever going to reach a point where biomass value supports forest restoration, we’re going to need scalable, localized processing and markets. This programme could be a great step in that direction.”
The bill also creates a cost-share grant programme through the US Forest Service for commercially proven biomass projects that are already used to power homes and businesses, as well as a loan programme through USDA for future developers. The bill would support continued research into the environmental sustainability and economics of using biomass for heat and power, and would establish a collaborative platform for directing this research across the Departments of Energy and Agriculture.
According to Bruce Daucsavage, president of Ochoco Lumber Company, a coordinated strategy of public and private investment in the utilisation of biomass markets would help to reduce the overall cost of much needed forest restoration. Several western companies are currently attempting to expand the use of forest biomass through the development of innovative projects but they need additional funding to help design and engineer these new systems. New project developments will enable product introductions and establish new markets for these products. These markets have the potential to produce significant benefits for new rural job creation, energy conservation and climate change.