In the age of sustainability, every conceivable energy source gets equal consideration. Just as wind and solar power have had their growing pains, other viable sources will, too.
According to a recent analysis, biomass faces significant economic hurdles. Economists at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry announced in December that they had conducted an analysis of the costs of collecting, transporting and processing biomass through potential regional processing facilities in western Oregon. All of the sites were adjacent to an existing or recently closed wood product operation, such as a sawmill or plywood manufacturing plant.
The study, published in Forest Policy and Economics, calculated that the cost of harvesting, chipping and loading biomass at timber-harvesting sites comes to about $37.50 per dry ton. Operating costs of a regional depot would add another $11 per dry ton. These estimates do not include transportation and depot construction.
With these kinds of numbers, the economists concluded that changes in technology, from transportation to processing, would be required to improve the economic feasibility of biomass.
They added that feasibility may also depend on public investments and new markets to create so-called value-added products, such as aviation fuel or industry chemicals.
The study also looked at the potential for creating jobs in rural communities where biomass processing is most likely to occur. The numbers don’t appear to support that benefit either.
“There’s a lot of interest in focusing on the use of biomass to support rural communities,” said Mindy Crandall, an assistant professor at the University of Maine and a doctoral student at Oregon State, who led the research. “From a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn’t all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support.”