Last month's blog, "Woody Biomass: Boon or Boondoggle?" struck a chord with me.

Our company has been researching the wood to ethanol science for the last two years and have came to the conclusion that the science just isn’t there yet. It will probably get there but it may be a while yet. You or I could probably make some ethanol from wood in a lab; its coming up with an industrial, financially viable method that seems to be the largest problem.

We have been using wood-fired boilers since the late 1980s. An installation in the mid '90s brought our capacity up to 2,100 boiler horsepower. We have found that the direct conversion of wood waste to thermal energy is relatively inexpensive, efficient, and reliable as our units run 24/7. We use the steam for our dry kilns, air makeup, finishing ovens, and cogeneration. All of our wood waste at our main plant, secondary plant, and a few other facilities owned by others in the general area is recovered this way. This past year we starting using our green chips from the sawmill and all of the paper/cardboard waste from the plant.

We will usually process 40,000 to 50,000 tons a year and turn it into thermal energy. For all of the hype surrounding “green” lately I’ve often wondered why the “enviros” give boilers such a bad rap. We displace natural gas usage that would otherwise be needed for process heat and we don’t landfill wood waste. Now we do have some environmental rules to comply with and limits on things like NOX and PM (as you mentioned with the plants in California) but we meet them although we do use an electrostatic precipitator to meet the limit on PM.

It seems that every time something new comes along the government wants to throw money at it even before its proven and simply forgets about the more conventional methods of waste recovery. I would bet that if they really ran the numbers some of these methods are as “green” or even “greener” than the new methods.

Editor's note: Jody East lives in Ashland, AL, and for 22 years has worked as a plant engineer for a large kitchen and bath cabinetry company. 

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