So far the use of wood as a fuel source has relied mostly on leftovers: wood waste, brush, chips and sawdust.
The economics of wood-based fuels - wood pellets for home heating, torrefied wood replacing coal in power plants, and wood converted to transportation fuels - haven't made a dent in the supply, so far.
In part it's because serious use of wood for heating and power generation is just taking off. That wood derivatives can become a significant part of the transportation fuel mix - it's been used as jet fuel, mixed into diesel truck fuel, and converted into ethanol to mix into automobile - has yet to be proven.
Corn-based ethanol has only found buyers when forced through legislative mandates and massive subsidies. It's possible wood "gasoline" will meet the same fate. The Wall St. Journal yesterday skewered the lackluster performance of cellulosic ethanol, as the science set calls it.
The wood industry harbors fears that should U.S. forest flow wholesale into America's power plants, furnaces and gas tanks, the price for panel products in particular will spike.
But there is a another factor at work here: forests that source our lumber also provide our paper. And the use of paper is on a downward spiral, one that is evidenced by the decline of the U.S. newspaper industry and the fall of the U.S. Postal Service.
As our increasingly paperless society is leaving trees standing, owners of forests are looking for something to do with all those trees. And they are getting inventive, as the nano tech wood venture by Domtar suggests.
Bottom line: I think there are enough trees to go around.
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