Woody Biomass Energy

Author(s): Adam Smith
Monday, September 9, 2019
Pile of wood chips.

Heavy dependence on fossil fuels obtained from politically volatile areas, an emerging consensus that carbon emissions must be substantially reduced, and dramatically increasing costs of fuel oil and natural gas are driving the urgent need for alternative energy sources, both in Nebraska and nationally.

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Wood Energy

Rising energy costs are negatively impacting Nebraska’s rural communities, many of which were already facing serious economic declines. Woody biomass is a carbon-neutral,
clean-burning, renewable energy resource that can help solve these problems.

Nebraska-grown wood is an underutilized, plentiful, economic energy resource that can stimulate and revitalize our rural economies. Woody biomass is a proven, reliable energy source for both heating and cooling, as well as industrial applications, electricity generation, and ethanol production.

Wood energy can help Nebraskans by: 

  • reducing Nebraska’s energy dependence on fossil fuels;
  • creating jobs and new sources of income in depressed rural areas;
  • reducing forest fuel loads and risk of catastrophic wildfires;
  • ting markets for undesirable tree species, such as eastern redcedar cleared from grazing lands and Russian olive cleared from riparian areas;
  • addressing scarce water issues in drought-stressed watersheds through sound forest and grassland management; and,
  • creating more productive, healthier forests and revitalized rural communities.

Available Biomass Resources

  • Nebraska has 1.3 million acres of timberland.
  • These forests contain more than 41 million oven-dry tons of standing woody biomass.
  • Of this biomass, 87 percent is on private land.
  • Nebraska’s timberland produces at least 1 million net tons of wood per year, every year in perpetuity.
  • 117,000 tons of waste wood from urban wood waste and wood processing by-products are produced annually, much of which is not utilized.
  • Rapidly growing forest fuel reduction programs in the Pine Ridge and Niobrara Valley produce 72,000 tons of wood/year while creating healthier, safer forests.
  • 422 boilers located in public institutions across the state (e.g., jails, hospitals, schools, and universities) are more than 40 years old and are prime candidates for conversion to woody biomass.

Emerging Opportunities for Wood Energy in Nebraska

Cellulosic ethanol: Emerging technologies show great promise for converting low-quality wood to ethanol. 

Electrical power generation: Wood could be used to co-fire coal-burning power plants, reducing air pollution and offsetting carbon emissions.

Energy source for industrial applications: Replacing natural gas with woody biomass would increase the profitability of corn ethanol plants and reduce net carbon emissions. At early 2008 prices, wood chips are 60 percent cheaper per million BTUs than natural gas.

Industrial energy products: Businesses that process wood into pelletized fuels show excellent potential for operation in rural forested areas.