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Features - Wood Recycling

Using scrap wood to create energy continues to be the focus of considerable research and investment.

Brian Taylor September 19, 2013

The story of scrap wood’s desirability as a fuel product has been full of twists and turns in the past 15 years, with a number of federal and state agencies enacting rules that either harm or boost the market.

Claiming to identify a trend is a risky endeavor, as one stroke of government intervention can change the market’s momentum instantly.

In 2013 as in preceding years, energy end markets are competing with the other traditional scrap wood markets of mulch and pressed wood products to consume the green waste and wood scrap that flows into recycling facilities across North America.

America’s increased attention to alternative fuels, however, has helped energy markets attract investment dollars that may ultimately mean increased demand for scrap wood and green waste.


Power Trips
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 500 recycling facilities are sorting and processing scrap wood. Many of those facilities are managed by people continually searching for additional end markets for their material.

Wood it be Possible?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has updated its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool to provide preliminary screening results for renewable energy potential at 66,000 contaminated lands, landfills and mine sites in the U.S. Formerly, the tool reported on just 24,000 sites.

The RE-Powering America’s Land Initiative, started by EPA in 2008, encourages development of renewable energy at these contaminated sites when it is aligned with the community’s vision for reusing the land.

Pulling from EPA databases of potentially and formerly contaminated lands, as well as partnering with state agencies from California, Hawaii, Oregon, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia and Virginia, the RE-Powering Initiative recently expanded the universe of sites to the 66,000 figure. Working in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), RE-Powering developed screening criteria for solar, wind, biomass and geothermal potential at various levels of development. EPA and selected state agencies track the sites.

“We see responsible renewable energy development on contaminated lands and landfills as a win-win-win for the nation, local communities and the environment,” says Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Several of the case studies listed on the RE-Powering America website, www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland, have had feasibility studies conducted as a first step toward hosting bioenergy plants that will consume agricultural or forestry waste. Bioenergy plants on these sites could potentially serve as homes for green waste and scrap wood.

More information on the RE-Powering Mapper is at www.epa.gov/renewableenergyland/rd_mapping_tool.htm.

End markets for scrap wood can vary greatly for recyclers in different parts of the country, with variables including:

  • Seasonal demand for mulch and whether the quality of inbound wood waste is suitable for mulch;
  • The proximity of industrial boilers that can accept scrap wood;
  • The proximity of particleboard or composite material manufacturing plants;
  • State-specific regulations that may prohibit the use of some types of scrap wood in boiler applications; and
  • The proximity of potential animal bedding markets and whether the quality of inbound wood waste is suitable for this application.

These and other factors help recyclers determine which types of inbound scrap wood they should accept, how they should sort and process the material and whether they can rely on one major end market or whether they should adopt a more diversified strategy.

An inescapable message in the past 10 years has been that venture capital is pouring into alternative energy as America tries to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and imported energy.

Unfortunately, this investment has not always led to a series of wide open doors for wood recyclers to walk through, as a combination of regional differences and emissions concerns also can divert scrap wood from entering boilers or other energy production plants.

The current wood-to-energy landscape has some bright spots to offer wood recyclers; but, as they have in the past, geography and infeed material type may limit the opportunities available to some of the country’s wood recyclers.

One of the highest profile emerging energy-related destinations for scrap wood is Vero Beach, Fla., where Ineos Bio announced in late July that it had started production of commercial-scale bioethanol at its facility there.

Switzerland-based Ineos says its Indian River BioEnergy Center is producing commercial quantities of transportation fuel from vegetative and wood waste as well as producing electrical power for the local community. The company says it expects its first ethanol shipments to be released in August.

“We remain convinced that the ability to divert waste materials from communities by converting them into competitively priced renewable fuel and power offers an excellent value proposition,” says Ineos Bio CEO Dr. Peter Williams.

Williams says the Ineos crew in Vero Beach will continue to ramp up production at the plant in the second half of 2013. “All that we have seen so far validates the technical and economic viability of the technology. It helps solve waste disposal issues, contributes to the supply of affordable and renewable fuel and energy, creates attractive jobs and provides a sustainable source of value for the community. We look forward to taking the next steps in building a global business based on the broad deployment of this advanced technology.”

The Ineos Bio Vero Beach plant will be the focus of a presentation and the site of a hosted tour for a limited number of attendees at the Renewable Energy from Waste Conference to be held in West Palm Beach, Fla., in mid-November. (See the sidebar “An Energetic Gathering” on the right)


Seeking Clean Skies
The Ineos Bio project has appealed to its backers in part because its use of low-emissions gasification technology rather than combustion.

Greenhouse gas and particulate emissions are among the concerns limiting some scrap wood-to-fuel markets.

In Oregon, that state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) held a public hearing in mid-July to discuss an air quality permit modification requested by Lakeview Cogeneration LLC for its facility in Lakeview, Ore. The company wants to use biomass-fired turbines to produce electricity.

The facility was first issued a permit in 2010, but now the company is seeking a modification to allow the plant to increase its emissions limit from 14 tons per year to 32 tons per year.

An Energetic Gathering

Energy produced from discarded materials, including scrap wood, will be the topic of the Renewable Energy from Waste Conference, taking place Nov. 18-20 in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Recycling Today Media Group, the publisher of Renewable Energy from Waste and Construction & Demolition Recycling magazines, has joined forces with consulting firm Gershman Brickner & Bratton Inc. (GBB) and conference organizer Smithers Apex to host the event.

More than 35 speakers will cover topics including the economics of waste conversion, lessons learned from prior projects and the legislative outlook for conversion technology support.

Anticipated highlights at the conference include presentations by Craig Cookson of the American Chemistry Council; Nathiel Egosi of RRT Design & Construction; Paul Greene of the American Biogas Council; John May of Stern Brothers & Co.; Ted Michaels from the Energy Recovery Council; and Mark J. Riedy of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.

Those seeking more information on the event or wishing to register can visit www.REWConference.com.

Lakeview Cogeneration is proposing to install and operate a biomass-fired cogeneration plant in which the steam generated will be converted to electricity.

The new permit would require the facility to monitor pollutants using federally approved monitoring practices and standards, including a continuous opacity (visible) emissions monitor and continuous emissions monitors for nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Lakeview Cogeneration also will be required to conduct an initial performance test for demonstrating compliance with particulate matter standards.

According to the DEQ, Lakeview Cogeneration also will have the following obligations:

  • Accepting the city of Lakeview’s chipped, clean land-clearing debris that meets the permittee’s fuel specifications and can be combusted in accordance with the permit terms;
  • Contributing $7,500 per calendar year for five years to the city of Lakeview for implementation of community emission reduction strategies related to residential wood-fired heating devices; and
  • Implementing one of three mitigation packages listed in the permit condition of the draft permit.

Emerging from the southeastern U.S. is a research effort that could lead to a clean-burning outlet for scrap wood.

EnviraCarbon Inc. (ECI), an energy technology provider with locations in Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina, says it has commercialized a patented technology that molecularly alters renewable biomass feedstock into what it calls EnvirAnized Biofuel™ (EBF).

ECI describes EBF as a product that looks, transports, stores, pulverizes and burns like coal but does not pollute like coal. The process changes woody biomass into carbonized EBF, condensing a timeline that occurs in nature over the course of 100 million years into a matter of minutes, according to the company.

Because EBF allows biomass to take on the physical characteristics of coal, it can be directly used by coal-burning or biomass fired power plants and industrial facilities without any modification or retrofitting to their existing boiler systems, says ECI. The EBF product has the same heat value as bituminous coal from the eastern United States (12,000-plus Btu); it exhibits a much greater heat value than wood pellets; and unlike wood pellets, it is hydrophobic, according to the company.

The EBF product contains negligible amounts of sulfur and nondetectable levels of mercury, arsenic and lead, according to ECI, which also says that by most standards it is at or near carbon neutral.

ECI facilities can accept “certified sustainable biomass and/or waste wood as feedstock” and require a relatively small footprint while producing large quantities of EBF, according to the company.

ECI says it has a commercial facility under construction and anticipates entering the export market for EBF in the first quarter of 2014.

Should any of these energy outlets pan out in long run after having overcome emissions concerns, they may quickly grow as end markets for the wood recycling sector.

 

The author is editor Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.

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