Posts

Renewable Resources-Woody Biomass

Wood is one of nature’s best and most abundant renewable resources and human beings have used wood in a myriad of ways since time immemorial. In lockstep with technological progress, the utilization of wood products has advanced to create new opportunities in such diverse fields as architecture, computer technology, and energy consumption. In this week’s Nature’s Packaging post, we will look deeper into wood as an innovative energy resource.

Biomass

Biomass is renewable organic plant or animal material. Biomass energy sources include things like plants, crops, left over materials from agriculture and forest harvesting, gases produced from landfills, and industrial/municipal solid wastes.

What makes them renewable? In the case of plants, crops, agriculture and forest residuals, they can be consumed through various means and then replanted and grown quickly again. On the other hand, industrial and municipal waste is produced on a continual basis.

In many cases biomass, as a renewable energy source, can be converted to energy by burning or through chemical reaction. This energy can be used for everything from producing heat for homes, electrical power for buildings, and even fuel for vehicles (i.e. Ethanol).

Woody Biomass

Woody biomass is the residual material from trees and shrubs that includes the parts of a tree not normally harvested for use:  the roots, leaves, branches, smaller limbs, bark, and sometimes vines. Woody biomass comes from various sources:  forest management operations, trees grown for energy use, forest products waste, wood used as fuel, urban wood waste, tree and forest thinning operations that are implemented to reduce the damage from forest fires and woodland pests.

  • Forest management operations – This includes the material typically left behind when a forest is harvested for timber like branches, treetops, stumps, and other remains
  • Trees grown for energy use – Trees or woody plants that grow back quickly when trimmed. This includes short-rotation plantings for species like poplar and willow.
  • Forest products waste – The sawdust and scrap material from sawmills and furniture production are included in this category.
  • Wood fuel – items like pulp wood and commercial grade timber used as a fuel source for heating buildings or used as heat in an industrial process.
  • Urban wood waste – Wood debris that is generated from clearing land, storm residues, trimmings from landscaping and clearings from power-line trimmings.
  • Tree and forest thinning – trimming and thinning forests and tree stands including the removal of unwanted tree species and plants. All remnants that are removed in order to maintain or improve the ecological health of the forest and improve its ability to prevent the risk of wildfires.

Woody Biomass Energy

Most of the woody biomass sourced for energy is the by-product of forest management operations and the forest products industry. As an energy source, woody biomass is primarily converted to energy through the processes of combustion, chemical conversion, biochemical conversion, and thermo-chemical conversion.

  • Combustion – burning woody biomass to produce heat.
  • Chemical conversion – breaking down woody biomass using a chemically induced process. Think biodiesel.
  • Biochemical conversion – using a living organism (i.e., bacteria or yeast) to break down biomass
  • Thermochemical conversion – exposing biomass to heat produces different types of gases and liquids, or solids (i.e., gasification, liquefaction, pyrolysis)

Electricity

Wood can be burned in a boiler to produce electricity. Heat from the burning wood boils water and generates steam, which powers turbines and creates electricity. The electricity is often utilized to power everything from small industrial operations to municipal power plants.

Heat

Building and using a fire to keep warm is the oldest heating method in the world. In the context of woody biomass and heat, these heating systems (boilers, stoves, and outdoor furnaces) are typically used to heat building and/or industrial spaces. A common alternative includes wood pellet heating systems for both the home and commercial uses.

Wood pellets are a biomass product that has been processed and condensed into small cylindrical pellets that are ideal for storage and heat production due to their small size and density. In recent years, they have become a popular method for heating homes, via a wood pellet stove, and are increasing in popularity for commercial/industrial heating as well.

Co-generation

When electricity and heat are generated and used at the same time, this process is referred to as co-generation or Combined Heat and Power (CHP). In commercial and industrial settings, boilers that use wood to produce electricity also produce hot water and/or steam which is utilized in other applications. Co-generation is the most common use of wood energy in the United States. Pulp and paper manufacturing plants use woody biomass and wood by-products in these systems to produce heat and power.

Biofuels

While most fuels for transportation are produced from refining petroleum products, biofuels are being explored extensively to mitigate concerns over traditional fossil fuel depletion, environmental issues, national energy security, and fluctuating prices. The most recognized biofuel types are ethanol, methanol.

  • Ethanol – wood based (cellulosic) ethanol is produced from the cell walls of woody materials. Chemically more complex than traditional plant-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel. It has low carbon, sulfur and particulate emissions as well.
  • Methanol – also known as wood alcohol, it is derived from the distillation process of wood. Typically used in professional racing fuel and as an additive to increase the octane of gasoline.

Woody biomass as a natural, renewable resource utilized to generate heat, electricity, power, and fuels has both advantages and disadvantages. In removing it from forests, it can help maintain healthy forests and help mitigate the risk of wildfires, however it is important to understand that over-use or stripping out too much woody material can have a negative effect on soil fertility and natural habitats. It is a delicate balance between economy and ecology where practices like silviculture can help define the right mix.

A common question is whether there is enough woody biomass available to create a sustainable resource that can scale to meet the needs of a large population sector or manufacturing base. This will depend in part on government policies, incentives, and entrepreneurial activity that drives new innovations in the sector.

While there is no energy source, renewable or otherwise, that is complete in its ability to solve all the challenges associated with energy production and consumption, woody biomass certainly provides viable alternatives that can and will complement those needs now and in the future. Wood will always be good.

 

Fungal Enzymes Key to Using Woody Biomass in Biofuel

Fungal Enzymes Key to Using Woody Biomass in Biofuel

Global economies are growing due to the heightened demand of renewable energy in the form of solar, wind, and biofuels. With respect to converting woody biomass into biofuels, technology has struggled to develop a cost effective and efficient method of use, until now.

Biofuels Basics

The two most popular biofuels in transportation today indeed are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is a well-known alcohol and biodiesel is a combination of alcohol (usually methanol) and some biomass. The predominant use of ethanol is as a blending agent with gasoline to boost octane and reduce air pollutants. Biodiesel is mostly used as an additive that mitigates polluting effects or as a renewable fuel for diesel engines. Researchers are also investigating ways to produce transportation fuel from microalgae which can create biomass more effectively and with minimal effects on the environment.

Image supplied by Flickr; distributed under CC-BY 2.0 License
Word Count: 339

The process of converting wood into fuels so far is expensive and energy-consuming, and answer to these inadequacies just may lie in fungi. The cellulose in wood is difficult to break down which is one of the reasons why converting woody biomass to biofuel is so expensive. In nature, fungi have natural mechanisms to break down wood into energy. Researching these mechanisms uncovered fungal enzymes that contain copper and copper is now widely used in the process of decomposing other forms of biomass. These enzymes could potentially be used on a larger scale to convert woody biomass into biofuels. Scientists now believe that these discoveries have brought us closer to converting forest waste into a high value commodity.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the use of North American sustainably sourced lumber on wood packaging. North American forests are sustainably managed and the increased use of sustainably sourced wood products contributes to the fight against climate change. Developing sustainable high value uses for wood waste from forest helps ensure that forests will thrive and continue to sequester carbon form the atmosphere.

References:

How Co-Generation Works

How Co-Generation Works

Cogeneration is an efficient way to generate electricity. The conventional method calls for burning a fossil fuel in an enormous furnace to release heat energy, which is then used to boil water, which makes steam. That steam powers a turbine which drives a generator, and the generator is what actually produces electricity. However, the water used to make steam and drive the turbines must be cooled back down before being released into the atmosphere, which constitutes an enormous waste.

Image by Flickr; Distributed under a CC BY 2.0 License

In cogeneration, the big energy savings comes from capturing the hot steam after it drives the turbines. From there, it’s piped to locations where it can be re-used to power turbines. Also called CHP (combined heat and power), cogeneration makes use of the hot water which is normally wasted and supplies it to local businesses and residences as a heat source. When CHP power plants are setup instead of conventional ones, they use different heat engines to produce the steam which drives turbines to be even more efficient, and create the maximum capture of energy.

How forest biomass is used in co-generation 

A CHP power plant typically consists of an installation with an integrated power system that has three primary components: a unit which receives biomass and feedstock for preparation, a component for converting biomass into steam power generation, and the component for converting the steam into electrical power.

The materials used as input to the entire process are generally organic residues from forest production, coupled with food and fiber byproducts. These materials can include corn stalks, wheat straw, rice husks, sawdust, forest residue, and mill residues. Feedstock is considered to be those forests and grasses specifically grown for energy production, such as switch grass, hybrid poplars, and hybrid willows. In order to make the whole process to be economically viable, biomass sources must be relatively inexpensive to harvest, transport, and store prior to conversion into electrical energy.

Using forest biomass as a fuel source has great appeal because it makes use of materials that would be wasting away in forests and interfering with new growth. In many cases, one of the biggest expenses that Forest Management organizations incur annually is the removal of such forest biomass, as a means of reducing the number of forest fires, as well as the severity of such fires once they are underway. Putting that biomass to productive use constitutes a double savings – it helps to limit forest clutter and the fires which might result, and it can be used to fuel the generation of electricity.

References

 

Using Forest Biomass for Energy

Using Forest Biomass for Energy

How Biomass Co-generation is Good for the Environment

All agencies and organizations involved with forest management are aware of the need to remove dead and fallen trees from forests as a means of reducing the likelihood of forest fires and of creating room for new growth. In the past, the removal of forest residues like this have been accomplished through harvesting and transporting to various landfills for incineration, or simply letting it naturally decay into the environment.

This approach has now been recognized as being extremely wasteful, especially in light of the fact that technology is now available for making advantageous use of all that previously discarded forest biomass. By making use of the forest biomass as a fuel source in power plants that generate electricity, a very useful end result can be achieved, rather than having that biomass simply dumped or burned at landfills.

Image by Flickr; Distributed under a CC BY 2.0 License

How the environment benefits from biomass co-generation

As mentioned above, since forest management became a widespread practice, the need for removal of large quantities of dead or dying trees has been recognized. During forest fires, all the fallen trees and branches on the ground are catalysts for spreading fire and for intensifying it, so enormous effort must be expended to remove this clutter.

As an example of how forest biomass is good for the environment, the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada was exploring ways in 2007 to reduce its massive carbon footprint and be kinder to the local environment. Within two years, the university became the first one on the North American continent to own and operate its own biomass fuel generation system. The biomass input used to fuel the system comes from an agreement made with the Lakeland Mills sawmill nearby, primarily consisting of sawdust and wood pellets.

No fossil fuels are burned in the process of creating steam to drive the turbines that power generators for the electricity production, so the university has been able to achieve its goal of significantly reducing its carbon footprint, while at the same time having a reliable and efficient source of electricity. Other universities and businesses have followed suit since that time, using forest biomass as input to power electricity generation, and the big benefactor is the environment.

National bioenergy initiative

The nation of India has made a huge commitment to saving the environment by targeting a 40% share of its energy production from renewable sources by the year 2030. In addition to solar and wind power, another fuel source included as part of this strategy will be biomass that would otherwise have been wasted.

The Indian initiative will also have the benefit of reaching rural areas remote from major cities, which lacked power sources in the past. In at least some of these locales, power plants fueled by biomass will come into production as part of the broad commitment to carbon footprint reduction, and a big boost will be given to the environment.

Forest biomass is a valuable resources and like all wood products, it should never be discarded in landfills. Forest biomass can be used to make mulch, sawdust, and many other things and it will continue to be a renewable resource as long as forests are sustainably managed.

Resources

 

 

Wood-Based Nanotechnology

Wood-Based Nanotechnology

The need for the replenishment of our nation’s forests is critical to the overall conservation effort, and since forests provide so much oxygen for the atmosphere, they are also critical to the health and welfare of all living, breathing creatures. Woody biomass, which is comprised of all the excess fallen limbs, needles, etc. from dead or burned trees and it is constantly accumulating in forests around the world. Nanotechnology can come into play to help find a use for woody biomass because biomass can be processed into many useful things.

What is wood-based nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology refers to the science of researching the unique properties of materials at smaller than microscopic levels. By gaining an understanding of the chemistry and properties of the molecular elements in wood, scientists can find out ways which these properties may be used advantageously for new product development.

The promise of woody biomass nanotechnology also holds an enormous potential to transform the existing North American forest industry in every aspect of its current operation. Production processes can be improved upon, energy efficiencies can be gained, diverse products can be developed from paper and composite materials. Brand new products that are stronger and lighter than Kevlar and carbon fiber can be created from wood-based cellulose nanocrystals.

Previously, there has been very little market for decaying woody biomass on forest lands and with no high-value market for such material, it has not been economically feasible to remove or otherwise consume that biomass. Simply put, the supply of woody biomass is far greater than the demand. With the new uses of wood-based biomass being discovered through nanotechnology, those missing high-value markets are now becoming available, and woody biomass can be cleared economically from sustainably managed forests.

Aiding in fire prevention

With woody biomass being reduced from over-vegetated forest lands, the risk of forest fires is vastly reduced, and since over half the budget for the U.S. Forest Service is allocated to fighting forest fires, management of forests would be much more cost effective. A great deal of property and even a significant number of lives would also be saved by lowering the incidence and severity of forest fires, which now ravage woodlands having excessive biomass.

At the heart of these two important initiatives – developing new wood-based products, and reducing the risk of forest fires – are the discoveries being made possible by wood-based nanotechnology. And an even bigger benefit from it all might be that the health of forest land would greatly improve once more biomass is removed. According to the U.S. Forest Service, there would be a better habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, and of course, once a high value market is targeted for woody biomass, new jobs would be created. With healthier forest lands throughout the country, the well-being of animals and humans also stands to be positively impacted, with a more oxygenated atmosphere enriching the air we all breathe.

Resources

The Importance of Woody Biomass Products in Sustainability

The Importance of Woody Biomass Products in Sustainability

There is a growing understanding and acceptance in this country about the huge role that woody biomass plays, both now and in the future, toward conserving resources and overall sustainability of the environment. The term ‘woody biomass’ references the totality of forest components such as trees, limbs, needles, wood wastes and residues, and even discarded wood waste from municipalities. Improved forest sustainability depends heavily on developing consistent uses for forest biomass.

Wood-based products contribute to sustainability

North American forests represent a renewable resource, unlike fossil-based fuels which will eventually run out and be completely gone. Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and they continue to store carbon throughout their life cycles. This is a big factor in the need for making greater use of woody biomass in as many products as possible which are in some way, used by humans. In many European countries, wood-based fuels are already being substituted for fossil fuels, as heat and electricity is generated from woody biomass in the form of wood pellets. There are a plethora of other uses for woody biomass, such as mulch, paper products, and even clothing. The enormous diversity of products which can be derived from wood has yet to be fully capitalized upon, but important new discoveries are encouraged by governments and the scientific community.

For instance, in 2016, three teen-aged girls from Dubai invented a wood-based fireproof foam which can be used as an insulator for construction purposes. After the country experienced a rash of headline-grabbing fires, the girls researched them and found that they were all made worse because polystyrene foam insulation was used in the buildings, and it was discovered this material actually stimulated the spread and intensity of the fires.

The girls’ innovative wood-based foam creation is cheaper to make from wood, is just as good an insulator, it acts as a fire retardant. Plus, it is a sustainable solution. This is the kind of innovative thinking which can take far greater advantage of woody biomass to create useful solutions for the future that take advantage of renewable resources.

Other advantages offered by woody biomass

Woody biomass contributes in a number of other ways as well to the more efficient usage of our country’s resources. According to its website, the U.S. Forest Service removes tons of biomass from forests each year. In rural areas, woody biomass is often converted to energy, but other benefits of removing woody biomass from forests include job creation, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved drinking water, forest fire prevention, and improvement to wildlife habitat.

It is no exaggeration to say that the considerable positive effects imparted by woody biomass extend deep into the social, economic, and environmental aspects of life in this country, and that influence will be felt even more in the coming years. Within the framework of sustainability, woody biomass is a prime example of resources critical to the future of global sustainability and reduced carbon emissions.

Resources:

Fashion Start-Ups Use Wood-Based, Cotton Alternatives

Fashion Start-Ups Use Wood-Based, Cotton Alternatives

For a great many years now, cotton has been touted as the ultimate fabric for the manufacture of all kinds of clothing, due to its natural, breathable composition and its comfortable feel against the skin. However, according to Waterfootprint.org, cotton farming requires the most amount of water in the apparel supply chain. In the case of making a single T-shirt, research from National Geographic estimates that 2,700 liters of water is required, from beginning to end.

In addition, it literally requires acres and acres of land to grow any significant amount of cotton plants, and a great deal of water is consumed in the nurturing of those plants. From this, it should be fairly obvious that any kind of new direction for the world of fashion is long overdue and that new direction seems now to have arrived, in the form of wood-based alternatives for the manufacture of clothing.

Wood-based alternative clothing

An Austrian manufacturer, Lenzing AG, has been developing environmentally friendly clothing for several years now, by converting eucalyptus tree pulp into a fiber which mimics cotton’s breathable nature, but is also far softer to the touch, and much less susceptible to wrinkling. In the year 2000, Lenzing was given a prestigious award by the European Commission, for its forward-thinking contributions to conservation of the environment in making wood-based clothing alternatives.

This wood-based clothing product is known as Tencel, and it is being adopted by more fashion companies around the world each year. Since the entire production process for Tencel is much less impactful to the environment, it has become one of the most popular new fabrics, especially for all those who feel a responsibility for the conservation of the global environment.

Other creative and environmentally friendly products are appearing as well, to contribute to this new direction of the fashion industry. A 17-year old teenager named Sian Healy recently became a finalist in the Miss England competition, while wearing a dress made for her by Pooling Partners, and which was entirely constructed from old wooden pallets. While this kind of special-purpose dress may not be economically viable for mass production, it does at least point out the possibilities for using wood-based materials as an alternative to the traditional ones used commonly in clothing manufacture.

Beyond Tencel

In Culver City, California, another startup company called MeUndies, has developed a fashion line of men’s and women’s underwear, all made from wood pulp fiber which has the appealing property of wicking moisture away from the body. Called MicroModal, it uses beechwood rather than Tencel’s eucalyptus fibers, and is garnering strong appeal for its comfort and sustainable characteristics. Additionally, another fashion designer based in London named Alice Asquith has launched a line of towels, bearing her name, which are made from bamboo fibers and have far greater softness, durability, and absorptive qualities than traditional cotton towels.

Other startups are emerging around the world to take advantage of some of the wonderful characteristics provided by wood-based fabrics, which are much friendlier to the environment than some existing materials. Whereas plants like cotton are farmed with the intent of manufacturing clothes, wood-based based fabrics use wood by-products as their main ingredient. By developing effective uses for these parts of the forest that would normally go to waste, clothing manufacturers are doing their part to make sure that every part of a tree is used when it’s harvested.

Resources

© 2021 Nature's Packaging® is federally registered with the U.S. Copyright Office by the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association. All rights reserved.