Sunday, April 1, 2007

Ethanol from Trees, Not Corn!

Before I start on the corn rant again, there are a couple of recent articles that I found interesting. The first is kind of a summary, from an investor/financial perspective, of the shifting ownership from industry to investors that was done by Laura Mandaro with MarketWatch. See "For-sale signs pop up on U.S. timberlands". Some interesting facts.

For an update on what is happening in the State of Washington, click here. The focus is on the loss of timberland to development. There are references to Hancock, Weyerhaeuser, Port Blakely, UW and the Forest Service.

On Feb.3, disappointed with President Bush's push for corn ethanol, I wrote "Perhaps soon a President will wake up to the fact that he/she has a nation with forests capable of providing ethanol (and other forms of fuel) and a very capable research team already in place that is capable of making it happen". I doubt that Dubya spends much time reading blogs but I am certainly glad that he woke up and is now making research commitments to "cellulosic" ethanol!

The obvious outcomes of the corn ethanol push are already well under way. Corn prices have jumped. Today's newspaper reported farmer's intent to increase the acreage in corn by 15% (farmers are no dummies, they have already sold a portion of that harvest at these increased prices). Most of the new acreage in corn will be at the expense of other crops, like soybeans and milo, meaning we will see price increases in many other foods plus the many non food products manufactured from soybeans. If the corn thing isn't halted quickly, there will be a new rash of conversion from timberland to farm land. When the shift to cellulosic ethanol occurs, some folks will be holding the bag as corn prices drop substantially. The only thing that will hold corn prices up will be farm subsidies funded by us good old taxpayers. And in a double whammy, we will have higher food prices as well. There is a certain odor about this. To put it bluntly, it stinks of farm belt politics!

But things are at least moving in the right direction (slowly). The following appeared in a recent issue of the Forest Landowners Fast Facts newsletter.
New Wood Biomass Coalition Formed

Recently, FLA lobbyist Frank Stewart participated with other representatives from like-minded groups to help effectively organize to "provide advocacy, education, information, and outreach to public and private entities that promote research, development, and funding for sustainable woody biomass utilization and markets."
As a result of that organizational meeting, the coalition adopted the name, "Woody Biomass Committee," and set goals, including: · Reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and improve the nation's national security position · Improve forest health · Create new markets for renewable fuels, including woody cellulosic ethanol in rural America, which will promote economic opportunities and growth while supplying a sustainable supply of woody biomass for all biomass/bioenergy products
These are certainly aspirations in keeping with FLA ideals for the 110th Congress, which are: · Statutory and regulatory definitions of "wood biomass" should be defined as "wood" and not simply as wood residues, wastes, and/or byproducts. · Wood biomass must be a full partner with other cellulosic feedstocks in all bills, laws, regulations, and other federal initiatives. · Markets for wood biomass must be developed to maintain forestland investments as vital, so forestland investors continue to hold their land as forestland. Without suitable markets, forestland divestitures may increase.

There was also an article in the last NC State alumni magazine with a focus on research aimed at reducing lignin in cottonwood specifically for ethanol production (although originally the research was done for pulp production). So, overall, research is beginning to shift from pulping to energy production in support of the new role that timberland will soon play. --Brian

1 comment:

  1. Resources for the Future is having a seminar on this issue.

    Biomass Energy: Biorefineries
    Sponsored by RFF and the Institute for Forest Biotechnology (IFB)
    April 4, 2007
    12:45 - 2pm

    The panel will address the potential of cellulosic biomass for producing energy and transport fuels. Pulpmills, which currently use large volumes of wood and energy, could be modified to include biorefineries. Utilizing new gasification systems, these facilities could convert wood and other cellulosic material into energy and biofuels, including ethanol and biocrude. These possibilities will be examined, as well as the comparative potential of various feedstocks, including rapidly growing trees and agricultural cellulose as feedstock.