It is touted as a renewable energy source,  but there are still  challenges facing  Bio-Energy.

In the Northern Interior of BC,  the  major challenge  is access to fibre.   In the wake of the Mountain Pine Beetle,  all who  depend on forestry are  pressed to  have access to  the resource.  As was witnessed just a week ago,   one company  (Pinnacle Pellet)  has curtailed operations for  9 to 10 months as the fibre  source issues are  detailed and the  facility  retooled to  handle what may be a change in  type of supply.

Bill Strauss  is the President and founder of FutureMetrics LLC in  Maine in the U.S.   and  a recognized  expert in the wood pellet sector.   His company  largely ships  pellets to power plants which are integrating  wood pellets  into their fuel sources as a substitute for coal. “One of the major challenges is to get the message out that this (  substituting pellets for coal)  is a sustainable solution for moving us  from a heavily carbonized power sector to a decarbonized power sector.”

Strauss has issue with those who say  burning wood pellets is not “carbon neutral”.  He says  such positions are usually taken by  those  whose  understanding of  “trees” is in their local park  “They really don’t have any  concept of the scope and scale of the forest products industry.”  The bottom line says Strauss  is  that “The harvest rate cannot exceed the growth rate”  and it is a challenge to get people who  aren’t well versed in  the forest products industry to understand that.

“A tree is merchandised so that the value  is gained from every piece at the highest value possible ” says Strauss ” Nobody  would sell a saw log to a pellet mill because a pellet mill  can’t afford the saw log price.”   He says  it makes sense for  power plants which use coal, to make the switch to pellets,  gradually at first,  with the aim of being  fired 100% by pellets.

Is there enough  wood   available to  proceed with that kind of  change over?  Strauss says  yes.  ” I don’t know how many pellets B.C. and Alberta could produce, but it’s quite  a bit more than they are producing now.”  He says there are many  unexploited or unused wood resources “Particularly  as you move further north,  now maybe the logistics  don’t make sense,  but there’s plenty more ( fibre).”

He says the decline in the pulp and paper industry, particularly in the south east US,  is making more  fibre  available for possible  pellet  production.   That, combined with a shorter  growing  time, and  trees planted in  plantation style farms in the south east U.S., makes  the scenario  much different  than that  in  BC  and Alberta.

According  to Strauss one large power plant could consumer  a  few  million tons a year of wood pellets if that plant was  fully dependent on  wood pellets.  He says at the moment, B.C. makes aout 2.2 million tons of wood pellets annually, but doesn’t know if BC would be capable  of producing  twice that much “The industry has to be constrained by the sustainability constraint.   You cannot cross that boundary at all.”

He says the  carbon neutrality can only be achieved if the carbon being released by combustion is being captured by the new  growth.

Straus  will be one of the  featured panelists at the Bioenergy conference taking place in Prince George June 15-17th.