Wood taking energy industry back to the future?

As natural gas prices rise, old-fashioned wood is getting down right attractive for industrial boiler use. Experts say the market for wood products is about to get even better as states adopt renewable energy requirements.


As natural gas prices rise, old-fashioned wood is getting down right attractive for industrial boiler use. And experts say the market for wood products is about to get stronger.

WoodFuel.com, a new Houston-based supplier, is experiencing growth in demand for its product thanks to the tight market for natural gas and resulting high prices. Demand for biomass will be even greater when deregulation becomes effective in Texas in January 2001, suggests Scott Mactier, WoodFuel.com partner.

The law requires a certain percentage of the power generated in Texas be from renewable fuel sources, and wood products count in the mix.

�We�re seeing a tremendous growth in the demand for wood fuel as an alternative energy source. We believe this growth in the demand will continue based on the increase in the price of fossil fuels and the implementation of Senate Bill 7 and similar bills in other states that will mandate use of alternative energy [including] biomass,� says Mactier.

While most utility boilers are not equipped to burn wood, pulp and paper mill manufacturing facilities have dual burner capabilities. The company says paper mills are its principal customers now with natural gas prices climbing past $4/Mcf.

Once SB 7 is implemented, Mactier says he expects demand to increase as paper mills use biomass to generate power and, in turn, sell that power to other generators trying to meet their renewable energy requirements.

Currently, WoodFuel is developing a low-moisture biomass product. One ton of wood fuel produces the energy equivalent of about 14 MMbtu. Wood fuel is mostly composed of vegetation from land clearing projects and from power line trimmings by utilities.

�This is stuff that ordinarily would just go to the landfills,� says Mactier.

As the economics of biomass fuel are becoming more interesting, Woodfuel is in the process of consolidating the wood fuel supply industry in Texas. The company said it recently added 200,000 tons/year of wood fuel capacity, bringing its total supply capacity to about 750,000 tons.

Mactier said the company will eventually move into wood waste as well as wood fuel. But he said nothing definite is planned because wood wastes such as sawdust or wood pallets burn too hot for most boilers.

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