The Nebraska Forest Service has funds available to help organizations determine whether they are candidates for conversion to woody biomass energy.
Funded through a U.S. Forest Service Redesign Grant, the funds are available to cover up to half the cost of woody biomass feasibility studies for public and private institutions that are interested in converting to woody biomass systems.
Feasibility studies look at several different biomass utilization scenarios, ranging from full reliance on woody biomass for heating and cooling to using woody biomass in combination with the facility's current heating and cooling system to using woody biomass for heating, cooling and power production.
The study also investigates the amount of woody biomass needed to run the system; the available supply of woody biomass and supply-related costs; construction costs and changes to existing infrastructure; the cost and maintenance of various types of systems; and an economic analysis based on installation costs and savings over the life of the system. Based on these factors the study recommends the best course of action for the facility.
Each study is completed by an engineering firm, selected by the facility through a competitive bid process.
Woody biomass energy systems, such as those in use at Chadron State College in Chadron and Arbor Day Foundation's Lied Lodge in Nebraska City, provide proven, reliable energy for both heating and cooling. Woody biomass energy is also a viable energy source for industrial applications, electricity generation and ethanol production.
"Woody biomass is a near-carbon-neutral energy source that, as an industry, creates jobs and new sources of income," says Adam Smith, Nebraska Forest Service woody biomass coordinator. "Each woody biomass system creates at least a 30-year market for wood. This translates into opportunities for forest and rangeland improvement, removal of trees killed by insect and disease pests and fuels treatment projects."
During its life span, a facility that burns 5,000 tons of biomass per year has the potential to restore 30,000 acres of grassland habitat or 12,000 acres of forestland. Since 2005, woody biomass-related operations in the Pine Ridge have created six full-time, year-round jobs and generated more than $1 million in economic impacts to the area.
Statewide, Nebraska's 1.5 million acres of forests produce 1.47 million net air-dry tons of biomass per year. Nebraska's 2 million acres of nonforestland with trees produce an estimated 590,000 net air-dry tons of biomass annually. An additional 270,000 green tons of wood waste are generated annually through timber harvests; fuels treatment projects; primary and secondary wood product processors; municipal tree removals and prunings; and forest and range improvement projects.
A perfect storm of highly destructive invasive insects and diseases, such as emerald ash borer and thousand cankers disease, threaten ash and black walnut trees in Nebraska. Combined, these threats have the potential to kill tens of millions of trees across the state, resulting in millions of additional tons of biomass.
"If we can create a market for the wood generated by current and emerging insect and disease pests, it could ease the burden of this tremendous loss of trees as well as create jobs in communities," Smith said.
Smith said institutions in the Pine Ridge, Niobrara River valley and Platte River valley are good candidates for conversion to woody biomass energy systems because of the tremendous resource available in those areas.
Assistance is also available to help institutions with positive feasibility studies secure capital for conversion and initial startup.
The Nebraska Forest Service is a part of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL.