Can Trump link increased coal consumption with decreasing future wildfire risk by reversing the Obama Clean Power Plan?

By Bruce Beaver, Chemistry Professor, Fossil Energy Expert & Practical Environmentalist

The last several decades have seen massive destructive wildfires in regions as diverse as Alaska, Alberta, California, Colorado and most recently in Tennessee. These fires negatively impact the economy, carbon emissions, forest and human health. Mounting evidence suggests that fire ecology has always been the norm for many forest regions. The media has tended to simplistically attribute these fires to climate change rather than historic land use changes . U.S. Forest Service (USFS) wildfire policy over the last century has also inadvertently contributed to worsening these fires; in addition, recent warming makes the fire season longer. Whether recent warming is greater than historic warming cycles is an area of current active debate.

To address wildfire, existing USFS policies could be rapidly expanded to promote rural economic development while simultaneously enhancing forest and human health. A program to thin one million acres in the dry ponderosa pine forests in Arizona over 20 years was started in 2013. The Four Forests Restoration Initiative (FFRI) is thinning trees to stimulate the health and vigor of the remaining trees and seedlings, increasing their CO2 utilization, and decrease forest biomass making future fires less severe. Such a silvicultural prescription is similar to the natural fire ecological regime of this region. Forest Service subsidies enable small diameter trees to be converted into small dimension lumber to help economically. However, approximately 40% of the harvested biomass was not appropriate for lumber so a biodiesel facility was planned to utilize the biomass. However, financing for this facility was never obtained due to the poor economics of biomass to liquid fuel technology. This situation limits the FFRI economics, and similar plans in other western locations, because the residual biomass has no market. Consequently, this biomass is pile burned on site, which wastes much energy and generates significant air pollution.

The FFRI is part of a larger national USFS initiative called the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR), which according to the five-year progress report has been hindered by the lack of biomass markets:

Download here:

“By utilizing woody byproducts from restoration treatments, CFLR projects can help offset treatment costs and generate economic benefits for the community. To date, the 23 projects have generated more than 2.1 million green tons of woody biomass from hazardous fuel reduction and restoration treatments on Federal land made available for bioenergy production. Because of a number of factors external to CFLR, however, including low natural gas prices and the unanticipated impacts of the 2008 economic downturn on the timber market, many of the cogeneration and milling facilities that were planned in project areas are on hold or have shut down. … Even so, without a significant change in demand for biomass and associated development of processing infrastructure, it will be challenging for the projects to meet the proposed lifetime goals for biomass utilization.”

For reference the energy content of 2 million green tons of biomass, produced over 5 years, is about enough to power 24,000 homes per year, if fired in a commercial power plant (1MW/1yr x 1yr/13,000 green tons x 800 homes/1MW x 400,000 green tons/yr = 24,000 homes/yr). Obviously, commercial power plants are already connected to the grid to deliver this power to the homes. However, harvesting, processing and transporting biomass for energy generation is expensive and the economics of the process requires short haul distances (i.e. ~100 mile round trip). This is where the Obama Clean Power Plan becomes important. Since there are over 500 coal-fired power plants dispersed throughout the U.S. it is likely that some power plants are near to forests in need of restoration (thinning). Millions of tons of green biomass are available if forest fuel reduction and landscape restoration projects are started in appropriate regions. Existing commercial coal-fired power plants in these regions, should not be viewed as a source of air pollution to be regulated out of existence, but rather as highly valuable infrastructure for rural economic stimulation. Some of these plants have been or will soon be closed due to the Obama Clean Power Plan. If Mr. Trump stops the Clean Power Plan some of the existing power plants could be rapidly reconfigured to co-fire biomass and provide a market to facilitate USFS thinning polices. The location of the power plants relative to national forests in need of thinning is most important. Implementation of this energy policy would rapidly increase domestic coal consumption since only a maximum of 20% of the co-fired fuel can be biomass in coal power plants. This idea is not far fetched.

In a timely paper Beagle and Belmont report a limited techno-economic assessment of biomass co-firing in existing coal-fired power plants in the Western United States. This limited study examined the potential of co-firing 5 existing coal power plants in Wyoming and Colorado with beetle-killed trees from neighboring national forests. It was found this strategy was both technically possible and economic if currently existing USFS incentives are used to remediate insect damaged forests by biomass co-firing. When coupled with the increase in local employment from biomass harvesting, transportation and processing, this scenario holds great potential for simultaneously enhancing regional air quality, forest health and other local rural social benefits.

A Trump policy to immediately promote biomass co-firing in select existing (or recently closed) coal power plants would decrease the intensity of future wildfires in these regions and improve power plant emissions. This plan would also stimulate future forest health while simultaneously invigorating rural economies both near the power plants with logging and distant coal mining jobs. Such a program would increase or at least slow the rate of decline in near term coal use and be a tremendous public relations boost for the politically battered coal industry.

Bruce Beaver is a Professor of Chemistry at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA

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Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 3:30 pm

This guy is just a schlepper for the biomass industry/interests. Well, either that (a rational, though mistaken, motive for the above nonsense), or he is an Envirocultist whose brainwashed mind thinks what he wrote makes very good sense.
1. If WHEN the Trump administration 86’s the laughably misnamed Obama “Clean” Power Plan, along with the junk-science E.P.A. CO2 “endangerment” finding (and like regs.), coal plants should be fired right back up to go FULL BORE!
2. IF there were a need to dispose of excess wood pulp, make paper products, e.g., cardboard, out of it.
Bottom line:
There is NO NEED


for biomass-fueled electric power generation.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 3:33 pm

I rated this “Very Poor,” yet, with only 3 votes, the rating is at Good +. Who in the WORLD thought this was an “excellent” article?? Mr. Beaver, no doubt.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 5:02 pm

I like the idea of the government funding forest restoration efforts. The aid should come in the form of work contracts which could be bid on as they used to do with tree planting contracts back in the 1970s and earlier. It would help put people in the area back to work. There is a core group of local residents in these mountain, whose families have been in the area since the late 1800s. When logging in these areas hit its peak back in the 1970s, there was no other work for those displaced. To bad that the government back then wasn’t more forward looking to bridge the gap for workers as well as benefiting some of the excesses of the logging industry from the 1950s/60s.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 5:50 pm

Dear Goldminor,
Your kindly, socialist-leaning, heart may like that, but, it would really, in the long run, be better for all taxpayers to let the private logging industry manage the forests (they have been replanting for decades, now). There is no need for government subsidizing in a free market logging situation . Weyerhauser in Washington State, for example, does a fine job. The tax subsidized jobs create 1 job while taking away 2 from other parts of the economy.
Good for you to care, though!
P.S. I realize that you are in California, however — maybe the situation is different there. A much more socialist-heavy reg. environment, it appears to me. Man A– LIVE — you can’t even drive into the place on I-5 without stopping at a cold war era type border crossing station — as if they are their own nation. Driving in to Oregon or Washington and just about every if not EVERY other state in the nation is not such a creepy experience. Oh, sure, the border guards were friendly, just the fact that one is stopped…. when it is still the same country. Ugh. Thanks for listening. 🙂

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 6:57 pm

I’ve heard it is easier to drive from Washington to British Columbia then it is to drive from Nevada to California.
The Rumor that it’s easier to enter California from Baja then Nevada though is probably hyperbole. ~¿~

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 7:06 pm

Weyerhaeuser logged out the area where Hot Springs Village, AR now exists and did well in the wash. Just one of many places they have improved the health of the forest while making habitation practical, in cooperation with ecologically-focused developers.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 10:16 pm

Private industry is not a solution for every damn problem on the planet. Some things need to be done when there is no profit in doing them. Who is going to do those? The answer is the government. And that is why the government can not always compete with the private sector. If things were profitable people would be doing them.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 10:36 pm

Janice, did you get your education in a public school or did your parents pay three times as much for a private school?

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 5:35 am

And that is why the government can not always compete with the private sector. If things were profitable people would be doing them.

@ davidgmills, ……. it appears you really don’t know the difference between ‘privately owned property’ and ’government confiscated property’.
If doing things on “privately owned property” is profitable …. then people will do then, ….. but only if and when the government permits them to do so.
If doing things on ’government confiscated property’ is profitable ….. the government doesn’t give a damn because “profits” don’t mean anything to government employees and the private sector people are not permitted to do anything on said property, profit or no profit.
Except for those private sector persons who are friends, relatives, political donors and/or “profit sharers” of one or more government employees.
Iffen you want to do something on ’government confiscated property’ ….. you first have to find yourself a “partner” and establish a “gentleman’s agreement”.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 7:21 am

My town spends $17,951 per annum for each pupil. I could send three children to my sons’ Catholic school and pocket almost $3,000 in change for that amount.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 10:30 am

Mr. Mills,
You are correct. There are *some* things which can’t be done by private individuals/industry, so government must do it. Law enforcement, national defense, and foreign relations are a few that spring to mind. In the US, most of these tasks are specifically called out in the Constitution. But government, like fire, will grow to consume everything if it is not controlled. Therefore it should not be allowed to get larger than absolutely necessary. Anything that can be done privately, should be; government intervention should always be the last option, not the first.
The natural course of things if for government to grow and liberty to yield. It is important to always push back against this, just as we work to use our intellect to constrain our emotional impulses.

Martin A
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 10:59 am

I once drove into California. The border guards confiscated my apple.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 18, 2017 3:08 pm

@ Samuel Cogar. I am a retired attorney. I have probably forgotten more about property law and how it works than you ever knew. There is a place for government in civil society and reasonable people can differ about how much government is necessary.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 18, 2017 3:10 pm

@ Paul Penrose. George Washington famously said that government is force. So yes it should be held in check. But sometimes getting things done takes force.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 18, 2017 3:16 pm

@ D.J. Dawkins. My granddaughter has to go to a school for dyslexics because the public schools here (and most places) do not have programs for them. The tuition is $20,000 a year for those whose parents do not qualify for a grant. That is what happens when there is no government competition.
But the real point about public (government) education is that most of America got their educations in public schools or their parents or grandparents did. Without public education probably most of our grandparents, our parents and even ourselves would have been lucky to have a first grade education.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 20, 2017 9:47 am

The “real point” is about value for price. As an example only, Catholic schools, and grade schools in particular, deliver far more value for price here in NJ. The same is true for inner city schools. If Janice had received her education at a Catholic school, the cost of that education would have likely been lower, per pupil, than the public school. The rub is that her parents (as I do) would be supporting both systems. Since I am not free to take the per pupil cost, or even the portion of my property taxes that goes to the local school board, to another vendor, the public schools here face no competition. You know what happens to prices when you have a monopoly, right?
As for your daughter, do you live in the US? I know in my state the local school board would have to find a neighboring district with a suitable program or cough up for a special ed teacher, no question. At no added cost to you.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 20, 2017 9:49 am

The point on inner city schools is that where Catholic schools are established in inner cities, the pupils achieve at levels similar to suburban schools. Sorry if that was unclear.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 4:04 pm

There IS a need for successful biomass burning of some kind and this suggestion is intriguing–mix it with coal.
Biomass success will convert fossil fuels from “nonrenewable” energy to what it really is: SUPERRENEWABLE fuel. Fossils to CO2 to biomass to energy again forever.

Horace Jason Oxboggle
Reply to  ladylifegrows
January 17, 2017 1:46 am

Yeah! Here’s a plan! Let’s grow corn to make ethanol (starve, you foreign paupers!) and let’s also grow wood to burn to generate energy! Now let’s then use coal (or natural gas or uranium) to frame homes! Where’s the downside!
I am going to invest immediately in clue-bat futures!

Joe Crawford
Reply to  ladylifegrows
January 18, 2017 10:45 am

For successful biomass burning come to West Virginia. Practically every rural and small town home heats with either an in-house wood stove or outdoor wood furnace.

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 4:36 pm

Janice, I agree, when thinning a forest you end up with very little standard “bolt’ size lumber that can be economically transported. You might end up burning enough fuel oil during transportation to generate the same amount of electricity. Your better off to just chip it on-site and return the bio-mass to the floor of the forest, where nature would put it in the first place.

Phil R
Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
January 16, 2017 6:38 pm

Like your comment and just wondering how much you know about or have been following the clean energy fiasco in the UK. Aside from all the windmills and other silly stuff, they’re converting one (or part of one) of their coal-fired plants to biomass. The biomass they are using are wood pellets, but they are not producing them in the UK (not enough forests left). more specifically I think, they are producing the pellets in North Carolina (and possibly other areas). They are adamant that the wood pellets are only made from the residue (limbs, branches, twigs, etc.) from the logging and milling. But in line with your comment, I’ve always wondered whether creating a huge volume of wood pellets from scraps and then shipping them to the UK was energy efficient, or even possible. May be conspiracy theory, but I think that was propaganda for the masses, and if they needed to log trees for the pellets to make it economic, they wood (sorry for the pun). :>)

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
January 17, 2017 4:19 am

Wood pellets ARE made, primarily, from the trim and bark that comes off at the mill. But that’s very different from collecting random branches and residue at the point of harvest.
Here in Northern Michigan we have two fairly large operations that make pellets. One is a Georgia Pacific lumber mill and the other is PCA, (Tenneco), paper mill. The process is net-energy efficient, and the pellets themselves are pretty good fuel since there is little or no water left. Pellets are cheap here so they are popular. I don’t have a lot of facts about cost of transport, etc., or working with this stuff at scale, but I have trouble believing this is a good deal if you need to transport any distance, The BTU ratios are just not favorable to natural gas, or even propane. (again, I’m not familiar with nat gas distribution in GB).
Here’s a handy guide on the generalities, I like the guys at Oregon State, they write some nice pieces on everything from use of lime to how to trim a rose bush.

Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
January 17, 2017 6:29 am

Phil R – January 16, 2017 at 6:38 pm

They are adamant that the wood pellets are only made from the residue (limbs, branches, twigs, etc.) from the logging and milling.

Be careful what you believe.
Logging operations quickly become un-profitable if the logger has to pick-up and transport the “trimmed” limbs, branches and twigs from the fallen timber ….. out of the woodlot and to a far distant place for further processing.
I suppose one could make said “pellets” out of twigs and tree bark but I doubt they would be worth what you would have to pay for them.
Timbering is “big” business here in WV, USofA.
Within 20 miles of where I live ….. there are lots of timber’ers, several sawmills, a Weyerhaeuser Oriented Strand Board plant [ ] and a wood pellet plant. Sawed lumber, Strand Board and wood pellets are exported.
FYI, to wit:

What makes Appalachian Wood Pellets so unique is that we partner Allegheny Wood Products, a producer of high-quality hard wood lumber, to retain their left over wood chips and sawdust pieces for use in the manufacturing of wood pellets. The bark is used to dry the wood fiber so nothing is wasted. Meaning, our processes are not only efficient, but they keep your purchasing costs down.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 4:48 pm

Janice, I have no knowledge of biomass electric generation, but we do have several biomass furnaces in this community, They are quite cost effective and efficient, if designed correctly. (Canada has quite an industry using mill waste for the biomass.) It would be nice if we could do the same here in Southeast Alaska.
I live in the midst of the 14 million acres of forest, and we have to beg for the right to log any part of the small sections of forest that have been set aside for logging.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 6:28 pm

Burning biomass for energy works great here in NE Cal. in the co-generation plants, as it provides jobs for wood cutters, truck drivers, loaders, etc. with additional benefits of keeping the forest floor clearer of potential fire debris. No subsidies involved.

Reply to  Chad Jessup
January 16, 2017 7:04 pm

See, this is where I have a problem with this article. Because it sounds like we have a group of greenies being paid to do a job that others manage to make a profit at, and yet they still think they need a subsidy to make up for their inability to do it without running in the red.
Come to think of it, that pretty much describes MOST Green businesses.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 6:04 am

In a natural forest ecosystem, fire leaves behind valuable nutrients. It seems to me if we haul off the thinned material and burn it or turn it into lumber, we will starve out the remaining vegetation. I would vote for planned burns. If people want to build cabins in forests where fires have not been allowed to burn, they need to carry insurance.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 7:59 am

I could not agree more.
One additional comment: Recently felled trees and cleared “biomass” don’t make very good fuel as the water content is far too high. One would necessarily be forced to create “seasoning” piles to allow the wood to properly dry out. Furthermore a good portion of the cleared undergrowth would not be a good candidate for biomass. Even the location of the plant near a forest would not alleviate this issue.
An extremely ill-conceived idea to use wood for fuel when coal is plentiful and far more productive. Cut the trees and leave them where they fall so that in a million years or so the Earth will have coal supplies.
About all this article proposes is that we fire up coal powered plants with RAW COAL.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 17, 2017 11:57 am

+1 Biomass for electrical energy is nonsense. I, for one, think there is nothing wrong with treating the forest as a recurring natural resource requiring minimum regulation to protect from soil erosion and waste. There is nothing wrong with preserving elements of “old growth” National Forest as a sort of public zoo but the “do not disturb” notion of forest management is a crazy notion that suggests humankind would be better off with prairie grass and buffalo than modern wheat, corn and soy farms feeding a robust beef, swine, and poultry industry in the Midwest.

Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 3:36 pm

Well, since no one is around here, I’ll keep on talking to myself.
AND ANOTHER THING (smile) — Mr. Beaver creates a false dichotomy by implying: “Well, folks, which is it going to be? Devastating forest fires? Or biomass-fueled electricity?”

Mike the Morlock
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 4:30 pm

Janice Moore January 16, 2017 at 3:36 pm
Hi Janice. The idea of using the small branches twigs in coal plants is not a bad one. If it can be made to work. Late last year when they were thinning near where I live the forest service was giving the logs away. They cut them and stacked them and even helped you load them. They cut the logs to 6 & 8 ft lengths for truck beds. You could get a cord. Finding a way not to waste the little bits is not a bad idea.
The author is thinking at least, that is a start. Better uses or methods may bubble up.
Oh yeah my wife and I and her dad got them to load two pickup truck loads for us.

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 4:40 pm

Mike, having grown up with a grandfather who built a business around forest products I can tell you there’s no good way not to waste the little stuff, it does more good if you can chip it and return the organic matter to the forest floor. Mulch is a terrible thing to waste…

Mike the Morlock
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 5:19 pm

Mark from the Midwest January 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm
“Bruce Beaver, Chemistry Professor, Fossil Energy Expert & Practical Environmentalist”
Not exactly a title that would inspire confidence, but it never hurts to re-examine things. If it is uneconomical, and better for forest health to chip it, so be it.
I and the author I suspect don’t know much about the economical end of the forest products business.
Mark, I just “deplore” wasting good flammables

Mike the Morlock
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 5:35 pm

Mark from the Midwest January 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm
Hi Mark Janice I missed the below on my first reading.
“Forest Service subsidies enable small diameter trees to be converted into small dimension lumber to help economically.”
You may fire when ready……

Janice Moore
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 5:54 pm

Aiming at –> Y-O-U, Mike (not a): interesting observations and good discussion-evoking comments!

Phil R
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 6:28 pm

And you never even thanked me… :>)

Mike the Morlock
Reply to  Mike the Morlock
January 16, 2017 6:53 pm

Phil R January 16, 2017 at 6:28 pm
Hi Phil ,, me or Janice?

January 16, 2017 3:40 pm

Tony has several threads that show wildfires have already declined – and a lot.

January 16, 2017 3:41 pm

And what is the US Clean Power Plan supposed to accomplish? A 32% reduction in CO2 output from US power generation (not just coal). The US is responsible for about 16% of the world’s CO2 output. Power generation represents about 31% of US CO2 production. Therefore – 16% * 31% * 32% = 1.6%. CPP will reduce the global C2 output by 1.6%.
China and India will cancel that out with their next dozen coal fired power plants.
Screw up the entire power industry, increase the price of electricity and not remotely solve the imaginary climate change problem. Nothing but political posturing!

Reply to  Nicholas Schroeder
January 16, 2017 7:22 pm

Also point out that the US uses more CO2 than the country produces, thanks to forest regrowth and greening of other areas. The country is a net sink for CO2!

January 16, 2017 3:42 pm

Once the Clean Power Plan is scuttled, an experiment suggests itself.
A) Identify and eliminate any unnecessary and harmful federal regulations which stand in the way of biomass supplemented coal fired electrical generation.
B) Let the open market decide whether such a plan makes good sense or not.
No public funds or crony tax breaks needed.

Janice Moore
Reply to  TonyL
January 16, 2017 3:55 pm


Reply to  TonyL
January 16, 2017 4:32 pm

Perhaps the British Taxpayer will come to the aid of the USA and fund more wood fired power stations in the UK.

Janice Moore
Reply to  lewispbuckingham
January 16, 2017 5:56 pm

That would be very kind of them, Mr. Buckingham 😉 . We’re setting a good example here in the U.S. by doing that for the Chinese (subsidizing their imports of solar/wind junk no one needs) at this very moment…. not for much longer, though, heh.

Reply to  TonyL
January 16, 2017 8:48 pm

Power plants are designed to burn a specific fuel. Changing that fuel is asking for expensive headaches.

Reply to  john
January 16, 2017 4:04 pm

Oh my.
Barbecue crispy critters.

January 16, 2017 4:13 pm

mmm I have spent a little time in the forestry, and I think that it may possibly be feasible to extract biomass from a forest during thinning – on flat terrain .
However on steep mountainous areas, where most trees grow, the idea is just idiotic.
Its bad enough getting the timber out let alone anything else.
This guy needs a serious rethink in my view.

Reply to  rogerthesurf
January 16, 2017 5:22 pm

Yeah, I own three ~ 40 acre hardwood woodlots as parts of my hilly Wisconsin Uplands dairy farm. We do selectively log each woodlot maybe every 20-30 years. Lots of money innthe red and white oaks; about $1000 per tree bole. The tree crowns are left after the boles are harvested, and my neighbors pitch in chores like fencing/brushing in order to harvest as much as they want of their ‘free’ winter firewood from those crowns. Not enough neighbors, too many crowns. Spent 15 years building woods trails (total with all loops about 5.2 miles) to access all boundary fences and woodlot sections within maybe 100 meters. I supply our farm house with 8-10 full cords per year from just one of the woodlot annual deadfalls, never mind logging crowns. Enough wood for substituting some winter propane, saving several thousand dollars per year. And we are only there weekends. Folks not having these experiences just have no sense of scope and scale. And probably do not have 2 chain saws (one for fall hunting guest ‘slave’ labor), a peavy, two sets of logging chains, logging tongs, and an 4WD diesel tractor to skid harvested wood out of the woods. Those who do not know what a peavey or logging tongs are need not apply to come help even if good hunters. Rank wood order is oak, hickory (rots fast tho once down), hard maple, hard birch, soft maple. Everything else is just soil enrichment.

Stewart Finess
Reply to  ristvan
January 16, 2017 5:38 pm

wood rank
… madrone, apple, oak, …
(just my preference, I know you are not growing apple, and madrone won’t grow there.)

Reply to  ristvan
January 16, 2017 7:17 pm

Oak, Ash, and cherry will fetch about $150 per cord around here.

Reply to  ristvan
January 17, 2017 12:13 am

Small UK estates which have coppicing harvesting of wood are starting to put woodfired CHP in… I don’t know if that’s practical for you.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  ristvan
January 17, 2017 10:43 am

Love the hickory and maple; makes lovely furniture. I have a few shag bark hickory trees in my back yard, but I’m afraid I’ll be worm food before they mature. Still, it makes me happy knowing we’ve added a few of these back to the landscape where there once were so many.

January 16, 2017 4:27 pm

Mr Beaver needs to visit a coal plant and ask the operators how to go about shoving in some wood along with the coal (short answer, not practical)
I would like to see his credentials for being a Fossil Energy Expert

Reply to  Griff
January 17, 2017 7:45 am

no, this describes a few trials all around the world, in PowerPoint (i.e. consultant garbage feeder), with no mention of any cost, and a lot of “maybe”.

Reply to  Griff
January 17, 2017 9:04 am

Griff, if Europe wants to fire w/biomass, fine, but use their own frackin’ trees….

Bryan A
Reply to  Analitik
January 17, 2017 10:01 am

The problems with Biomass…Europe would resemble Haiti then

Bryan A
Reply to  Bryan A
January 17, 2017 10:02 am

and Burning Biomass isn’t nearly as clean (CO2 free) as Nu-Clear Energy

Reply to  Bryan A
January 17, 2017 2:28 pm

Bryan A
January 17, 2017 at 10:01 am
The problems with Biomass…Europe would resemble Haiti then

I believe the migrants are going to make sure that happens with or without biomass.

January 16, 2017 4:38 pm

The worst managed forests in the country are federally managed. The best are privately managed, other governmental forests fall in between. Forest fires frequently begin on federal land, and then move onto other governmental lands and private lands. Check what happened two years ago in Washington state. Fire burnt several buildings in Wenatchee as well as thousands of acres.
The Feds I have talked with, admit up front, there are too many acres in too many places to adequately manage the forests.
If you don’t manage the forests for some sort of logging, or other use of the biomass, you are managing it for fires, either small controlled ones, or huge destructive ones.
One option might be to turn it over to the States or Private industry to manage, but I doubt the environmental lobbying group would let anything like that ever get considered let alone enacted.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  haverwilde
January 16, 2017 5:48 pm

It is natural for forests to burn. It is how nature keeps pest and disease outbreaks from killing an entire forest and it makes it possible for the next generation of trees to get a start. We should not be making pellets out of trees to ship to Britain or to use in power generation here.
What’s needed to keep damage from forest fires to a minimum is a sane policy of thinning or removing trees and undergrowth away from towns and communities in forests. In too many places Green Blob laws and regulations keep that from happening.

Leonard Lane
Reply to  haverwilde
January 16, 2017 10:33 pm

haverland. It is interesting to drive through the Ponderosa pine forests in the White Mountains of AZ. These forests are partly owned by the White Mountain Apache Tribe and partly by the US Forest service. The Indian lands look great; thinned & cleaned under story as slash has been collected and burned. In contrast, some of the Forest Service lands are riddled with small trees (a few inches in diameter to several inches) growing so thickly that you cannot see through them. There is also some shrub growth in the under story. The Indian forests should grow faster and be able to survive small fires in the under story. You can guess what will happen to the Forest Service lands.

R. Shearer
January 16, 2017 4:41 pm

CO2 isn’t carbon and carbon isn’t CO2, although there is carbon in CO2.

January 16, 2017 4:46 pm

The organic black blob here. The artificial green blight there. A lot of coal. A lot of natural gas. A little biomass. And nuclear for the foundation. Everything in context, to purpose, and on merit.

January 16, 2017 4:48 pm

I sense a deeper conspiracy here. Is it merely a coincidence that a suspiciously named Mr. Beaver is intensely interested in trees? I think not.

Reply to  commieBob
January 16, 2017 5:27 pm

The best comment I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks for the laugh.

Janice Moore
Reply to  commieBob
January 16, 2017 5:57 pm


January 16, 2017 4:56 pm

Waste wood. Seems one could get paid to take it. Otherwise what does the producer of if do with it? Then there’s the fact that coal takes money to ship. Less shipped, less costs. Coal mining can have some long term effects on the land. Wood waste, not so much. What local fuels can be used keeping more money local? More people employed in local transport. Perhaps freeing up a bit of rail capacity.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Ragnaar
January 16, 2017 5:59 pm

Only one problem: wood has a MUCH lower EROEI. NOT an economically efficient way to generate electricity.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 7:05 pm

“Currently, the Virginia and Hibbing plants are displacing the use of 150,000 tons of coal per year.”
The money for the displaced coal stays on the Range.
“There are benefits for other emissions, including lower sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and mercury, when coal is completely replaced by wood pellets.”
Think of the fish. Lots of fishing here. Think of John Candy and The Great Outdoors.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 16, 2017 7:54 pm

If I remember correctly, wood has about a third of the energy as anthracite coal per pound, and is less dense (fewer pounds per cubic foot) to boot.
It also burns cooler, making it hard to utilize in the newest, most efficient ultra supercritical power plants.
Ironically the plants that are most likely to benefit from Mr. Beavers plan are the ones that were most likely to be closed by the CPP. The old inefficient and most polluting ones. (And I mean real pollution like sulfur and nitrogen compounds, not CO2)

michael hart
January 16, 2017 5:06 pm

“…decreasing future wildfire risk..”

Hmm… that sounds a bit like Richard Nixon’s “the rate of increase of inflation is now falling”.
Is “decreasing future risk” a second derivative or a third derivative? I’m not yet entirely sure that it isn’t a fourth derivative, but it’s getting late here, and the sun is well over the yardarm.

January 16, 2017 5:08 pm

I think some here are being a bit unfair to Bruce Beaver; as someone said, at least he’s thinking. The underlying problem, it seems to me, is that Barack Obama with his totalitarian madness, has brainwashed everyone a bit, and everything is now seen in terms of whar government does. The simple answer for the forests, as with so many other things, is to let the people managing them actually manage them. If it’s cost-effective to use forest material for power generation in a coal-fired power station, it will happen if managers can manage. If it isn’t cost-effective then they will do something else with it. So Bruce’s ideas are fine for initiating thought, it’s just that forest managers too need to be free to think.

January 16, 2017 5:11 pm

uh no…you can’t mix wood with coal….unless it was built to do that…and none are
Think chimney sweep and self cleaning ovens

Reply to  Latitude
January 16, 2017 7:03 pm

Yes you can…a number of cement kilns have been reconfigured to burn a mix of coal and wood chips. Seems to work fine. Different process I know, but the materials handling is similar.

Lew Skannen
January 16, 2017 5:12 pm

Money is a good proxy for energy and so if this plan is viable in a free market without government interference then that is fine, otherwise it is a waste of time and money.

January 16, 2017 5:27 pm

Those in geological sciences tend to appreciate global scales better. So I would ask what % of land that could be affected by fire is affected by fire over a given time. In my country, Australia, it is tiny and in extensive desert regions it is offer caused by lightning, is natural and mostly inconsequential?
I suspect that you are confusing ferocity of fires and property damage with global impact.
Likewise, scale of CO2 emissions caused by man fiddling with lumber is tiny compared with natural death and decay in forests. You should know this in your employment. Why do you sensationalise it?

January 16, 2017 5:28 pm

Look at Finland before you leap.

“Biodiesel to fuel growth
By 2015, Finnish paper giants UPM-Kymmene, Stora Enso and Metsa Group had shut more than 30 paper-making machines around the country, most of them located in small towns highly dependent on the companies for jobs and tax revenue.
But with forests covering 78 percent of Finland’s land surface, they are unquestionably one of the country’s most important resources.
Metsa Group is not alone in hoping trees can mean new growth in two senses.
Another group, Finnpulp, plans to build a new pulp and biorefinery in the eastern town of Kuopio, while Chinese Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group plans to invest a billion euros in a refinery making renewable diesel from wood materials in the northern Finnish town of Kemi.
Finland’s leading forestry giant UPM is already in the business.”

The Chinese Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group in Finland has demonstrated that this scheme kills the paper mills in order to satisfy the European Union’s mad policy of phasing out coal in northern countries, by creating a fake market for biodiesel. Do not let this in. Europe will swallow your forests up for green power. Canada should be aware of this because it shows that worthless, bad and fake industries WILL drive out the good ones.
The European Union can get out of our energy sector and keep busy trying to save its failing banks without us.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Zeke
January 16, 2017 6:01 pm

This bears repeating — with emphasis:

… this scheme kills the paper mills in order to satisfy the { } mad policy of phasing out coal in northern countries, by creating a fake market for biodiesel.

January 16, 2017 5:29 pm

IMHO, there’s a lot of excellent input here.
My two-cents’ worth — as a Canadian in B.C., with extensive thermal-power experience (from teh Civil engineering perspective):
1. I understand that the economical way to harvest lumber is by clear-cut, and that cherry-picking is uneconomical.
2. That rule wd apply equally well to the wood-pelletizing industry (see various videos on the subject).
3. There’s a vast amount of pine-beetle infestation in W. Canada. One forest-mgt. solution (correct me if I’m wrong, please) is to clear-cut the worst infected areas, harvest the good lumber, and consign the rest to hi-est and best economic usage — pelletization, or raw bio-mass furnaces. For all I know, this is already being done.
4. Much W.Can forest relies naturally on fire-succesion/propagation … the seeds lie dormant until after the next forest fire roars thro’. If that heat-source cd be sustainably tapped for *our* benefit, while leaving the slash to burn and stimulate the seeds, we might develop a long-run, sustainable, economic program.
5. All said, burning trees =>> CO2!! I say “Good for Gaia!” but the retards may demur.
6. I wd guess that the Forestry Mgt. specialists wd be able to grade areas of fire-succession forest according to the metronome of previous areal blazes. ‘Tis not a huge leap of fwd. thinking to pre-cut mature & prone forests and harness that thermal energy for (wo)mankind’s sake. I’ve yet to hear of such a practice … any leads, please?
7. Ask the indigenous peoples! As I understand it, they mitigated the risk from wild-fires by *selective burning* of underbrush (“fire-ladders”) within ‘x’ km. of their villages. There’s a valuable resource there …
Ever the enquiring mind!

Larry Geiger
Reply to  Ross King
January 17, 2017 5:45 am

Hi Ross
1. Improperly stated. The economical way to harvest timber for paper and fuel is by clear-cut.
A lot of timber harvested for lumber is selectively cut. Clear cutting is not necessarily the best way for this type of use. Clear cutting is used extensively for pulp wood harvesting. Pulp wood has a shorter growing period than trees for lumber.

John F. Hultquist
January 16, 2017 6:15 pm

We live on the east slope of the Cascades in central Washington State.
The last nearby fire, the Snag Canyon fire, passed 2.6 miles north of us. The wide space where our drive enters the county road became a hangout for the curious, the photographers, and a few police and others. The sky was crisscrossed by aircraft of all sorts, including a DC10 making turns above us.
We have been to 2 presentations relating to wildfires and have accomplished about 75% of the necessary fire-wise activity meant to protect our property.
Big fires, so called megafires, will happen – count on them. Mostly there has been a build-up of fuel. Efforts to get rid of that fuel are tiny compared to the need.
Search for ‘Snag Canyon Fire’ using the images tag.
Or for ‘Taylor Bridge Fire’ — that one got as close as 5 miles.
Welcome to the real world.

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
January 16, 2017 7:13 pm

We do a lot of tree work in the winter and if a tree can fit into our chipper away it goes. The work needed to haul out trees is excessive for our small crew. Trees, mostly cedar that don’t fit into the chipper are big enough to use as fence posts but overwhelmingly our guys prefer to cut, chip and move on. Burning is difficult in our area even though we have a permit because if anyone complains(and they can be a mile err 1.6km away) here comes the fire trucks! After spreading the chips in the bush it is amazing how fast they degrade adding richness to the soil. Adding some N makes the microbes work even faster.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  polski
January 16, 2017 9:03 pm

There is a local tree called Washington Hawthorn. While the thorns are the nasty part, it is one tough tree. The crew that did chipping on our place ran 8″ pieces of Ponderosa and Alder with no problems. There was one Hawthorn with multiple trunks, one about 8″. The chipper choked on that. They had to cut it into smaller pieces to chip it. I apologized for some of the cut and carry they had to do. They claimed working closer to the mountains was much more difficult because of the steepness.
People that haven’t seen the mountain forests are clueless about how difficult thinning and clearing can be.

Reply to  polski
January 17, 2017 6:04 am

Hello John, I know hawthorn very well. We had a grove on our course and they were awful. Many flat tires and even though we trimmed high I was always worried about a golfer searching for a ball and like the eagles that get smucked by turbine blades looking up and losing an eye. So we took them all down, chipped and burned on the spot. Wood is quite hard but those 2-3″ spikes were a huge hazard.

John F. Hultquist
January 16, 2017 7:05 pm

Go to this page from the Bonneville Power Administration:
Balancing Load, Wind, Hydro & Thermal
It is of interest at the moment because of the lack of wind – the green line at the bottom.
Top right shows via a pie chart that there is 1.4% biomass of the BPA-mix.
Scroll to under the chart for a list of 28 “thermal” facilities. There note the landfills, lumber and saw mills. What was once waste and dumped as chips and sawdust (for the taking) is now used on site, sold, or becomes “thermal” electric.
Studies of setting up a biomass generating place show that the fuel within the cost-effective range will be depleted within X(?) years. In that sense, a portable facility might work, but there are many other reasons why not.

Pop Piasa
January 16, 2017 7:26 pm

OK, maybe I’m being juvenile, but you’d think a Beaver would be promoting Hydroelectric dams before advocating just random tree cutting. 🙂

Rhoda R
January 16, 2017 7:43 pm

It is probably a very small segment of waste wood management but I’ve been buying kitty litter made from ‘sawdust’ type waste instead of the clay based stuff. I hope it catches on since it is cheaper and lighter that the traditional stuff.

January 16, 2017 7:49 pm

Oddly, his bio at the university fails to mention his “fossil fuel” expertise. Funny that.
Methinks the worm has turned. The crony socialists and the crony capitalists have ceased wringing their hands over Trump’s win, and returned to their normal behaviour. Lobbying those in power to subsidize their pet projects on the premise that subsidies somehow create jobs.

January 16, 2017 9:24 pm

I never thougt that wood and timber are so abundant in US/Canada. Here in Germany every bit of wood is used, and heating houses and bigger buildings or facilities with wood chips is quite common – an even cheaper like oil or coal.
I own two houses for several families and we are burning timber leftovers in in wood gassifying burners for central heating. Efficiency more than 90%. Extremely clean exhaust gasses. Yearly cost of heating a flat is less than 200€.

Reply to  naturbaumeister
January 16, 2017 10:41 pm

That is because here in the US we seem to suck at basic engineering.

Reply to  naturbaumeister
January 17, 2017 4:51 am

and I dare say your properties are well insulated too, needing even less in the way of heating!

January 16, 2017 11:20 pm

Forestry companies have been building “co-generation” plants to get rid of their wood waste for decades. I worked on one site services for one of the early ones 40 years ago. (Nope, that isn’t a typo – FORTY Years ago.) Virtually all the forestry companies I know are burning wood waste and turning it into energy for their own use and selling surplus to the grid. For at least 25 years in my knowledge, maybe longer. Not exactly a new or unique concept. Has been discussed here before. Beehive burners were seen to be a pollution problem and got turned into an asset.
Just go here for one OLD example with a list from 17 years ago:

January 17, 2017 12:16 am

Well, there’s a halfway decent idea here… if the forest is being sustainably managed and there is 40% biomass otherwise not being used and coal plant close by, why not?
The key here is that the forest regrow and that the trees not be cut solely for power… and the transport distance.
It makes no sense cutting down US wood to ship to a UK power plant (no UK green group is in favour of that) – local waste wood to an existing US coal plant could be different.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Griff
January 17, 2017 11:02 am

Something we can finally agree on.

Gary Pearse
January 17, 2017 1:36 am

In the late 1950s, I was a chokerman on the mountain slopes of Jarvis Inlet north of Vancouver, BC working on the world’s largest clear cut – one of the features you could see from the moon apparently. Dragging the huge logs down slope to a pile around a ‘spar tree’ rigged with a large block at the top through which was threaded the mainline cable (IIRC, 1.25 inch) with a donkey engine winding it up below, we knocked down everything standing in a hooked up log’s way.
They cut only timber with an 18″ top, so for a prairie boy, the stuff knocked down and broken up looked like big trees. I would say the waste looked to be about 20-25%. I’m not sure it would have been economic to gather this up to feed a coal fired plant. The sawmill waste was another matter. A good proportion of Vancouver homes were heated with sawdust burners in those days and in later years they made chipboard and sawdust board products.

January 17, 2017 1:59 am

The real culprit here, with wildfires and a swathe of other environmental and health problems, is a sinister atmospheric constituent which until recently was considered to be benign, even beneficial, but now progressive post-modern scientists and media talking heads know better.
Atmospheric oxygen causes wildfires. It also rusts metal, degrading motor vehicles and increasing danger of traffic accidents. Moreover this sinister gas actually kills us. The gradual oxidation of biological tissues, although delayed by antioxidants in tomatoes and watermelons and other fruit and vegetables, nonetheless will eventually kill every one of us.
New research led by Oregon State University is already leading to an emerging consensus, expected to reach 97%, that the EPA should declare oxygen to be a toxic pollutant. Trees have now been identified in breaking research as posessing a protein which builds plant tissue while generating dangerous oxygen and releasing it into the atmosphere. Satellite imagery has also shown that forests release the other toxic and climate damaging gasses CO2 and methane into the air. Therefore green policy must now be to cut down all trees and burn them, a process that can generate valuable electricity while at the same time removing harmful oxygen from the atmosphere.

January 17, 2017 3:28 am

Biomass is such an watermelon weasel word. The mention of tree branches however, suggests a grand business opportunity for tough minded individuals.

A C Osborn
January 17, 2017 4:09 am

The biggest single problem with this OP is that Wild Fires are not as bad as they were historically.
They have only got worse due to “Green” initiatives, as they have in Australia.
In the 1930s there were more and bigger fires.
Do not believe the current Hype, Fires are down, Hurricanes are down, Severe Tornadoes are down, Severe droughts are down.

January 17, 2017 8:16 am

Another chamber economist. I bet he doesn’t manage any woodlot.
He obviously have a point : “Obama Clean Power Plan” need to be trashed and burned as quickly as possible.
That said, whether biomass burning make sense (or not), I leave it to people eager to bet their real own money (or not).
My own guess leading to may own decision to NOT bet my money on it:
From history: humans switched from biomass to coal for a reason, you know. Collecting biomass, and bringing it to where you want it, is a very inefficient, hard labor, high cost, low ROI and EROI process. You’ll get much more energy (at least x3) for the same investment and work when you can mine coal (or oil, or gas, or pretty much everything, actually, may be including wind or sun !).
From my own experience: fine to heat your home with a woodlot next to it, if you don’t have a better use of your work-time, and enjoy some useful physical efforts (as opposed to : cycling on a home-trainer).
So why bother ? You need to be either very poor (no better use of your workforce) or very rich (enough to don’t care to put a better use of your money when you fancy). I am neither.

January 17, 2017 8:31 am

From the article:
Implementation of this energy policy would rapidly increase domestic coal consumption since only a maximum of 20% of the co-fired fuel can be biomass in coal power plants.
No, it would reduce coal consumption by, you guessed it — 20%.

Reply to  beng135
January 17, 2017 9:25 am

Don’t inject math or common sense into the discussion.
After all, the fact that the Tennessee wild fires were arson isn’t germane to the discussion at all.

January 17, 2017 1:38 pm

“Even so, without a significant change in demand for biomass and associated development of processing infrastructure, it will be challenging for the projects to meet the proposed lifetime goals for biomass utilization.””
As pointed out on this thread already, the European Union is using environmental directives to require the use of biodiesel instead of coal.
This is a misuse of wood and a price distortion. What Americans need to re-familiarize themselves with is a list of what products we already make from wood. There are countless chemicals, fibers and plastics which are made from trees.
Here is a blurb from an educational website in Idaho:

Wood is made of tiny fibers (cellulose) and the natural glue that holds them together (lignin). When wood is turned into pulp for paper, heat and chemicals dissolve the lignin and release the cellulose fibers. Byproducts of this process are used in asphalt, paint, chewing gum, detergents and turpentine.
Cellulose is used for paper and much, much more. It is a principle part of melamine dinnerware, toilet seats, tool handles and cellophane. It is also used to produce helmets, toothbrushes and electrical outlets. Other refined cellulose products include rayon fabric, and nitrocellulose which is used to make nail polish, solid rocket fuel and industrial explosives.
Wood pulping byproducts are used for many different things, ranging from cleaning compounds, deodorants and hair spray, to artificial vanilla flavoring, medicines and cosmetics. Torula yeast, produced from wood sugars separated in the pulping process, is a high-protein product used in baby foods, cereals, imitation bacon, pet foods and baked goods.
Silvichemicals (chemicals from trees) are so much a part of our civilization that we take them for granted. But they wouldn’t exist without wood and wood products. Trees are truly a miracle resource!
Below are just a few of the thousands of products we get from trees.

Reply to  Zeke
January 17, 2017 2:01 pm

(besides the lumber, particle board and plywood that we need for homes and furniture, or wood for making fences and heating homes, etc..)
The thousands of uses for wood is the kind of thing that has been entirely omitted from children’s education, and that is a shame because young people will be too easily persuaded by environmentalists that there is waste everywhere. In fact there are extraordinary lessons in chemistry, history and many wonderful biographies behind all of the objects in our daily lives that we take for granted. This is all applied science, history and biography. It is far more useful and instructive to teach young people about our industries than to expose them to these idiotic big bang documentaries and warping space time.
We always need help in discovering and constructing a list of the names of the inventors. Anyone who can help us with the history of wood pulp and silvichemical products can drop suggestions on a post card (:
IN CONCLUSION, there should be a priority on the above uses before a single branch ever goes towards any destructive Green Vanity Projects in Europe.

Bruce Beaver
Reply to  Zeke
January 18, 2017 5:52 am

Nice comment. Very thoughtful. It would be great if the economics of your idea would work. Unfortunately, there is much more biomass available than the industries that produce the products you mention can use. The problem my post is addressing is what are we going to do with the vast amounts of biomass in the west that have been produced by the various beetle tree kills. This will be a recurring problem for economic and ecological reasons. Some of these dead trees do ultimately catch fire and end up creating an uncontrollable fire that burns small western towns up. This is the issue that the USFS programs (and subsides) are trying to address. It is cheaper in the long run to clean up the dead tree mess, just around towns, then to rebuild the towns after they burn.
The cheapest solution to this problem I believe is co-firing this biomass in old existing coal power plants that have been or will soon be shut down for environmental/economic reasons (i.e. This is currently happening at the Colstrip Power plant in Montana). Keeping these plants around is how some coal mining jobs could be saved. The rural economic stimulus really comes from the many logging jobs, some of which will need to be subsidized, because wood has much less energy than fossil fuels. Thus, many more logging jobs are needed than the coal mining jobs lost due to co-firing biomass. For co-firing to make economic sense the subsidy for this program needs to be cheaper than rebuilding burned down rural towns in the long run. After the dead trees are harvested in a region logging efforts could then be focused upon thinning regional ‘living’ forests to minimize the intensity of future fires. This would provide a constant sustainable stream of biomass for power. In the long run this would also stimulate a local timber industry because thinned forests produce big trees much faster.
I personally do not think that it makes economic sense, in the long run, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every summer trying to save some small western towns from forest fires. This is what we are doing now. In the long run co-firing would be cheaper and better for the economy of many western towns.
My solution makes economic sense. To do nothing makes no economic sense in the long run.

Bruce Beaver
January 18, 2017 11:05 am

I underestimated the annual amount spent on fighting wildfires.It seems to be between $4-5 billion and more importantly many fire fighter lives.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Bruce Beaver
January 19, 2017 10:44 pm

can’t suppress NGOs to invest into sustainability.

Johann Wundersamer
January 19, 2017 10:38 pm
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