Dead trees as biomass energy might lift economy

The dead wood of Colorado’s lodgepole pine forest should be harnessed as biomass energy before it becomes fuel for a conflagration, a former Aspen mayor said.

One way to do that could be a biomass project in Eagle County, where a Provo, Utah, company is considering construction of a 10-megawatt plant.

Dean Rostrom, principal of Evergreen Clean Energy LLC, will discuss plans for a plant at a regional biomass summit from 12:45 to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Carbondale town hall.

The denuded lodgepole forest covering 4.2 million acres is becoming more dangerous, not less, as trees killed by the mountain pine beetle fall at the rate of thousands a day, said John Bennett, the former Aspen mayor who now is the executive director of For the Forest.

Fire danger from a massive beetle kill such as the one in Colorado is high as the trees turn red and the timber goes dry, Bennett said. The threat of fire, however, lessens as the needles fall and the trees become gray skeletons, he said.

“About five to eight years later, the trees begin to fall and create a pile of timber on the forest floor. That’s when the fire danger goes back up, and it stays high for 20 or 30 years,” Bennett said. “Some parts of the forest in Colorado are approaching that latter phase.”

Converting those dead trees into biomass to generate electricity or serve as an alternative fuel, however, could provide the economic impetus to clean up dead timber from around roads, highways, communities, waterways and transmission corridors, Bennett said.

“This could create the market financing for the forest restoration urgently needed around the state,” Bennett said.

The summit will look at opportunities and obstacles to development as they have been studied by the Roaring Fork Biomass Consortium.

A $100,000 feasibility study conducted by the consortium looked at existing supplies of woody and non-woody biomass, the relationship of biomass handling to greenhouse gas emissions, technology, tree farming and education.

Converting dead lodgepole pine into biomass fuels provides the opportunity to create energy without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, Bennett said.

Decomposing dead wood adds mightily to greenhouse gases, so converting the trees to fuel reduces the threat of climate change, Bennett said. It also offers an avenue to energy independence, “a critically important step,” Bennett said.


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