Turning Wood Into Electrons: Biomass Facilities Transform Burnt Forests Into Renewable Energy, But Some Argue It’s Not An Eco-Friendly Solution

22 January 2018

Published by http://www.capradio.org/

USA – Imagine the number of burnt trees left to clean up after a wildfire, or the volume of litter remaining after forest-thinning. California’s grappling with what to do with all this forest waste, especially given recent devastating wildfires. Forest managers have a few options: leave it in piles, spread it out over the forest floor, burn it — or use a controversial practice called biomass.

About an hour north of Lake Tahoe, an old saw mill in a town called Loyalton uses biomass to turn forest debris into energy. The plant closed in 2010 but re-opened in 2018, and vice president of operations Jim Turner says the private company, American Renewable Power, is bringing in new contractors every month.

“This is a good option and a good alternative to not doing anything with the forest waste,” Turner said.

Here’s how biomass works: Trees and other wood stuff are mulched. (In November, for instance, Turner’s facility processed waste from the Camp Fire and wood pallets from a Tesla factory in Reno.) Next, a chain system evenly drags the wood onto a conveyor belt. From here, the material climbs an “incline to the boiler process itself,” Turner explained. Wood chips are burned in a boiler at around 1,400 degrees, which heats water, creating pressurized steam, and spins a turbine connected to a generator.

Turner says the turbine is what “makes the money” and that “it’s spinning at 3,600 rpm continuously.” The energy it creates goes to the local grid, then to homes and businesses.

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