Could the Key to Wildfire Reduction Lie in Biomass?


Wildfires have claimed large swaths of the U.S. West Coast—and ample time in the news cycle as well. While climate change has been charged as a prime culprit, which has deep support, another factor may also contribute to wildfires’ widespread impact: forest mismanagement. Some are pointing to the biomass industry as a possible fix to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Crisis Contributors

Varied land management tactics in the continental U.S. isn’t the sole reason for wildfire severity and frequency, but it is possibly a major one. The stark difference—and consequence—is laid bare between the U.S. West Coast and South.

In the South, most land is under private ownership, which incentivizes clearing and thinning for commercial purposes. Standing in contrast, the West Coast offers public land in excess. This landscape, while beneficial to public enjoyment, doesn’t lend itself to the same style of strict management. Over time, this has led to more fragile forests susceptible to wildfire. 

In addition, biomass, since its widespread arrival as an industry in the 1980s, has too often gone unnoticed for its forestry management potential. 

In its economical heyday, the industry on the whole would pull power-purchase agreements (PPAs) between biomass plants and utilities providers that would end in 20- to 30-year contracts. An explosion of power plants—66 at its height—came about because of the immense amount of money being raked in. 

Nowadays, however, this number has dwindled to 22 plants, with much less megawattage capacity across the board. In terms of biomass, this operating capacity could churn through a little north of seven million tons of wood waste and organic matter, turning that waste into electricity. 

Cut and dry economic considerations played a major role in plant decline. When contracts cycled back to the negotiation table, extensions were cut because of meeker financial forecasts. 

Why Biomass?

But what decision-making drivers didn’t account for is this: ensuing property and life loss from wildfires, along with the steep firefighting costs attached. In fact, some estimates peg this at nearly $20 billion every year. Biomass would be prime to help stifle these costs at the source, by reducing the risk of wildfires through proper forest management and cycling. 

Not only that: biomass can benefit energy production on a grand scale. It works as a non-fossil-fuel-reliant producer, curbs emissions, and serves as an available back-up power generation method when needed. Biomass also creates the conditions necessary for stronger forests by raking up forest fire fodder, as well as clearing idle carbon hot spots. Wins extend to market as well; a symbiotic relationship develops between forest health and biomass harvesting. Clearing dead organic matter keeps down wildfire fuel, which can then be sourced into on-demand power. 

A Biomass Powerhouse

Biomass, with its ample economic and environmental boons, is continuing to gain ground as an industry. ProcessBarron is there for biomass plants, as well as many other mills and facilities, as a turnkey system solutions producer. 
Whatever your system needs, whether they pertain to air and gas handling, bulk materials handling, and/or ash handling, we’re here to help. Link up with a sales representative, request a quote of our products and services, and keep in the industry-wide know with ProcessBarron.