Burgeoning Biomass: Creating Efficient and Sustainable Forest Bioenergy Technologies in the Rockies,
Forestry operations in the western US, including thinning for hazardous fuel reduction, leave behind a staggering amount of wood waste. Much of this waste is non-merchantable tree stems, branches and tops. These materials, called forest residues or “slash”, are usually yarded into large piles and burned for disposal. In the bark-beetle affected areas of northern Colorado alone, it is estimated that there is a backlog of 120,000 piles of woody biomass slated for burning. Not only is this a waste of a potential resource, pile burning can exacerbate air quality problems and increase greenhouse gas emissions. It also leaves long-lived burn scars on the forest floor. If slash could be economically transported, processed, and used by a bioenergy facility, it could be transformed into energy and marketable products rather than burned for disposal. This may be a more environmentally and socially appealing alternative to open burning.