Timber harvesters deal with wood waste, or “biomass,” several ways: Leave it to rot, light a match to it, or profit from it.
The latter option is a bit tricky, but Gary Haga has an idea that could be a game changer in the fledgling biomass industry.
In order to make money from wood residuals, you need to first navigate a chip truck along narrow, winding logging roads to access the slash, chip it and transport the material to an energy plant, which will buy it by the ton to generate electricity.
However, the material is 50 percent water. The energy facility dries it before it buys it — drying up the supplier’s profits with it. For example, a supplier can haul 30 tons of chip to the buyer, but be paid for only 15 tons after it’s processed.
Transportation eats into profits further. There is only one local biomass buyer, Roseburg Forest Products in Dillard, nearly an hour from Coos Bay.
“It’s not economically feasible to take it from any place very far off the main road,” said Haga, a lifelong Coos Bay resident and owner of D & H Logging.
His solution: Chip the slash, dry it on site, and make something marketable out of the material, such as clean burning biobricks or wood pucks to fuel stoves and boilers.
Haga envisions hauling from slash pile to slash pile a 20-foot box containing a chipper, a dryer and a machine that makes the product, with generators supplying the juice.
Think of it as a roaming wood-products factory.
No one has invented it yet. At least not locally. And Haga is asking for input from local engineers.
The engineering hurdle to leap is creating a portable dryer. Current technology isn’t efficient enough for Haga.
What he is proposing could be very promising, said Susanna Noordhoff, president of the Southwest Chapter of the Professional Engineers of Oregon.
“As many rural communities do not have access to natural gas,” Noordhoff said, “biomass usage can be the fuel of choice over propane or diesel for fueling large boilers used in heating schools and other large institutions, with huge potential.”
The Enterprise School District replaced its oil boilers with an automated wood chip boiler in 2008 and will save nearly $113,000 annually as a result, she explained.
Several regional school districts are either making the conversion or looking at the possibility.
The biomass industry — which is devoted to converting debris into energy — is a relatively new one, explained Rep. Jim Thompson (R-Dallas), who is pushing a bill to provide incentives for the transportation and production of biomass. As such, people are trying to figure out how to best profit from woody leftovers. Hauling it long distances is not the best option.
Kevin Yeager of Godfrey & Yeager, a Coos Bay a excavation company, makes frequent trips to Dillard to sell some 32 tons of chip per load. He declined to say what he is paid per ton.
But with only one buyer locally, prices are low.
“If you had more facilities to take it to, it would probably be a better deal,” Yeager said.
Should Haga’s project become a reality (which he estimates would cost about $1.5 million upfront), he figures he would add about six jobs. Money would come from the biobricks made on site at timber landings. He figures the bricks could sell for about $240 a ton.
The feasibility of the project pencils out, he said. It’s just a matter of getting a portable dryer that could process about five tons of chips an hour.
Thompson sees the potential in it.
“We have to make biomass a seamless production unit,” Thompson said — and Haga’s idea is “on the right path.”