Northwest Renewable News

Your Daily Source for Renewable Energy News in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana & Northern California

Bend startup’s product Simplifying solar power installation February 9, 2010

Filed under: Emerging Technology,Manufacturing,Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 12:34 pm
Tags: , ,

A year ago, Bend solar-power startup AC Solar Technology did not even exist.

Last week, CEO Glenn Harris presented his company’s product, a solar module, to industry representatives from the United States, France and Switzerland at a startup conference in San Francisco.

And this week, AC Solar Technology expects to receive its ETL Listed Mark, which shows the modules meet Underwriters Laboratory safety standards, and which will allow the company to start production.

AC Solar Technology’s Blue Leaf 210W AC module, which is essentially a small solar electrical system, has the potential to open up the solar market to small commercial and residential users, Harris said. It simplifies solar power installation.

Photovoltaic systems produce DC, or direct current. Most electrical appliances in a home use AC, or alternating current. So most solar systems need wires that lead from the solar panels to an inverter, which converts direct current into alternating current. The wires continue from the inverter to the building’s electrical system.

The Blue Leaf module essentially removes the direct current portion. It has no DC wiring or components and uses AC from the modules to the power grid, according to a company news release. It has a single AC line leading from the inverter on the back panel. It’s like an extension cord, Harris said.

“We think the market is going to like a little 200 watt solar system,” he said. “That’s not something that’s been done before.”

Removing the DC part of the equation also simplifies installation for electricians, he said.

Costs for solar electric systems can vary, depending on the size, the system rating, installer and other factors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. On average, the costs run $8 to $10 per watt, before rebates or tax credits.

Harris estimates a Blue Leaf module, which measures about 5 feet by 3 feet, will cost $5 per watt installed, or about $1,500, after rebates and credits.

Before his work with AC Solar Technology, Harris worked for Bend-based PV Powered, which makes inverters, both as its president and also a consultant. He also served as CEO of SunCentric, a Grants Pass company that provides a variety of services for solar power firms.

Harris does not believe AC Solar will compete with PV Powered, at least not directly. PV Powered does not make small-sized inverters or modules, he said.

Founded in the middle of last year, Harris said AC Solar Technology does not have a real office.

But it’s looking to get one.

With its certification in hand, the company will be able to start manufacturing, first at a temporary location, he said. AC Solar, which expects to employ about 150 workers by the end of its third year, also has been seeking a permanent site, but Harris said he’s not optimistic it will be in Oregon.

The climate in the state has become uncertain with the debate over the Business Energy Tax Credit, sparked after its estimated $4 million cost expanded to $167 million in lost revenues .

Harris understands, he said, how that leaves lawmakers to make tough decisions, balancing the state’s need for tax revenue with its desire to encourage renewable energy.

Other criteria also factor into the decision on where to locate, Harris said, not just government incentives. Along with Oregon, he said, other states in the running are Arizona, Delaware and Michigan.

Arizona, with its abundant sunshine, major population centers and transportation infrastructure, is attractive, Harris said. In one morning in Phoenix, he saw about 10 buildings and 1 million square feet of real estate.

“Some of the other states are chomping at the bit,” he said.

Harris expanded on his company’s product and market in an interview with The Bulletin.

Q: What makes your product different?

A: The new technology is the box on the back. It takes the DC power right at the back and turns it into … AC. You could put one on your back fence. … You could put one on your roof and wire it right into a 110 (volt line). It’s just three regular wires going into your fuse box. You could walk into Costco and buy this thing. Basically, you enable everybody.

Q: Where does it fit within the solar power market.

A: (It has the) potential to open up lots of different markets. Our interest is expanding the residential market. (It’s a) market expansion device.

Q: Where is AC Solar Technology located presently?

A: We don’t have official offices at the moment. We’re looking for a place to call home. It’s time to put the stake in the ground. We’re going to build the modules. I think we’re pretty well ready to start manufacturing. The question will be where.

Q: What are the considerations?

A: It’s really not a competition, per se. It’s not like they walk in and hand you a check and say thanks for being here. It really comes down to: Is it a great place to build? How’s the transportation system? What the state does is icing on the cake.

Tim Doran, Bend Bulletin


ProjectDX acquired by Renewable Funding

Renewable Funding, which finances clean energy projects, has purchased ProjectDX, a technology company that automates processes for governments seeking to increase participation in local sustainability programs.

The terms of the sale were not disclosed.

All Portland-based ProjectDX staff, business and technology will be absorbed by Oakland, Calif.-based Renewable Funding.

ProjectDX is an online property of Transformative Sustainable Solutions Inc., an Oregon corporation founded in 2007 by Portland-based professional and civil engineering firm David Evans Enterprises Inc.

Renewable Funding will use ProjectDX’s online services for education, awareness, and community-building in conjunction with its financing program. ProjectDX also brings with it an extensive GIS database and analytical systems help property owners make cost-effective choices about energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy improvements.

Project DX is already working with a number of communities across the country, including Portland, Seattle, Sonoma County, Calif., and Baltimore.

Renewable Funding, led by Cisco DeVries, grew out of a popular public funding program for renewable energy that launched in Berkeley, Calif. The Berkeley FIRST program set up a bond-financed Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) district, allowing residents to borrow from the district to finance solar installations and pay that loan back on their property tax bill over 20 years. The concept has taken off across the country and expanded to energy efficiency and water conservation. So far 16 states and hundreds of cities are starting their own programs.

The technology created by ProjectDX allows property owners to integrate renewable energy project planning with a marketplace of qualified vendors, online financing applications, and back-office support for program administrators. Renewable Funding and ProjectDX partnered on San Francisco’s Sustainable Financing energy efficiency and water conservation program, which is scheduled to launch in early 2010 and will be financed and administered through Renewable Funding.

Portland Business Journal –


Bozeman company proposes solution to wind’s variability February 8, 2010

Carl Borgquist’s vision started with a whiteboard and a marker in his hands.

Five years later, the president of the Bozeman-based Grasslands Renewable Energy still flourishes a marker and sketches on the whiteboard to illustrate his plan for wind power in the Northern Plains.

Borgquist doesn’t build wind farms, rather he’s got a plan for collecting and transmitting wind power. Ultimately, he hopes to gather enough wind-generated electricity to equal the output of Hoover Dam, or two coal-fired power plants at Colstrip.

Borgquist refers to Grassland’s Wind Spirit Project as part of the theorized “smart grid.” What makes it “smart” is that it could solve the inherent problem of wind’s variability.

Should Borgquist’s vision come to fruition, he and his team at Grasslands are looking to build a system that will gather renewable energy from Montana, North Dakota and Canada and export a dependable 1,000 megawatts to markets in the Southwest and Northwest.

Grasslands has set a target date of 2017 for full build-out.

The project would involve roughly 1,300 miles of collector transmission lines, mostly in Montana, and a novel energy storage system. The two components together could cost $4 billion.

Add on the related wind farms and trunk transmission, which are not part of Grasslands’ project, and the entire package is likely to run in the $12 billion to $15 billion range.

“We have to do this big,” he said. “There’s no mileage in doing this small.”

Yet, Borgquist’s venture started small, literally “on a whiteboard.”

A tax attorney by training, with stints as a district attorney and U.S. Naval Judge Advocate in California, he was lured into the world of transmission while working with a client interested in developing a wind farm.

Borgquist knew that lack of transmission was the bottleneck that prevented the state from developing its plentiful wind resource. He saw the deficiency as a problem that needed fixing.

“Putting the wires in is not the sexy part of this,” he said. “But the way we move power is key. We need to get that figured out.”

Wind power, however, poses another drawback. Even if transmission were available, the erratic nature of wind threatens its economic feasibility.

Wind farm network

Even before Grasslands Renewable came into existence, Borgquist and founding group Absaroka Energy LLC were testing ideas. (Absaroka Energy later partnered with the Calgary-based Rocky Mountain Power to form Grasslands.)

By tracking wind at a variety of locations, they discovered that they could tap different wind sources to modify the peaks and valleys associated with individual wind farms. When wind was dead in Dickenson, N.D., for example, a gale could be blowing in Cut Bank, he said.

They postulated that, by packaging wind from several wind farms, the reliability of the resource would be enhanced.

Though the model proved promising, the data still failed to achieve the team’s desired result: to make wind power as reliable as a coal-fired power plant.

To approach their goal, they added a virtual 600-megawatt pump storage facility to the model.

The proposed closed-loop pump storage facility, which is planned for a site in central Montana, would consist of two large reservoirs of water, one of them 1,000 vertical feet higher than the other.

When wind blows in excess, the extra energy is used to pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir. When the wind dies down, water is released from the upper reservoir, creating hydropower for the grid.

“It’s like a big battery,” Borgquist said. “It’s clean and it’s environmentally friendly.”

The size of the reservoirs determines the hours of reliability, he said, and the vertical distance between the reservoirs determines the amount of energy that can be stored.

Though the concept is not uncommon in Europe, he said, the United States has only one utility-scale pump storage facility, built several decades ago in Virginia.

Lacing up the grids

As Grasslands refined its concept, the company drew the attention of Elecnor, a Spanish company that specializes in energy projects around the globe.

Founded in 1958, Elecnor employs nearly 5,000 people and saw $2.69 billion in sales in 2008.

“Elecnor found us, tracked us down,” Borgquist said, noting that the two companies are working on a deal that gives Elecnor the option to buy half of Grasslands.

Over the past few years, Borgquist and his expanding team have directed their efforts to all aspects of the project, from generation to delivery. He firmly believes the success of the Wind Spirit Project depends on coordinating all of the pieces together in one package.

As proposed, Grasslands’ large collection system would serve the eastern half of Montana and north-central Montana, with spurs branching out into Canada, North Dakota and possibly Wyoming.

The North Dakota line, a high-voltage 500 kilowatt direct current line, would cross from the Western Electricity Coordinating Council grid to the Midwest Reliability Organization grid, thus opening a new market for Montana wind and bringing additional reliability to the entire system, he said.

Once “lassoed” together, the power from many wind farms would be shipped to hubs planned for Toston and Harlowton. From there, trunk transmission lines such as the Mountain States Transmission Tie and TransCanada’s Chinook project, now in different stages of development, would move the electricity to population centers along the West Coast and in the desert Southwest.

“There’s no load to service in Montana,” Borgquist said, explaining why the power would go out of state.

“Montana will grow, but it won’t grow consistently with the amount of resource we have to develop,” he said.

Ready for FERC

With its feasibility study complete, its preliminary permit filed for the pump storage facility and its application set to go out to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the next week or so, Grasslands is ready to introduce the project to a broader audience.

So far, Borgquist said, Grasslands has talked to 60 renewable energy developers, most working on wind projects. Already, they’ve completed initial agreements with seven of them and look forward to working with others.

Simultaneously, they’re poised to begin talks with landowners regarding right-of-way for the proposed collector line. Environmental analysis of transmission siting is also on the to-do list.

“We haven’t crystallized the map,” Borgquist said. “We’re still looking for resources to connect and ways to connect into the grid.”

Linda Halstead-Acharya, Billings Gazzette –


Oregon Wind power entrepreneur readies turbine for market February 7, 2010

Filed under: Emerging Technology,Manufacturing,Oregon,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 4:53 pm
Tags: , ,

After three years in development, a sullied business partnership and a significant financial set back, a Coquille woman’s invention — a roof-mounted appliance that generates electricity from wind — will soon reach the market.

Mary Geddry, CEO of Coquille-based Rogue River Winds, said the ultra-efficient, low-profile, sturdy wind turbine with a built-in generator called the V-LIM, is generating interest.

She’s gearing up production. But don’t expect any local manufacturing jobs to spin out of it — at least not anytime soon.

“There just isn’t the infrastructure in Coos County at this time,” she said.

After attempts to get the V-LIM off the ground locally failed, Geddry relocated the project to Portland where a prototype was in the works, before she again relocated it to Cottage Grove where it was completed and may be manufactured.

She said some manufacturers in Alaska and the East Coast have expressed interest in producing it, as well.

So what is it exactly?

Owners of industrial and commercial facilities who want to scale back energy usage can affix the V-LIM atop roofs — where wind velocity is greatest — to generate power to pump back into the grid.

The V-LIM is said to be more efficient than traditional wind turbines in that it produces electricity in winds ranging from light breezes to Class 2 hurricanes, is silent and vibration free even in gusts up to 100 miles per hour. As wind speed increases, so does the turbine’s power output.

It has rapid response steering foils to direct the turbine to face oncoming wind, according to a press release.

It’s about three meters in diameter and is designed for commercial and industrial use.

The unit costs between $125,000 to $150,000.

The price could be split.

If several large facilities within proximity of each other purchase one, they could share the cost savings.

“Our goal actually is to implement them into a microgrid, because that is the most cost effective way to purchase and provide power,” Geddry said.

The V-LIM produces 25 kilowatts on average during wind bursts. Peak energy users can expect a return on investment, in consistently blustery regions, in about three years, Geddry said.

The product has garnered interest from a local nonprofit seeking a new location with plans for a energy-efficient facility.

“We’ve been following her project,” said Patricia Gouveia, director of energy services at Oregon Coast Community Action. “Primarily, we want to develop a sustainable campus and support Coos County businesses, so it seemed like a good match if we can make it happen.”

“For a nonprofit,” she added, “if we can get to the point where we can pay our own energy costs, that’s a huge savings for us.”

Gouveia said they’d seek grant money to fund a project.

From concept to finished product was bumpy road. Geddry had hopes originally to design and manufacture the units locally, creating jobs. But a business partnership with a local entrepreneur fell apart.

“It just wasn’t getting done,” she said of the project. “It wasn’t getting finished and I had to get it finished.”

According to Geddry, every part manufactured here had to be replaced. The turbine has been re-engineered completely, which tripled her original cost projection.

She said the move to Portland was necessary to stay within a budget and timeline.

Geddry, who crafted the unit’s aerodynamic design, recruited brain power from Portland State University to upgrade the efficiency of the mechanism with a high-bandwidth generator.

Electrical engineer and Coos County resident Dr. Stanley Marquiss came on board to design a “plug-in-play” feature, which allows the appliance to configure itself into a facility’s energy system automatically once it’s installed.

Before the V-LIM can officially go on the market, it needs to be certified with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energies Laboratory, a process that could take about six months. In the meantime, Geddry hopes to begin production to meet demand — which may come from the U.S. Department of Defense.

All military bases, Geddry said, must produce 25 percent of energy from alternative sources, such as wind, by 2025.

Talks with the DOD are preliminary at this point, she said, but supplying the government agency with the V-LIM has potential.

“It appears that they would be one of our biggest markets,” she said.

Nate Traylor, The World –


Energy Storage: Utah company aims to store energy with compressed air

A Utah company plans to dig a series of underground caverns that it hopes to one day fill with compressed air, releasing it to generate electricity by turning a turbine and solving one of the most vexing problems facing the clean-energy industry – how to store power.

Under a barren patch of Utah desert, a private-equity group is bankrolling the project to hollow out a series of energy-storage vaults from a massive salt deposit a mile underground. It promises to make a perfect repository for storing energy and, in effect, creating a giant subterranean battery.

Energy storage is catching on as a way to make wind and solar power more useful.

Without energy storage, the output of solar and wind power is so erratic – the wind doesn’t always blow; cloud cover can shut down solar cells – that utilities can take only so much of it, said Jim Ferland, senior vice president for operations for PNM Resources, the New Mexico utility.

If renewable power makes up too big a part of a utility’s energy mix, it can make the delicate act of balancing loads on a power grid difficult. The lack of storage is one of the things holding back clean energy, say scientists for Sandia National Laboratories’ energy systems group in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Storage is the key here,” said Charlie Hanley, manager of Sandia’s photovoltaic and grid integration group. “We have to find a way to overcome intermittent swings from cloud cover.”

The only commercial-scale, compressed air power plants are in McIntosh, Ala., and Bremen, Germany. Other projects are under development in Norton, Ohio, and Ankeny, Iowa.

Initially, because of market needs, Salt Lake City-based Magnum Energy LLC will store natural gas for Rocky Mountain producers, taking it from a nearby interstate pipeline, in an “energy hub” near Delta, Utah. It hopes to start dissolving the first cavern within a year.

Later, the company is looking to dig other caverns at the site for compressed air, which could store excess energy generated by a nearby wind farm and then release it later when demand is high to turn turbines and create electricity, and possibly for carbon storage, which could trap a neighboring coal-fired power plant’s emissions.

Still other caverns could be devoted to liquid petroleum; yet another pipeline for liquid fuels, passing through the same part of Utah, is close to receiving federal approval.

The company filed for federal approval in December to build its versatile “energy hub.”

A futuristic type of energy storage could involve putting the battery capacity of plug-in electric vehicles to work for the electric grid. It could take extra power from vehicles when needed, while ensuring a vehicle is properly charged overnight, said Daniel Laird, a researcher for Sandia’s wind energy technology group.

That will work only when plug-in cars make up a big part of the U.S. vehicle fleet, however.

For now, “we’ve got to find a way to store renewable energy for when people need it,” said Steve Michel, a former utility executive who works for Western Resources Advocates, a Boulder, Colo.-based nonprofit law firm.

Other forms of energy storage involve lumbering flywheels or banks of batteries, but they have limited capacities and can be costly.

“In terms of storing bulk energy – lots of megawatt-hours – compressed air is cheaper than anything else out there,” said Paul Denholm, lead analyst for energy storage at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab in Boulder, Colo.

In Utah, Magnum snapped up rights to the largest known salt deposit in the American West, a bed one mile thick by several miles wide. It has the advantage of being close to several energy producers; another company is planning a major solar farm in Utah’s west desert.

“The physical location of that salt deposit is just tremendously valuable, said Scott Jones, managing director of Houston-based Haddington Energy Partners III, which is backing the project. “It’s the only one everybody knows about or has been found. We’re excited about it.”

Each impermeable cavern will hold the volume of an Empire State Building, said Craig Broussard, another Magnum partner.

That’s billions of cubic feet of storage capacity of natural gas, liquid petroleum or compressed air.

The company would take excess energy from wind or solar farms or other energy producers, use it to pump compressed air underground and let it out to generate power during peak-use times.

The system would lose some energy to pumping, and the released air would need to be mixed with some natural gas to power air expansion turbines. Still, “this is far more efficient than a conventional power plant,” Broussard said.

“The power industry is like being in an ice-cream business without a refrigerated warehouse,” he said. “This kind of storage provides a warehouse of energy.”

PAUL FOY, Associated Press Writer


Is Biomass the Brave New World of Energy? January 27, 2010

It was an idea hatched in algae. Now its creators believe it could grow into a better way to power the West, and possibly beyond.

First things first, the scientists at Whitefish-based Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies (AACT) must put their idea into action and test its efficiency. And they have found a willing partner in the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. of Columbia Falls.

Scientists at AACT have a vision to use woody biomass and algae to produce both heat and commercially viable organic compounds for use in fertilizers. In the process, the system would create methane to be converted into electricity while also capturing and utilizing carbon dioxide, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.

A team of engineers and scientists is currently working on a model biorefinery for Stoltze. It will be implemented at Stoltze’s mill site over the next couple of months and, if it proves efficient, a much larger full-scale biorefinery will follow. Mike Holecek, a project leader, said the system’s pyrolytic boiler can handle a range of biomass, but initially woodchips will be the primary fuel.

The project, called the “Green Power House,” has already garnered investors and a range of supporters, including retired Air Force Lieutenant General Richard Swope, who now works as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense. He has been part of multiple alternative energy projects.

Swope said the Defense Department has steadily increased its desire to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and pursue alternative energy resources. The Air Force, Swope said, is the Defense Department’s largest consumer of fuel.

“There have been a number of flight tests conducted with military aircraft with a mix of biomass-derived jet fuel,” Swope said.

Current research, on behalf of the Defense Department, is seeking ways to “convert biomass specifically into feedstock or fuel,” Swope said. Keeping his eye out for groundbreaking alternative energy projects, Swope happened to find one in his own backyard. Swope, who lives in Whitefish, said AACT’s project could have influence far beyond Stoltze’s mill site.

“Absolutely, something like this could help at the national level,” Swope said. “It could help with the Defense Department.”

In December, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. announced the closing of its linerboard plant in Frenchtown, ending employment for 417 workers and raising serious questions for an already beleaguered timber industry in western Montana. Smurfit-Stone was the state’s biggest buyer of slash, small trees and sawmill residuals. Many in the logging industry relied on the mill.

The linerboard plant’s closure triggered discussions about the potential of biomass-derived energy in Montana. With such a major wood consumer gone, folks in the state’s timber industry were left grasping for new uses for forest products. Biomass energy began to dominate headlines throughout Montana.

Furthermore, NorthWestern Energy announced in early January that it’s in discussions with Smurfit-Stone officials about the possibility of turning the shuttered linerboard mill into a biomass power plant. When in operation, the mill already functioned as a biomass cogeneration plant, burning wood products in a boiler to produce energy used at the facility, as well as excess electricity put back on the power grid.

NorthWestern is also working with the Montana Community Development Corporation to study the feasibility of turning other mills into cogeneration biomass power plants.

On Jan. 21, Stoltze hosted a biomass energy forum as part of the “Re-Powering the Flathead” community dialogue series at Flathead Valley Community College. One of the speakers was Dr. Evan Sugden, a member of the AACT team. The event was heavily attended.

Amid all the biomass headlines, AACT’s proposal is particularly striking, primarily, because the ball is already rolling and, secondarily, because it’s such a foreign concept to most outside of scientific circles.

At its core, this seemingly brave new world is actually rooted in two familiar standbys: warm water and old friends. Several years ago, Holecek, who has a background in biochemistry and environmental design, was asked by his friend Paul Stelter to research new approaches to utilizing the geothermal qualities of Alameda’s Hot Springs Retreat, located in the town of Hot Springs. Stelter is part owner of Alameda’s.

From that initial research came the creation of Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies, a partnership between Stelter, Holecek and Michael Smith, who, like Holecek, lives in Whitefish. Sugden, a scientist and professor at the University of Washington, joined the team later. And Swope came on as a chief strategist and promoter, while numerous other people lent their support, through money and otherwise.

In Hot Springs, the AACT team launched a project using low temperature geothermal water to grow algae. The algae are fed into geothermal-heated bioreactors, or digesters, which are essentially sophisticated composters. Sugden calls the Stoltze project’s digester an “algae-eating, mechanical cow.”

The bioreactors consume the algae, along with some cellulose, to produce methane, which is converted into electricity. The Flathead County Landfill installed a system last year that takes methane emanating from trash and turns it into electricity.

But what really caught the scientists’ attention wasn’t the methane produced by the digesters; it was the waste product the digesters spit out. That waste product turned out to be a substance ideal for use in soil amendments such as organic fertilizer.

Also, the scientists discovered that their project’s control system is intelligent enough to manage any type of thermal energy, including heat at sawmills. That discovery led to discussions with Stoltze. And while the AACT team is now focused on the Stoltze project, it hasn’t abandoned its geothermal research, Holecek said.

Sugden, emphasizing the difference between “hot” and “warm” water, said there are numerous warm springs scattered across the West that could be utilized to run algae-based systems like AACT’s.

At Stoltze’s model biorefinery, bioreactors will digest algae – grown on site in a greenhouse – and produce organic compounds for fertilizer, similar to the Hot Springs geothermal project. But it will also incorporate a high-tech pyrolytic boiler. The boiler will generate heat to dry lumber in Stoltze’s kilns, as well as steam to run the rest of the system.

The boiler serves another important function – it produces biochar, or charcoal. The biochar can then be combined with the other organic compounds produced by the system for use in organic soil amendments. The organic fertilizer market, the AACT team points out, is growing rapidly.

With the system, Smith said carbon is sequestered and used to make a substance that could be valuable for agricultural purposes. He sees both commercial and environmental potential. So does Swope.

“The beauty is that there is an enormous amount of intellectual energy coming together to try to solve and resolve energy issues,” Swope said. “It is very exciting.”

Meyers Reece, Flathead Beacon –


Coos Bay logger has a plan to profit from timber scraps

Filed under: Biomass,Emerging Technology,Oregon,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 4:26 pm
Tags: ,

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.”

Nate Traylor, The World