Open Innovation Challenges

Expanding markets for woody biomass products
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Open Challenge:

Expanding markets for woody biomass products
Woody Biomass
Deadline for concept summaries: October 4, 2019

Sponsored by

Problem

Woody Biomass is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable.” Finding novel ways to increase the value of products created from woody biomass, or, reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.

Desired properties

  • Optimize for the highest value per mmBTU
  • High-value products, either for energy production or non-energy purposes

Specifications

Category 3: Expanding markets for woody biomass products

Problem statement

California has a need to manage its forests effectively and cost-effectively for public health, safety, and environmental benefit. According to CalFire’s 2019 Community Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Report, “California faces a massive backlog of forest management work. Millions of acres are in need of treatment, and this work— once completed—must be repeated over the years… It is estimated that as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration.” 

PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and owns and manages several thousand acres of land.  Woody Biomass — defined as the trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts — resulting from forest and/or vegetation management activities in rural, suburban, or urban environments across California, is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable” (e.g. small diameter, branches, clippings, burnt, and diseased). Finding novel ways to increase the value of products created from woody biomass, or, reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California, with potential to lower energy costs, increase worker and public safety, improve forest health, and help the local economy through production of green products with renewable feedstocks.

Possible approaches

Any technical solution that maximizes the value of the woody biomass collected from forests is welcome. We welcome novel solutions for converting woody biomass into energy products such as torrefied wood pellets for power generation, biofuel or biomethane, each utilized with or without combined heat and power. Non-energy solutions could also include building materials (e.g. concrete additives such as nanocellulose), mass timber products, wood-plastic composites, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, or other materials. Also of value could be techniques that create economic value from degraded biomass such as burnt, decayed, or diseased.

Known approaches not of interest

Unless significant performance/cost breakthroughs or innovative applications can be achieved, the following technologies represent known state-of-the-art and are thus not of interest:

  • Firewood and fuelwood
  • Solid wood products (lumber and roundwood)
  • Soil additives and amendments (mulch, compost, etc.)
  • Pulp chips for paper products
Success criteria

Required:

  • Demonstrated technical feasibility such that the solution is shown to be stable and nearly proven in a test environment 
  • Optimize for the highest value per mmBTU
  • If the technology involves the heat treatment of biomass, it must operating within Cal Fire standards for safety

Desired:

  • Produce no more emissions than would occur by a well managed, “prescribed” burning or “hazard reduction” forest fire burning program
  • Market demand for at least 100,000 tons of woody biomass annually
  • Uses tree species found in California as well as tall understory species such as alder, madrone, myrtle, juniper, and ceanothus
  • High-value products created from high-risk tree species or tall understory species
More solicitations...
Woody Biomass

Problem
PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration. Finding novel ways to reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Desired properties
Supports a cost of collection cost of under $15 per Bone Dry Ton
Enables moisture reduction on location or reduces the amount of pretreatment drying needed if sent to a gasifier

Woody Biomass

Problem
Transportation of woody biomass from a collection site to either a concentration/feedstock yard or to a conversion facility accounts for roughly 25% to 50% of the total delivered cost. Densification and moisture reduction can be important in reducing transportation costs, and most existing densification technologies are prohibitively expensive.
Desired properties
Increases bulk density of woody biomass for transportation
Delivered cost below $5/mmBTU to a location roughly 50 miles away
Reduces moisture content to below 15%