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Wood Energy Users
Article #162, September 2010
By Bill Cook

       OK, wood is a good alternative to fossil fuel.  So, who buys wood to produce energy?  How many companies use wood?  How much wood is available to new energy companies?  How much wood grows in Michigan? 

     The answers may be more complicated than you think and the data are sometimes difficult to assemble and compare.  So, be aware that the numbers in this article are tentative but, nonetheless, probably paint a reasonably accurate picture. 

     There are many kinds of wood energy producers, although most of them use wood energy for internal purposes.  Also, there are three basic uses of energy; space heating, electricity generation, and transportation fuels.  The use matters. 

     We tend to hear more about wood-using electric utilities and pellet manufacturers.  Michigan has seven utility companies that produce energy using wood, at least in part.  These companies consume about 2.9 million green tons of wood to produce about 182 megawatts of electricity, if they could run at full capacity, which they don’t.  Only one of those utilities is a combined heat and power plant, which are more efficient users of any feedstock.  There are plans for another two or three wood-using utilities in Michigan. 

     Michigan has about ten pellet manufacturers, with a couple in the planning stages, and one that’s currently idle.  Pellets come in different shapes and sizes, can be specific to a particular end-user, and can be made from various woody materials.  The big Renewafuel facility, near Gwinn, may produce around 150,000 tons of product each year.  The target consumer is an electricity generating utility in Marquette.  Roughly estimated, current Michigan pellet manufacturing uses about 750,000 green tons of wood each year. 

     Pulp and paper mills have been producing electricity and heat from wood for decades.  The wood for energy might come to about four million green tons, much of it residues from the pulping process. 

     Add another million green tons for the proposed Frontier Renewable Resources ethanol facility in the east end of the Upper Peninsula.  At this time, there are no other proposed cellulosic ethanol plants in Michigan.  Although, a biorefinery has been proposed near Alpena. 

     About 55-60 of Michigan’s forest industries use wood for heat, electricity generation, or both.  Much of that feedstock consists of residues from their manufacturing processes as well as other residual wood material.  The equivalent amount of wood, in rough terms, is about 1.2 million green tons.

     About 55 wood-fired boilers heat commercial buildings, schools, resorts, health care facilities, and a range of other places.  They burn about 150,000 green tons of wood each year. 

     Lastly then, are the unknown number of outdoor and indoor wood stoves used by homeowners across the state, that consume an unknown quantity of firewood. 

     Altogether, with a few rough napkin calculations, Michigan uses about nine million green tons of wood each year for energy production and then more for wood products.  Much of the energy wood is from logging or wood manufacturing residues. 

     By comparison, Michigan grows about 26 million green tons of wood each year, beyond the annual harvest.  New energy proposals might burn another two million green tons, from that 26 million green tons.  Statewide, there is little chance that the current number of proposed wood energy facilities will compromise the quality of Michigan forests. 

     However, wood is not harvested on a ‘statewide’ basis.  Harvest is geographically uneven, along with the distribution of various forest types that have different harvest schedules.  That’s why the ‘woodshed’ for each new facility needs to be assessed, which is not a simple proposition. 

     Additionally, ownership patterns and owner willingness to harvest are huge factors.  There may, indeed, be large volumes of wood accumulating each year, but if the owners won’t sell wood, then it won’t be available for use.  Getting answers to this availability question is the more serious problem . . . not the moderate sized dent increased harvest might put into our large annual growth. 

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Bill Cook is an MSU Extension forester providing educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is located at the MSU Upper Peninsula Tree Improvement Center near Escanaba. The Center is the headquarters for three MSU Forestry properties in the U.P., with a combined area of about 8,000 acres. He can be reached at cookwi@msu.edu or 906-786-1575.

Prepared by Bill Cook, Forester/Biologist, Michigan State University Extension, 6005 J Road, Escanaba, MI  49829
906-786-1575 (voice),  906-786-9370 (fax),  e-mail:  cookwi@msu.edu

Use / reprinting of these articles is encouraged. Please notify Bill Cook.
By-line should read "Bill Cook, MSU Extension" Please use the article trailer whenever possible.

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