Biomass energy discussed at CRIA meeting

Staff Writer

Thursday evening, Feb. 14, the Chimney Rock Interpretive Association (CRIA) discussed the use of converting dead trees into biomass in order to help meet Pagosa Springs’ energy needs.

John Scahill, a Chimney Rock volunteer with a background in recycling wood and a researcher of ways to use the waste of the forest, explained to CRIA members the benefits of converting biomass into fuel technologies in his presentation, “Biomass — The Ancient Fuel: A Tour of the Modern Technical Landscapes.”

He began his presentation by relating archaeological evidence from The Canyon of the Ancients National Monument located in southwestern Colorado.

“This is direct evidence of ancient Puebloan culture burning biomass,” Scahill explained. “If this was modern day, the black you see on the roof of the alcove that was actually a ruins, it would be the soot and contaminates that today we would have to hire a chimney sweep to remove from our chimneys. This is direct evidence that ancient puebloans used biomass as fuel.”

Biomass is a material comprising carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. If you remove the oxygen, you are left with hydrogen and carbon, otherwise known as hydrocarbons, or what goes into gas tanks. Biomass resources include wood residues, agricultural residues and energy crops.

Scahill explained that there is more energy in coal, petroleum and natural gas than there is in wood, such as the dead trees and other forest waste.

“As conventional fuel, petroleum and natural gas become more and more expensive because we are using more and more of it and it’s a finite resource, once we use it all up, that’s it,” Scahill said.

Ancestral puebloans were using biomass for heat, just as people are doing today in their homes. J.R. Ford, a local businessman, plans on using biomass to produce energy in Pagosa Springs. Through his company, Renewable Forest Energy, LLC, Ford plans to install a biomass conversion plant in Pagosa Springs.

There are, however, issues surrounding the future plant and biomass production. Ford is concerned with the cost of production, along with the collection and transportation of woody biomass materials, including how much is available. The U.S. Forest Service is concerned with sustainability of land, air and water resources. The engineers are concerned with the composition and the ease of conversion.

The conversion device to be used in the potential Pagosa Springs biofuel plant is the fluid bed gasifier, used to convert a solid or a liquid to gas by applying heat.

“While the growing need for sustainable electric power can be met by other renewables, biomass is the only renewable that can meet our demand for carbon-based liquid fuels and chemicals.” Scahill explained.

Scahill explained to CRIA members that, “Over the last one hundred and twenty to one hundred and twenty-five years, the petroleum refining industry has developed and evolved to today’s refinery that spits out gasoline, diesel and jet fuel with very demanding specifications. Over that one hundred and twenty to one hundred and twenty-five years we, as a society, will have invested ten trillion dollars in all of that equipment, pipelines, development of our automobile engines and jet engines; so why wouldn’t we want to continue to take advantage of that cost instead of reiventing a different wheel?”

One ton of bone-dry biomass can yield 45 gallons of gasoline, 34 gallons of diesel, 300 pounds of biochar, 300 pounds of fuel gas and 75 gallons of water.

Scahill explained that biomass domestic fuel production can displace significant amounts of petroleum-based fuels — by as much as one-fourth.

“This is the future,” suggested Scahill. “We can take that same biomass material and produce the liquid fuels that we put into our vehicles today.”

• CRIA is currently seeking volunteers. For more information, visit the new website Potlucks take place every second Thursday of the month.

This story was posted on February 21, 2013.