Close to 140 attendees from 14 countries greeted 39 speakers at the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle.

Introducing the Symposium, Vikram Yadama (WSU) proposed that the industry should regard the new demands for woody biomass and fuel not as competitive, but as an extension and integration of technologies. It was important that the forest products industry examines the whole supply chain, continues to add value (with examples such as chemical modification of wood), helps the industry diversify, offers sustainable supply and uses best forest practices which cater for a wide variety of needs.

He explained the new cooperation evolving with Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), which is bringing representative inputs from many different associations and interest groups.

Mike Jostrom, director of renewable resources, Plum Creek Timber Company, Seattle, keynoted the symposium.

He explained that forest landowners are encouraged by the prospects for new renewable energy markets for low quality wood fibre. Such markets will improve the utilisation of each tree harvested and will provide more economical thinning opportunities, he suggested. These opportunities promote forest productivity and health – especially important where existing pulpwood markets are in decline (150 paper plants closed in the US in the last 20 years).

Manufacturers of wood composite products are naturally concerned about new competition for wood fibre at a time when product markets have not yet recovered – especially when that competition is supported by the government. These perspectives represent what appear to be conflicting interests within the same value stream at a time when external pressures are creating large challenges for the industry.

Mr Jostrom’s presentation discussed these competing interests, suggesting that other people are not as close to all this as we are, so we should all pick up the ball of the challenge the industry faces now to reconcile them as constructively as possible to support the healthy future of the industry.

Laurel Harmon, vice president of government relations at LanzaTech Inc, Roselle, Illinois, spoke about LanzaTech, a global company with bio refinery projects underway in the US, China, India and New Zealand. LanzaTech bio refineries hedge against changes in feedstock and end product markets through flexibility in both.

It recently initiated a project in Soperton, Georgia, that will utilise woody biomass feedstocks. Both international and regional policies are important to operations on a global scale. Governments worldwide have established diverse biofuel blending policies to support clean air and reduce carbon emissions and instituted mechanisms to promote bioenergy market development.

While forest products are gaining significant traction in the US as feedstock for the bio refinery industry, Europe remains a leader in woody biomass utilisation, although primarily for power. For a truly global biofuels industry to become a reality she suggested open international markets, harmonisation of domestic policies and effective sustainability criteria are essential.

Moreover, the inter-relationships of energy, agriculture and trade policies should not be ignored in effective biofuels policy. Dwight Anderson, bioconversion lead at Catchlight Energy LLC, Washington (a joint venture between Chevron and Weyerhaeuser) explained that cellulose feedstock can be used to produce liquid transportation fuels in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t compete with the food supply. The very durability that makes cellulose desirable for construction, however, makes it challenging to convert into fuels.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 provided incentives that have catalysed the progress of many conversion technologies. Although commercialisation is occurring at a slower pace than envisioned in that legislation, commercial cellulose-based biofuel plants are likely to become a reality in the next few years. Mr Anderson described considerations around feedstock availability for biofuels and how the choice of a biofuel conversion technology may impact the use of woody biomass as a feedstock.

Jamie Barbour, programmes manager for Focused Science Delivery and Goods, Services and Values Programmes at the USDA Forest Service, Portland, Oregon, said the USDA Forest Service is interested in promoting the commercial use of traditionally non-merchantable wood and woody biomass (loosely defined as traditionally stems and logging slash) when its production helps to meet federal policy objectives.

The two most relevant policy initiatives are promoting jobs in rural economies and restoring healthy, sustainable, forest conditions. There are a variety of existing resources that evaluate forest conditions across the country which could help identify the places with the greatest opportunities for wood products. For instance, each state produced a forest assessment in response to the 2008 Farm Bill which outlines opportunities for forest restoration activities. The Forest Service Research Branch has also conducted several regional and national wood supply analyses.

Bruce Lippke, professor emeritus, University of Washington College of Environment, said the heightened interest in biofuels addresses both the national objective to reduce carbon emissions and to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

However, using wood that can displace fossil-intensive products is much more effective in reducing emissions than using biofuels to directly displace fossil fuels.

In contrast, displacing liquid fossil fuels by ethanol provides the opportunity to directly reduce energy dependence.

Using life cycle analysis to evaluate alternative uses of wood, including both products and fuels, reveals a hierarchy of carbon and energy impacts characterised by their efficiency in displacing carbon emissions and/or fossil energy imports.

Policies designed to increase biofuel use tend to divert feedstock from more effective uses, such as displacing fossil-intensive products. Policies must consider life cycle implications to avoid counter-productive outcomes, said Mr Lippke.

Christopher Wright, Idaho National Laboratory Biofuels & Renewable Energy Technologies, Idaho Falls, explained that woody feedstock supply systems encompass all operations necessary to move biomass from the land to the conversion facility. These operations, including harvest, pre-processing, handling, transport and storage, represent one of the largest challenges in terms of cost to the bioenergy industry.

The most significant of these challenges is economically managing the diversity and complexity of lignocellulosic feedstock and feedstock supply system configurations needed to achieve both near-term (produce six billion gallons of biofuels by 2017) and long-term (displace 30% of transportation fuels with renewable fuels by 2030) biofuel goals. These goals equate to moving approximately 70 million tons of lignocellulosic biomass annually in the next 10 years, and between 500 and 700 million tons annually in 20 years.

Such a rapid expansion of the industry cannot be accomplished with many diverse, custom-designed feedstock supply system infrastructures and conversion facilities. Instead, these facilities must operate on a standardised supply system infrastructure similar to the grain ethanol facilities of today. As such, a significant element needed for rapid biorefinery facility replication is the development of a uniform feedstock supply system infrastructure.

Michael Wolcott, professor and director, Institute for Sustainable Design and Co-Principal Director, NARA, WSU, Pullman, suggested that scientists and engineers around the world are now focused on developing ways to turn one of the world’s most plentiful commodities – cellulose – into biofuel and bio products. These developments have important implications for the sustainability of our global resource and energy supplies. Efforts are ongoing in the Pacific Northwest aimed at producing aviation biofuels and bio products from woody biomass.

These projects are taking a holistic approach to building a regional supply chain with the goal of increasing efficiency in everything from land management to forest operations to conversion processes, he said.

Examining a variety of feedstocks, including forest and mill residues, construction waste, as well as new energy crops, these efforts aim to create a sustainable industry that exists in coalition with other forest products uses. The underlying philosophical approach to this effort aims at improving sustainability through resource management, adaptive reuse of infrastructure and product selection.

As a part of the existing wood supply chain, wood composites facilities play an important and allied role in the emerging biofuels and bio products industry.

Focus on composites
In the afternoon, delegates heard from Geoff Rhodes, Chairman of the UK’s Forest Products Research Institute (FPRI) advisory board at Edinburgh Napier University and owner of forest products consultancy Geoff Rhodes Associates in the UK.

He proposed that the forest products industry can learn much from the innovation, creativity and marketing prowess of the IT industry – and many other sectors – if it wants to maximise its earnings potential into the future. Differentiation and innovation in a fast-changing market is all about leading from the front and the forest products industry should give this serious consideration as it analyses its own opportunities and scope to grow revenues, he said.

Committing more funds to research and development and also pure research, linking with international universities to help develop and ultimately bring new products to market, are all themes that were presented by Mr Rhodes, as well as the real need to attract bright young people into our industry.

Allocating appropriate funds, increasing marketing spend, while understanding far better what the market and clients actually need, were now all key topics for reflection and review, he said.

William Mitchell, the Beck Group, Portland, Oregon spoke of the many lessons to be learnt from numerous benchmarking studies of composite industries. He proposed that: biggest is not necessarily best; there appears to be a large excess of OSB capacity relative to North American demand; top quality producers are often far more profitable than the volume operators; exchange rates can have a very significant impact; and that in particleboard, value-added is not necessarily profit-added, while in MDF one must take into consideration the huge energy requirements of a large facility.

John Bowser, president/ceo of NewWood Manufacturing, Elma, Washington, explained that diverting woody biomass from landfill and recycling it into a unique, value-added composite building material is the business of NewWood Manufacturing.

The NewWood composite panel combines recycled urban wood waste such as pallets and C&D debris, with post-consumer polyethylene. The current technology delivers 9 x 16ft panels, 7/16in thick from a multi-opening press using the patented PressAire manufacturing process. This presentation discussed the manufacturing process and product performance properties, as well as raw material procurement challenges. The quality and consistency of incoming raw materials from the recycling community was reviewed, along with quality control processes and procedures established with suppliers. The challenges of negotiating long term supply agreements and securing predictable and affordable supply costs were also discussed.

Pyrolytic Lignins as a thermoplastic resin for wood composites was presented by Karl Englund, associate research professor and extension specialist, Composite Materials and Engineering, WSU. The development of value-added products from lignin residues has historically been a focal point for the pulp and paper industry and more recently the bio-fuel industry. Fast pyrolysis converts woody biomass into a bio-oil which can be separated into a phenolic-rich fraction (PRF), low molecular weight compounds originating from lignin and tannins and a sugar-rich fraction derived from the cellulose and hemicelluloses component of the woody biomass. The unique rheological behaviour might provide opportunities for the wood composite industry as an adhesive or matrix material.

Patrick Govang, president and ceo, e2e Materials, Ithaca, New York, suggested that the American wood composites industry is being challenged on both short-term and long-term fronts. Formaldehyde legislation and increases in offshore furniture production capacity hinder the industry’s near term viability, resulting in a number of plant closures and consolidations.

As the economies of India and China grow, long-term demand for the products produced from composite panels threatens to strip out supplies and forests. Incrementally improving our commodities to compete on price may well not meet these challenges. A different approach using Soya, fossil fuel-free and biodegradable, was presented that could meet some of the short- and long-term challenges facing this industry.

Mathias Fischer, sales director, GreCon, Alfeld, Germany presented a paper on Preventive fire and explosion protection with effective spark detection and extinguishing.

The end of the first day was followed by a wide ranging technical forum poster session whilst refreshments and ‘hearty hors d’oeuvres’ were served.

Day two of presentations
William Mitchell again presented, on Fibre supply assessments for bioenergy (co-gen).

The Beck Group has completed a number of fibre supply studies for clients considering co-generation, wood fuel pellets and other bioenergy projects. The presentation outlined the steps the firm typically follows in completing these studies, as well discussing key factors to consider such as: define the supply area; understand the language/terminology; different ways to estimate volume and value; verify assumptions with good interviews; account for other users; biomass is actually a low-value use; and location, location, location.

Bruce Summers, harvesting and product sales manager, GreenWood Resources Inc, Portland, Oregon, explained that GreenWood Resources is a specialised timber investment management organisation (TIMO) focused on the development and management of high-yield, short-rotation hybrid poplar plantations for multiple markets.

GreenWood maintains operations in North America, Asia, South America, and Europe. Approximately 35,000 acres are presently under management in the US.

Globally, GreenWood plantations are being managed to produce four types of product: Bio-energy feedstock as a dedicated biomass crop as well as an intercrop; debarked pulp chips for paper making operations; debarked and barky chips for composites and engineered wood products; and peeler and saw logs for quality veneer and lumber.

GreenWood is a unique TIMO to the extent that it provides for silvicultural management, harvesting and marketing operations, development of plant material and the capital management of its investment funds.

Terry Gillis, general manager, Recovery 1, Tacoma, Washington gave a presentation directed towards the wood composite manufacturing community. It helped those who desire to use wood of this type (the urban forest) to understand what it is reasonable to expect out of materials extracted from municipal solid waste by: Describing the municipal solid waste stream as it pertains to wood waste; detailing the differences between wood generated from construction projects and wood generated from demolition projects; and outlining the processes required to maintain a safe source of debris in-feed and therefore a usable/ saleable flow of wood for manufacturing.

James H Dooley, chief technology officer at Forest Concepts LLC, Auburn, Washington explained that low-quality whole tree chips (also known as ‘dirty chips’), shredded land-clearing and storm debris, and arborist/tree service chips are abundant and available at reasonably low cost. Today, more than 50 million tons of chipped and shredded biomass is produced, most of which is composted, dumped or goes to mulch users.

A relatively small fraction is delivered to combustion biomass power plants as fuel.

Capture of clean wood fibre from dirty shredded and chipped woody biomass may reduce the competition and tension between new biofuels producers and existing composite wood products firms, as well as providing new sources of clean feedstocks for second generation liquid transportation fuel producers, suggested Mr Dooley.

Donald Bisson, vice president, government and industry affairs, Composite Panel Association (CPA) Leesburg, Virginia, provided a perspective from manufacturers of particleboard, MDF, hardboard and engineered wood siding and trim, on the market and governmental forces affecting wood fibre supply.

A review of the issues related to governmentally-defined woody biomass was provided, along with a review of the advocacy of CPA and its allies on behalf of composite wood products manufacturers and other affected industry sectors.

There then followed three presentations and a panel discussion on biomass logistics and utilisation: Woody biomass harvesting and transportation with Bill Hermann, ceo of Hermann Brothers Logging and Construction, Port Angeles, Washington; Han-Sup Han, professor, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California; and Ed Tolan, purchasing executive for Nippon Paper Industries, Seattle.

In the second ‘Composites’ section, Tomas Joscak, ceo of Dascanova GmbH Vienna, Austria, spoke about Three-dimensional rearrangement of wood based panel density in a one-press process. The Dascanova Technology (international patent applications pending) is based on 3-D denser structure inside the fibreboard or particleboard.

David Harmon, laboratory & North America wood fibre technical manager at Momentive Specialty Chemicals Inc, Springfield, Oregon discussed Low formaldehyde emission challenges in composite wood products.

Formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products are globally converging to near natural wood background levels.

Advances in resin and board manufacturing technologies have kept pace with the demand for high-performing, lowemitting, composite wood products, primarily through new-generation families of amino formaldehyde binders, which are becoming known as Ultra-Low-Emitting Formaldehyde (ULEF) resins. While other technologies may also provide equivalent overall performance, there remain challenges to implementation of these alternatives on the global scale, said the speaker. In turn, the methods used for validation/compliance demonstration must be highly accurate at the very low levels required to meet applicable requirements.

Then Tony Ferrante, sales and service manager, Columbia Forest Products, Greensboro, North Carolina, presented on Commercialisation of a new protein based adhesive.

Columbia Forest Products is currently utilising a soy-based adhesive system in all its hardwood plywood. The conversion from a UF based system to the current soy-based one was a task that was neither easy nor accomplished overnight, said Mr Ferrante, adding that it took several years of research and diligence to achieve the goals of offering a product with no added formaldehyde.

In this presentation, Columbia Innovations discussed the commercialisation of this protein based technology and what it takes to bring a new adhesive to market.

Michael Rushton, ceo, Lignol Innovations Inc, Burnaby, Canada, spoke of the use of HP-L™ Lignin as an ingredient in wood composite adhesives.

Incorporation of lignin into wood composite adhesives has been under development for some years, with mixed results. Mr Rushton said that Lignol has now developed a hybrid resin material, containing a large proportion of its proprietary HP-L Lignin product, which has performed well in test production of a range of wood composite products.

Core blending efficiency improvements achieved in continuous pressing of particleboard was the topic for Raymond J Roberts, consulting physicist, RJ Roberts Consulting Pty Ltd, Victoria, Australia.

In papers presented in 2011 at this conference the author had demonstrated the inefficiency of high speed blenders caused by surface energy considerations and by destruction of flake geometry and how this might be improved. This paper presented the results of three full-scale plant trials using Rezex A with modifications to high speed core blenders from PAL srl of Italy. The results from full-scale plant trials verify the predictions made in the previous papers, said Mr Roberts.

Finally, to close day two, Ning Yan, assistant professor, University of Toronto, Canada, described Bark biorefinery: Conversion of bark residue to bark-based PF adhesives and PU foams.

Bark, available in large quantities as residue from forest mill operations, is highly promising as suitable feedstock for producing value added chemicals and bio-based products due to its unique compositional advantages, said the speaker.

The renewable bark-biomass-derived chemicals and materials can be used as environmentally-friendly substitutes for petroleum-based industrial products, thus contributing to global sustainability, he added.

At the University of Toronto, they have assembled a large multi-disciplinary public and private research team focused on conversion of bark to these environmentally friendly chemicals and products, using solvent liquefaction and extraction methods, concluded Mr Ning.