BC’s forest industry has withstood a multitude of issues. A voracious beetle the size of a grain of rice has attacked a good portion of BC’s interior fibre basket. A significant recession that slowed housing starts to a crawl in the United States, BC’s biggest market for wood products (the lowest number of housing starts in 50 years. All that is in addition to the trade challenges and skirmishes with the US leading to various iterations of a ‘softwood lumber agreement’.
So is cellulostic ethanol the answer for the BC forest industry? According to a report from Scotia Capital global biofuel production reached 22 billion gallons in 2009 — with 19 billion of that coming from food-based ethanol production (Scotia Capital – Biofuels Outlook – April 2010). The use of corn or grain for ethanol in an environment of global food inflationary pressures is controversial. Wood waste, particularly wood waste from trees that have been damaged may be a better alternative.
According to the BC Ministry of Forests, the pine beetle has affected approximately 16.3 million hectares, and 675 million cubic metres of timber. Various BC based companies are attempting to tap into that resource and develop an economically viable ethanol based on a surplus of wood.
The challenge is to get the current enzyme cost for biomass conversion down to economic levels. While the input is inexpensive, the conversion is not, yet. The BC government recognizes the value, however. The BC Bioenergy Network started in 2008 with a $25 million grant from the B.C. government, focusing on various sectors, including wood waste to energy. The Innovative Clean Energy Fund (ICE Fund) was established to help emerging clean power technology companies and projects, including bioenergy. According to the BC Government, $60 million has been approved for 41 projects in the Province. Some of the ICE funded projects are in wood-waste to energy technologies.