Brashaw Takes the Helm of Forest Products Marketing Unit

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) welcomes Brian Brashaw to the position of Program Manager for the Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU). He took the helm in early May.

Brashaw comes to the Forest Service from the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), where he served as Program Manager. In that role, he led a highly successful technology development and transfer group that helped a wide range of wood products businesses in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Through the NRRI, Brashaw has had a long, productive relationship with the Forest Products Laboratory in the areas of nondestructive evaluation of wood materials, utilization of urban wood waste, and timber bridges. Brashaw has a BS in Forest Management from UW-Stevens Point, a MS in Materials Science from Washington State University, and a PhD in Forest Resources from Mississippi State University. His educational and career path were established living in Wisconsin’s Nicolet National Forest as a youth with goals in forestry and forest products.

“Under Brian’s leadership, the FPMU will help ensure healthy, sustainable forests that are more resilient to disturbances by creating high-value, high-volume markets from woody biomass,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station.

Since 1996, the FPMU has maintained a strong partnership with State and Private Forestry and other mission areas of the Forest Service. With its emphasis on technology transfer, the FPMU helps accelerate forest restoration, improve economic conditions, expand wood utilization and marketing opportunities, improve economic conditions, and create new jobs.

Forest biomass cleanup

Forest biomass cleanup

“It has been a dream of mine, growing up in the north woods of Wisconsin, to have the opportunity to work with the U.S. Forest Service.  It is an honor to be a part of this great organization,” said Brashaw.

FPL is excited to have such a qualified and enthusiastic leader on board.

 

Set Free the Cellulose! Enhancing Biorefinery Economics through Ionic Liquid Pretreatment

As the most abundant biopolymers on earth, cellulose and lignin form the building blocks for trees and other plants. For centuries the durable, renewable benefits of wood have helped provide shelter and energy for people across the globe. Using trees such as Loblolly pine and other lignocellulosic biomass like wheat straw and Miscanthus – as renewable, plentiful, non-food and non-petroleum resources – can help reduce dependence on oil products by supplementing traditional gasoline supplies with liquid biofuels.

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Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at FPL

One of the biggest challenges of converting wood-to-energy is releasing the sugars within the lignin itself. Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory says lignin is recalcitrant, meaning it does not break down very easily. Yelle has been working with a team of researchers to unlock the recalcitrant nature of lignin in an effort to improve refinery efficiencies in the production process for advanced biofuels. Their research has been published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry.

Higher plants such as trees, says Yelle, contain cell walls that are rich in lignin and complex sugars – polysaccharides like cellulose. However, cellulose is naturally entrapped in a matrix of lignin. Cellulose is the ideal biopolymer for biofuel production, says Yelle, “because of its simplistic long-chain glucose structure” but the separation of the cellulose from its lignin counterpart typically involves harsh chemical pretreatments. These chemicals may release the cellulose to a certain degree but, says Yelle, “make the remaining lignin even more recalcitrant.” Overcoming pretreatment barriers would help make the biochemical conversion process more efficient and thus more appealing for commercial renewable energy interests.

Yelle and colleagues’ research analyzes lignin following an ionic liquid pretreatment. Ionic liquids, says Yelle, are used to more easily dissolve the lignin that directly surrounds the desired polysaccharides. The non-toxic and recyclable ionic liquid used in this study, says Yelle, was able to more effectively disrupt the lignin, allowing for its extraction in a more native-state, as compared to previous pretreatment strategies. The subsequent use of enzymes to breakdown the polysaccharides into simple sugars is thus more effective. Furthermore, says Yelle, the size of the lignin polymer that is removed can be customized and routed into different product streams and help improve biorefinery economics.

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Above, a representation of the ionic liquid pretreatment process for converting biomass to sugars suitable for manufacturing liquid biofuels.

FPL to Play Key Role in Innovative Biomass Research: $5.8 Million Federal Grant Awarded to Humboldt State University

Humboldt State University (HSU), along with 15 regional partners including the Forest Products Laboratory, has received a $5.88 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct innovative biomass research.

The grant is part of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture that supports renewable energy research in the rural United States.

FPL economist Ted Bilek will lead the economic life cycle analysis group.

Under the grant, a team of scholars, industry partners and forestland managers led by HSU forestry professor Han-Sup Han will build on existing research for converting forest residues into renewable fuel and other valuable bio-based products. Forest residues include limbs, treetops and other materials left on the forest floor after timber harvesting. Often considered waste material and not effectively used, forest residues are an undervalued source of potential bioenergy. Strategic use of woody biomass has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and promote economic development in rural America.

The grant will allow research teams comprising investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and private sector partners to address technical challenges and make bioenergy technologies more marketable. The three research areas will be feedstock (processed forest residues) supply, mobile conversion technologies, and economic life-cycle analysis.

Ted Bilek, an economist at the Forest Products Laboratory, will lead the economic life-cycle analysis group. Bilek’s team will conduct a life-cycle analysis documenting the economic benefits and other environmental effects related to using forest residues.

“It’s not enough that the technologies work and produce energy,” Bilek says. “They also need to be economically viable, socially acceptable, and environmentally sustainable. These are the focuses of our group. Our research will also help to highlight areas that offer the greatest potentials to improve returns and to ensure long-term sustainability.”

The grant is titled Waste to Wisdom: Utilizing forest residues for the production of bioenergy and bioproducts. Research partners include: Green Diamond Resource Company, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, USFS Forest Products Lab, Redwood Forest Foundation, Forest Concepts LLC, Steve Morris Logging, Peterson Pacific Corp., Biochar Solutions Inc., Pellet Fuels Institute and the Forest Business Network LLC.

FPL Works to Support Advanced Biofuels and Biorefineries

As national concerns about the multiple uses for our forests increase and international concerns over global warming and greenhouse-gas generation also rise, governmental support for biological fuels is likely to increase.

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FPL research has helped advance technology to convert woody biomass to ethanol.

New technologies are needed to derive transportation fuels and valuable chemicals from wood and FPL has a strong history of handling and treating wood through multidisciplinary efforts.

Experts in wood structure, wood chemistry, microbiology, enzyme technology, chemical engineering, and economics work together to promote the use of sustainable, bio-based, environmentally neutral technologies. This research advances the use of lignocellulose (materials such as wood flakes, particles, and fiber) as a raw material for transportation fuel and other biochemicals.

FPL researchers use advanced microbiology and chemistry laboratories in the Centennial Research Facility to help increase processing efficiency and profitability for biorefineries. In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service awarded nearly $4 million in grants for wood energy projects around the country to help expand regional economies and create new jobs. These grants are managed by the FPL Forest Products Marketing Unit.

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Biorefineries can use previously under-valued wood from forest restoration projects to produce energy.

Through its work on bioenergy and biofuels, the FPL addresses several developments:

  • Pretreatments that make more cellulose available for enzymatic saccharification or to derive value from lignin
  • Value from resistant (recalcitrant) cellulose
  • Co-production of specialty chemicals with greater value than ethanol and paper pulp
  • Improved gasification with less char and a higher energy yield
  • Transportation fuels and higher value chemicals from producer gas
  • Ways to integrate ethanol production with pulping and composite products
  • Enzyme modeling, life cycle assessment, and biomass case development
  • Greenhouse gas modeling

FPL’s work in biorefining:

  • Promotes sustainable development
  • Moves the U.S. toward energy independence
  • Mitigates climate change
  • Supports local economies, and
  • Promotes sustainability of natural resource production and use.

Assessing Alternative Biofuels Cradle-to-Grave

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Biomass from restoration projects, like these wood chips from forest thinnings, can help promote forest health while providing valuable raw material for biofuel and other bioenergy products.

Assessing the carbon and energy impacts of alternative biofuels is essential to understanding best strategies for moving into a sustainable, efficient, and carbon neutral future.

A series of new articles published by the Forest Products Journal report on the life-cycle analysis of various bioenergy processes (i.e., gasification, fermentation, and pyrolysis) and feedstocks (raw materials used to convert biological matter into usable energy) including those from mill and forest residues, thinnings, and short rotation woody crops.

Ken Skog, an FPL supervisory research forester, is co-author on two of these benchmark reports:
— Comparing Life-Cycle Carbon and Energy Impacts for Biofuel, Wood Product, and Forest Management Alternatives, and
— Carbon Emission Reduction Impacts from Alternative Biofuels.

Understanding the complex life-cycle issues related to biofuels production will help meet demands to reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels and to reduce carbon emissions.