A new technology for converting forest waste into renewable natural gas was demonstrated for the first time ever in Auburn, California.
The process, developed by Canadian firm G4 Insights, converts scraps and small trees from forest thinning projects into a renewable natural gas called biomethane. In its first public demonstration, G4 used gas produced on site to fuel an unmodified Placer County truck.
“G4 is pleased to have the opportunity to partner with Placer County, California Energy Commission, Southern California Gas Company, and U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities to make this project a great success,” said G4 principal Matt Babicki. “This project demonstrates the potential for G4 PyroCatalytic Hydrogenation technology to transform forestry waste into high value, low carbon fuel, and support forestry communities with long term jobs to collect biomass and operate G4 renewable natural gas plants.”
Renewable natural gas produced from forestry waste could serve a helpful role in alternative energy production, especially in heavily forested areas. Typically, forestry waste is burned where trees are felled to reduce wildfire hazards, which increases air pollution locally. Converting it into natural gas instead would reduce air pollution and increase the supply of sustainably-produced clean energy. Future production facilities near large sources of waste have the potential to provide jobs and other economic benefits to rural, forest communities.
“Continuing to build a sustainable energy future in Placer County means using every kind of alternative energy we can,” said Kirk Uhler, chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors. “This could turn out to be an important part of that, and at the same time, have a significant role in reducing forestry waste that can present a wildfire hazard.”
In the Foresthill area of Placer County alone, there are an estimated 20,640 tons of forestry waste produced annually – enough to fuel 4,926 cars for a year. A single ton of forestry waste could produce enough natural gas to drive from Lake Tahoe to Anchorage, Alaska. In the United States, there is enough current available and sustainable tree thinning and forestry industry waste to fuel more than 40,000 natural gas fleets the size of Placer County’s.
"Forest waste is one of the largest sources of potential waste resources for biofuels and bioenergy in California," said California Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott. "Bringing more technologies like the G-4 Insight technology, which can sustainably convert waste materials from forest restoration activities into low carbon transportation fuels online, would be a significant achievement."
The G4 technology uses raw, untreated forestry waste that otherwise has no commercial use. Competing technologies require clean wood chips, stripped of bark, from harvested trees that could be used for other purposes. The gas it produces is of the same quality as conventional gas, and can be used for any of its purposes, not just vehicle fuel. The G4 natural gas reduces fossil emissions by 86 percent compared to standard gasoline.
“We’re excited to see the results of this demonstration,” said Tom Quinn, forest supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest Service. “The Forest Service is willing to look at all potential economic options that can assist with the region’s ecological restoration mission to reduce hazardous fuels, thin forests, reduce wildfire intensity and improve resistance to insect/disease outbreaks.”
G4 received a $1.2 million grant from the California Energy Commission in 2011 to develop the demonstration plant. Placer County provided G4 with forestry waste from Tahoe National Forest, workspace and logistical support at its transportation yard in North Auburn, and assisted with the planning, coordination and preliminary environmental permitting for a potential larger-scale pilot facility in Placer County.