Five new facilities that can transform wood into fuel will soon be built in Mississippi.
The facilities will further increase timber’s already-important role in the state’s economy. Mississippi’s forests cover nearly 20 million acres and generate more than $1 billion worth of timber each year. The forestry and forest products sectors, which include logging, furniture construction, solid wood products, and pulp and paper, contribute more than $19 billion to the state’s economy annually.
Kior, a biofuel company based in Pasadena, Texas, is planning to build five new biofuel production plants in Mississippi. The first will be built in Columbus, near the Port of Columbus on the Tennessee-Tombigbee River. Facilities in Franklin and Newton counties will be completed by 2015, and the company says it plans to build two more plants after that.
With each of the plants expected to produce more than 800 barrels of crude oil per day, experts want to ensure there is enough timber available to meet the demand. Scientists in Mississippi State University’s Forest and Wildlife Research Center began researching the availability of woody biomass for biofuel production about five years ago.
"The goal of our research was to determine the availability of the resource, primarily from logging residues, but also from small-diameter trees, mill residues and urban waste," said Donald Grebner, MSU forestry professor and principal investigator. "We also considered the resources within regions of the state, as well as harvesting and transportation costs."
While the state has always been heavily forested, the composition of the landscape has changed in the last decade. New pine forests have increased the overall size of forestland by about 500,000 acres in the last 10 years.
"Many acres have been planted with trees for the first time or have been reforested with pines, often with the assistance of incentive payments," Grebner said. "Marginal agricultural lands have also been converted to forest."
Grebner and colleagues used software developed by the university to determine how much biomass was available.
The research team found the total standing biomass to be nearly 724 million dry tons, with about 18 million dry tons added each year.
Each Kior biofuel processing facility is expected to use between 2,500 and 3,750 tons of wood daily. Based on the MSU data and current forest trends, there’s enough timber in Mississippi to supply five facilities.
"A new market will be welcome among loggers, especially if the facility will accept timber or round wood," said John Auel, forestry Extension associate and coordinator of the state’s professional logging manager program.
Loggers who want to supply logging residues to a biofuel facility would have to start cleaning up after a job has been completed. They might also have to purchase equipment to haul away residues.
Loggers generally either leave residues on site to decompose or pile and burn the residue to prepare for replanting.
"Loggers have been hit hard during the recession, as evidenced by the reduced numbers of loggers seeking certification in the last couple of years," Auel said. "A new market for residues will create new opportunities for this struggling sector; however, there will be start-up costs for loggers who do not have the equipment."
While loggers may have to invest in new equipment to meet the demands of biofuel processing, landowners, who own 70 percent of forest in the state, are poised to reap the benefits.
"New markets have the potential to increase the price of biomass or pulp wood relative to the price of saw timber," Grebner said. "It is expected that as biomass prices rise, availability will increase, as will the intensity of pine plantation management."
The state will also benefit, as Kior has committed to creating 1,000 direct and indirect jobs within five years and spending $85 million in payroll and on the purchase of Mississippi timber.