Wood for Electric Power, and So Much More


Wood-to-energy gasifier unit at the Winn Ranger District office. Photo by Tom Elder.

A wood-to-energy gasification project by the Forest Service in Louisiana proves that its possible to produce electricity from forest biomass while promoting forest health and researching new sources of transportation fuels.

In 2008, the Southern Research Station (SRS) Utilization of Southern Forest Resources (USFR) unit, the Kisatchie National Forest and Forest Service State and Private Forestry Forest Health Protection (Forest Health) installed a BioMAX 25 gasification system to power the 4,000-square foot Winn Ranger District office near Pineville, LA. The system produces electricity directly from chips made from woody materials such as pines killed by southern pine beetle, hurricane and logging debris, and small-diameter trees removed for fuel reduction and habitat restoration work.

Operating at temperatures ranging from 800 to 900 °C, the systems gasifier converts the chips into a combustible gas which is cooled, filtered, and used to fuel a modified 6-cylinder, internal combustion engine that turns an electrical generator to produce electricity.

The Winn Ranger District office now supplies most of its electric energy needs from wood chips. In addition, Forest Health uses the unit as a part of a demonstration project for thinning forests for southern pine beetle control and to show landowners and local tree farmers how trees removed from thinning can be used as a feedstock for bioenergy production and/or biofuel.

This year, the SRS research unit purchased a Fischer-Tropsch reactor, which converts the gas produced by the Biomax into liquid fuels. The addition of this module allows SRS researchers and partners from Louisiana State University to explore the creation of liquid transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, ethanol, and aviation fuel from wood. 

In June 2012, Wayne Simmons, the Chief Executive Officer of Sundrop Fuels  met with SRS scientists at the Pineville unit to discuss possible collaborations on a project that could move the production of wood-based transportation fuels to a new level as well as provide local jobs and income.

Based in Longmont, CO, Sundrop Fuels recently announced a partnership with technology and engineering supplier ThyssenKrupp Uhde on the construction of the nations first bona fide commercial “green gasoline” production facility  in Alexandria, LA. The new plant is projected to yield up to 50 million gallons of renewable gasoline annually while also serving as proving ground for the proprietary biomass conversion technologies that Sundrop will use for future large-scale facilities. 

Watch a video of USFR project leader Les Groom describing how biomass is converted into fuel.