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'I think that I shall never see' -- enough waste-wood powered factories

By Robert M. PressStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 4, 1981



Atlanta

Joyce Kilmer might cringe if he could see the waste. Although his 1913 poem immortalized his appreciation of trees, it did not immortalize trees. And as demands for homes, furniture, paper, baseball bats, and pianos leads to the felling of more and more trees, about a third of the tree is left to rot in the forest, and many sawmills toss out much burnable material on a regular basis.

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This waste, for far less than the price of coal, natural gas, or oil, in many cases, could fuel many industries and homes, wood energy analysts say. While an increasing number of Americans are installing wood stoves in their homes, the greater potential lies in industries, these analysts point out.

But despite some government and private efforts to promote greater use of waste wood as fuel for industries, the idea has not become a burning issue. So far there is smoke, but not many fires.

Some energy specialists are concerned that the planned elimination under the Reagan, budget of federal funds for promoting wood as an alternative fuel will dampen further interest. "Under Jimmy Carter that [promotion] was better than sliced bread," says Bill Bulpitt, chief of wood energy systems for the Georgia Institute of Technology. "under Reagan it isn't worth anything."

But Dan Smith of the Southern Solar Energy Center says federally funded demonstrations have "proved" wood fuel can save money for many industries. He questions whether further demonstrations would be that valuable.

There are several things holding back further use of wood fuel in industries, according to these and other wood-energy specialists. High interest rates are discouraging investment in wood-burning furnaces by industries; and many industry officers are unfamiliar with how to buy wood supplies -- and unconvinced the supplies will be dependable.

In a few instances, brokers have begun contracting with a number of wood-waste sources, such as sawmills, to provide regular deliveries to industries.

Many paper and pulp companies have long used some of their waste as fuel. Now a number of other kinds of industries and institutions, often with federal planning assistance, have switched to wood as a primary fuel. One of the latest to join what some wood-energy analysts say will be a growing trend is the Gold Kist soybean oil plant in Valdosta, Ga. The plant uses some 125 tons of fuel a day -- mostly wood, with some pecan and peanut shells as well, to fire its boilers. The company will save more than $1 million a year in fuel costs, according to estimates by Georgia Institute of Technology, which helped plan the project.

Several textile mills in Georgia and Alabama, a distillery and a commercial greenhouse in Tennessee, and a private high school in western Massachusetts are among other recent converts to burning wood as the main fuel source.

But keeping up the steam in this minitrend toward industrial use of wood fuel requires government help, says Benjamin Kincannon, director of energy programs for the New England Regional Commission. (The commission itself is disbanding by Oct. 1 because of cuts in federal support.) "It doesn't seem to me the market forces alone are enough to do the job," he says.

At the Department of Energy, Beverly Berger is in charge of the biomass programs, including wood fuel. Asked what the effect of the elimination of the wood-fuel promotion program would be, she referred this reporter to first one then a second public relations staff person in the department. After those clearances were obtained, Dr. Berger failed to return several calls by this newspaper.