Thursday, November 26, 2009

Biofuels and Adirondack Forest Jobs

The Adirondack Research Consortium will sponsor a biofuels market development conference Wednesday, February 17 in Saratoga Springs.

The day-long meeting will focus on the potential of this emerging industry in the Adirondacks and North Country, with an emphasis on business creation. Topics include biomass market supply and demand, policies affecting biomass energy markets, project finance perspectives, and technology. Experts will discuss these issues from a developer’s perspective.

Several Adirondack institutions, including the Wild Center, Paul Smith’s College and a few schools have announced intentions to switch from oil to wood-based heat and/or power. The weak economy and lack of start-up capital has stalled some initiatives, however. Paul Smith’s College trustees this year tabled a proposal to build a wood-chip co-generation plant as cost projections came in millions of dollars higher than initial estimates.

Biofuels are derived from plants, sometimes corn and switchgrass; in the Adirondacks biomass almost always means wood. Although this region still identifies forest products as a mainstay of its economy, in reality very few people work in logging anymore. Select hardwood and spruce logs are exported, often to Canada. Paper mills that ring the Adirondack Park have either shut down or no longer get pulp from local logs, with a couple of exceptions.

Foresters say biofuels have the potential to revive Adirondack logging if a critical mass of demand can be established. Low-quality trees that once went to pulpmills could be ground into chips or pellets instead. (Forest ecologists are also weighing the benefits of the carbon neutrality of wood fuels vs. the ability of uncut forests to store greenhouse gases.)

The conference program, registration, and accommodation information can be found on the Adirondack Research Consortium’s Web site, adkresearch.org.

Wood chips photograph from Wikimedia Commons

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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