Thursday, July 25, 2013

Company To Produce Jet Fuel From Overgrown Forest Wood

But Many Other Issues Are Plaguing 4 Forest Restoration Initiation

Concord Blue Energy, a German alternative-energy company, wants to produce 40 million gallons of jet fuel a year from wood harvested in the four overgrown northern Arizona forests.  The German company is so confident in its plan that it will start building facilities even before it obtains state environmental permits. 

An advisory group of university, non-profit and other organizations supporting the nation's largest forest restoration effort, known as the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), is supporting the jet fuel production project.

Pioneer Forest Products, the embattled U.S. Forest Service contractor selected to do
the work for the 4FRI  enlisted Concord early in the project.

Concord claims that it can produce jet fuel from chips for no more than $2 a gallon, but airlines testing such fuels recently have paid more than $30. Another confounding variable is that Concord isn’t  sure what they would be expected to pay for a ton of wood harvested from the forest.

Regardless of the role jet fuel may play in reducing fire threats and restoring Arizona’s ecology, the program aims to reinvigorate Arizona’s timber industry to accomplish a thinning job that the federal government cannot afford to do alone.

Jerry Nicholls, Lance Barnum and Allen Reidhead
 discuss logging. Mark Henle/The Republic
Pioneer, which won the U.S. Forest Service contract more than a year ago, has so far thinned about 500 acres near Heber, above the Mogollon Rim. Its contract calls for it to thin 300,000 acres over 10 years, but the company so far has not secured financing for a needed mill and is asking the government’s permission to sell its contract to an unnamed company.  Pioneer’s contract is for the first 300,000 acres. An environmental study that could open about twice that much is now under review.

The lack of progress has drawn criticism from environmentalists and county officials who support the program but questioned the contract award. This week, the Center for Biological Diversity called on the Forest Service’s inspector general to look into the contract award and potential shuffling. Forest Service officials said Wednesday that they hope to decide within a month whether to allow Pioneer to sell out.

In other developments, large log piles are sitting idle and would have been hauled off already if a Heber-area biomass electricity plant slated to receive them had reopened on schedule.

Pioneer has not disclosed the company it wants to sell its contract to, but it is incorporated in Arizona, Pioneer says the company has the money to open the $230 million Winslow mill that his company has been unable to get financing to build.

Forest Service officials also have declined to name the company.

The initiative is meant to restore about a million acres of forests to conditions approximating what they were before the last century of fire suppression. Constant firefighting has allowed young trees and brush to crowd the forest and, ironically, threaten worse fires.  (The Republic/ AZCentral .com, 7/24/2013)

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