Forest Service Leaders Convene at FPL

The Forest Service’s Combined Eastern Leadership Team, with members from the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), Northern Research Station (NRS), Region 9, and Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry gathered at FPL this week for the sixth year running.

Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen addressed the group on a wide range of issues Wednesday, including the recent fire-funding fix, the One USDA initiative and the expectation of leaders as the Forest Service moves forward with important Workplace Environment efforts.

“This is always one of the highlights of the year, and we really do model the concept of one Forest Service,” said Tony Ferguson, director of FPL and NRS. “It was just a really great week.”

Other themes for the week included discussions on combining resources to achieve shared goals, environmental analysis and decision making, conflict management and prevention, and congressional awareness and interactions.

Meeting participants tour FPL’s pressure treatment pilot plant.

The Forest Service’s Middle Leader Program also spent the week at FPL and joined the leadership team all day Wednesday. Participants from both groups toured the Lab as part of their visit.

“I am just so gratified with the ease in which everybody in all three mission areas interacts with each other,” said Kathleen Atkinson, Eastern Region Regional Forester. “It is just wonderful to be a part of this.”

Wood Heat Stakeholders Gather, Talk Opportunities and Urgency at Heating the Midwest

(Article by Tim Portz, Forge Content)

Heating the Midwest, an annual conversation and roundtable about growing the role of wood heat in the Upper Midwest was held last week at the Black Bear Convention Center in Carlton, Minnesota.

Kicking off the Heating the Midwest conference. (L to R: Brian Brashaw, Program Manager, Forest Products Laboratory; Tim Portz, Executive Director, Pellet Fuels Institute; Gregg Mast, Executive Director, Clean Energy Economy MN)

This year’s conversation carried an increased sense of urgency with the news of the closure of three large biomass power plants in Minnesota on everyone’s minds. Benson Power in western Minnesota and Laurentian Energy Authority’s two plants located in Hibbing and Virginia will be shutdown, and with their closure the demand for nearly 500,000 green tons of woody biomass in the area will disappear.

Set against that backdrop, this year’s Heating the Midwest agenda worked to highlight wood biomass thermal deployments that work despite an economic environment of historically low fossil fuel prices while also looking toward projects with a realistic chance at gaining traction and stepping into the void created by the Benson and Laurentian Energy closures.

“The forest products industry is absolutely vital to the rural economies of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan,” said Brian Brashaw, a longtime Heating the Midwest steering committee member and Program Manager for the USDA Forest Products Laboratory. “A healthy forest products sector adds value to woody biomass of all sorts and when demand for lower value material goes away, it reverberates throughout the supply chain.  Healthy forests and industry need markets for all harvest products.”

Brashaw’s comments were supported on Thursday morning when Scott Dane, the Executive Director of the Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers of Minnesota took the stage. For Dane and his membership, these plant closures will significantly reduce the available work, straining a vital piece of the forest products supply chain.

Conference participants on tour. Sawmill residues seen here are being used for biomass heating.

For an audience hungry for some good news, a highlight of the conference was a joint presentation delivered by Terry Nanti the General Manager at Duluth Energy Systems and Lee Torrens, President of Enysn Fuels, Inc. The presentation walked the audience through the decision making process that Duluth Energy Systems used to make a decision to transition the city-owned steam plant to a biomass-based feedstock. As part of a broader modernization effort, the city is planning to begin burning Enysn’s renewable fuel oil (RFO) product. While the first volumes of RFO burned at Duluth Energy will be manufactured at Ensyn Fuel’s refinery in Canada, Torrens delighted the audience by expressing his continued interest in Minnesota as a potential site for Ensyn’s first U.S.-based production site.

“Our region is blessed with abundant supplies of renewable biomass from our fields and forests,” said Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota. “Identifying market applications for these materials is critical for retaining and expanding supply chain jobs and spurring rural economic development.” Throughout the event, Brashaw and other longtime Heating the Midwest steering committee members asked the audience to join the conversation about what Heating the Midwest should be dedicating its time and energy to. A common theme from attendees was that while difficult, it was imperative to take the message of modern wood heat to a new audience of city planners, county officials, state policy makers and architects and engineers.

The conference also featured a biomass heating tour in Northeast Minnesota, making important connections between resource supply from harvesting and manufacturing residues and modern, efficient and clean heating systems.  Recently installed biomass heating installations at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa were featured.

 

Southern Exposure: Long-Term Field Testing of Wood Protectants

When researchers are looking to evaluate the performance of wood protectants, the harsher the environment the better. Which is why Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers put specimens to the test in the Harrison Experimental Forest (HEF) in Saucier, Mississippi, and have been doing so for 80 years.

Generations of FPL researchers have used the HEF field site for sub-tropical field testing. Here Oscar Blew is rating posts at the HEF (1950’s).

Located about 35 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, this sub-tropical field site receives about 60 inches of rainfall a year and has a mean temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The wood decay hazard in this area is rated “severe” according to the American Wood Protection Association Use Class Rating System and there is significant subterranean termite activity. When in ground contact, untreated wood rarely lasts 12 months in the HEF, to which researchers respond “challenge accepted.” Continue reading

Blast Testing, Take Two! An Update on CLT Blast Test Research

The following is an update to a previous LabNotes post.  The updated version was recently featured on the USDA and Forest Service blogs:

All three structures remained standing after the testing – even tests designed to take the structures well beyond their design intent. (Photo courtesy of Air Force Civil Engineering Center AFCEC, Tyndall Air Force Base)

At the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), researchers sometimes get a little destructive. They bend and break wood samples of all sizes, and even shoot lumber out of a cannon at 100 miles per hour.

But explosions? That’s a bit out of their wheelhouse. Not that wood can’t handle it. Particularly when it’s used in engineered products like cross-laminated timber, or CLT, which FPL researchers have studied from many angles, including fire performance, use in earthquake-prone regions, and the effects of moisture on CLT. Made of alternating layers of dried lumber boards stacked at 90-degree angles, CLT is exceptionally strong and stable and can be used as walls, roofs, and floors in mid-rise buildings. Continue reading

Wood Packaging Supports Healthy Forests and Strong Communities

The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) has released “Wood Packaging Supports Healthy Forests and Strong Communities,” a video that puts a spotlight on the vital role wood packaging plays in our communities.

Researchers from the Forest Products Laboratory have partnered with the NWPCA for several years, and are currently working with them to develop life cycle assessments for wood pallets.

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

NWPCA collaborated with leading forest conservation organizations to produce this video. Participating in this project were Tom Martin, President and CEO, The American Forest Foundation; Larry Selzer, President and CEO, The Conservation Fund; Jay Farrell, Executive Director, The National Association of State Foresters; Carlton Owen, President and CEO, U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities; and Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief, U.S. Forest Service.

“We’re proud of the work of our members in supporting the missions of these conservation organizations, providing economic and employment opportunities in rural communities, and improving the health of our nation’s forests,” said Brent McClendon, CAE, National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) President and CEO.

“The wood packaging industry is a critical player in advancing the health of our forests because they use the small diameter wood for making pallets that cannot be used in higher end products,” stated, Carlton Owen, President & CEO, U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities. “Without markets for that low value material, we can’t move our forests to a healthier, more resilient condition.”

The 3-minute video is a project of Nature’s Packaging®, a North American initiative to promote the use of wood-based packaging to users seeking sustainable, responsible and economical packaging solutions.