Monday, March 07, 2011

Todd Poage on Tok School Biomass Project

I've said this many times, but once again, if you hang around the State Capitol and talk to folks, you'll meet lots of interesting people doing interesting things. 

Here's Todd Poage, Superintendent of the Alaska Gateway School District talking about the Tok School Biomass Project. 

I asked for a link to a website, but instead got a newsprint size paper with bits and pieces of information and photos.  Things like:
  • The Eagle Trail Fire incinerated more forest fuel in five hours than the biomass boiler at Tok School will use in 30 years
  • Tok Forestry recommends the removal of 200 acres of hazardous [I think this means it's a fire danger] fuel each year.
  • The costs of heating Tok School with an oil furnace averages $12,600 per month at current oil prices.  
  • The costs of heating Tok School thru biomass, at $40 per ton, averages $3200 per month.

Others have covered this.  The Alaska Journal of Commerce wrote Dec. 10:

...In the past 25 years, nearly 2 million acres in the area have burned, costing more than $60 million in fire suppression and causing six evacuations, according to the state. Last year, the Eagle Trail fire scorched 18,000 acres.

"The fire history in Tok has basically demonstrated that Tok is going to burn unless we take action," said Jeff Hermanns, Tok area forester and a spearhead of the boiler project.

A recent wildfire protection plan recommended that 3,000 acres of black and white spruce forest in Tok be removed to make the community safer, including an area around the school, Hermanns said. Foresters usually try to sell or repurpose good wood, but the trees were junk wood, he said.

"Most of them aren't any bigger than three inches. Most people won't cut that tree for firewood. It's too small. You can't sell board out of it," Hermanns said.

Foresters thinned 100 acres of trees around the school and stacked them into decks. Then they set them on fire, a pricey and smoky last resort.

"All of those BTUs, all of that energy, just went up in smoke," Hermanns said. "By the school using this material, it's saving me a minimum of $1,000 an acre."...

Green Turbine, a Dutch blog that appears linked to a company that makes small turbines reposted some of the Journal article.

Putting this into a larger context is a 2009 United States Department of Agriculture report on Wood Energy in Alaska:  A Case Study Evaluation of Selected Facilities.  Here's the abstract:
Nicholls, David. 2009. Wood energy in Alaska—case study evaluations of selected facilities. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-793. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 33 p. 
Biomass resources in Alaska are extensive and diverse, comprising millions of acres of standing small-diameter trees, diseased or dead trees, and trees having low- grade timber. Limited amounts of logging and mill residues, urban wood residues, and waste products are also available. Recent wildfires in interior Alaska have left substantial volumes of burned timber, potentially usable for biomass energy. Moti- vated, in part, by rising fuel prices, organizations across the state—including busi- nesses, schools, and government agencies—have all expressed an interest in wood energy applications. Numerous sites have pursued feasibility studies or engineering design analysis, and others have moved forward with project construction. Recent advances in biomass utilization in Alaska have been enabled by numerous factors, and involve various fuel sources, scales of operation, and end products. Already, thermal wood energy systems are using sawmill residues to heat lumber dry kilns, and a public school heating system is in operation. Management policies on national forests and state forests in Alaska could determine the type and amounts of available biomass from managed forests, from wildland-urban interface regions, and from salvage timber operations. Biomass products in Alaska having potential for development are as diverse as wood pellets, cordwood (firewood), compost, wood-plastic composite products, and liquid fuels. In addition, new technologies are allowing for more efficient use of biomass resources for heating and electrical generation at scales appropriate for community power. This case study review con- siders successes and lessons learned from current wood energy systems in Alaska, and also considers opportunities for future bioenergy development.
Keywords: Alaska, biomass, bioenergy, wood energy, renewable, cordwood, sawmill residues.


  1. And where are our Alaska made wood pellets? Think of all the alder that's wasted. Wait let's give the oil co's billions in tax breaks.

    One of 3 proposed pellet operations in Southeast Alaska


Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.