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Waste To Wisdom: Utilizing Forest Residues for the Production of Bioenergy and Biobased Products

H.-S. Han, A. Jacobson, E. M. Bilek, J. Sessions

Published in Applied Engineering in Agriculture 34(1): 5-10 (doi: 10.13031/aea.12774). 2018 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

Submitted for review in January 2018 as manuscript number ES 12774; approved for publication as part of the Waste to Wisdom Collection by the Energy SystemsCommunityof ASABE in January 2018.

Mention of company or trade names is for description only and does not imply endorsement by the USDA. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

The authors are Han-Sup Han, Professor, Ecological Restoration Institute, Norther Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona; Arne Jacobson, Professor, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California; E.M. (Ted) Bilek, Economist, USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin; and John Sessions, Professor, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Corresponding author: Han-Sup Han, PO Box 15017, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011; phone: 928-523-1049; e-mail:

The Waste to Wisdom project was part of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) and funded by the Department of Energy (DE-EE0006297) at an amount of $5.8 million. Our interdisciplinary research team, consisting of academics, business professionals, and land managers, worked together for about four years (September 2013 to December 2017) to: 1) conduct field-based experiments to develop innovative tools and systems that improve the economics, accessibility, and production of quality feedstocks from forest residues, 2) develop and test stand-alone in-woods or near-the-forest biomass conversion technologies (BCTs) for the production of biochar, torrefied wood, and briquettes, and 3) perform analyses to evaluate the economic feasibility of commercial deployment of BCTs and to quantify the life cycle economic and environmental benefits of utilizing forest residues with BCTs for the production of bioenergy and bioproducts. The research papers presented in this Special Issue cover key aspects of the research efforts and findings made by the project team. We encourage the audience to visit the project web site ( to learn more about the team’s research on feedstock development, biomass conversion technologies, and the financial and environmental benefits of utilizing forest residues for production of bioenergy and biobased products.

Keywords.Air quality, Biomass conversion technology, Forest harvesting, Woody biomass.

Forest residues, including un-merchantable and small-diameter trees, tops, and limbs, produced during thinning and timber harvest operations, can be used to produce renewable bioenergy and bioproducts. The more efficient utilization of forest residues could also help offset the high costs of forest restoration activities, fire hazard treatments, post-harvest activities, and forest management in general. Forest residues have long been underutilized and treated as waste materials because of their high collection and transportation costs, as well as their low market value. While open burning is often employed to dispose of forest residues, this practice generally results in substantial negative economic and environmental impacts, including increased forest management costs and reduced local air quality.

At present, the greatest obstacle to more effectively utilize forest residues is high transportation cost. The integration of biomass conversion technologies (BCTs) with new in-forest biomass operations could provide a cost-effective alternative to the long-distance transport of high moisture and low energy density forest residues. However, innovative new biomass feedstock technologies that produce high-quality feedstock materials from low-quality forest residues are needed to meet BCT feedstock specifications that include particle size and minimal contamination. BCTs can effectively convert comminuted forest residues into high-value fuels with desirable market characteristics (i.e., low moisture content and high energy density) and soil amendment products (i.e., biochar) in the woods, resulting in significantly-increased transportation efficiencies. Using a process that is either in-woods or near-the-forests would also provide substantial environmental benefits by displacing fossil fuels, improving forest health, reducing catastrophic wildfires, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The primary goal of the Waste to Wisdom project was to utilize waste forest residues to produce bioenergy and biobased products as a strategy to: 1) increase energy supply from renewable sources, 2) improve the environment, and 3) promote economic development in rural, forest-dependent communities in the western United States. Using forest residues as a feedstock for BCTs provides substantial social and economic benefits for rural, timber-dependent communities, including providing jobs for local workers and improving air quality through reduced emissions from open pile burns. In addition, converting forest residues into biochar is an effective strategy for carbon sequestration and improving the productivity of forest soils while reducing the incidence of catastrophic wildfires.

This special issue of Applied Engineering in Agriculture includes 14 articles that are based on research and findings from the Waste to Wisdom project. Three of the articles cover topics related to feedstock collection and preparation, including coverage of moisture management for forest residues (Kizha and Han, 2018), moisture content of baled biomass (Dooley et al., 2018), and feedstock preparation using screening technologies (Woo and Han et al., 2018). Another four articles focus on technical issues related to mobile biomass conversion technology deployment, including articles on torrefaction system performance (Severy et al., 2018a), commercial biochar production technology (Severy et al., 2018b; Eggink et al., 2018), and electricity generation from a commercial biomass gasification system (Palmer et al., 2018). Also covered are topics related to the economics and logistics of biomass conversion (Berry and Sessions, 2018a, 2018b), economic demand curves for biomass products made from forest residues (Sasatani and Easton, 2018), and analysis of bio-product supply chains (Berry et al., 2018). The issue additionally includes articles related to the life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas and other emissions from biomass briquette production and use (Alanya-Rosenbaum et al., 2018), biochar utilization for mine site restoration (Page-Dumroese et al., 2018), and public acceptance of forest processes related to biomass conversion of residues (Sasatani et al., 2018). Together, these articles cover a wide range of forestry, technical, and social science topics relevant to the effective and efficient utilization of forest residues. A summary of key findings from the Waste to Wisdom project is covered in the sections that follow.


Forest residues have long been underutilized and treated as waste materials because of their high collection and transportation costs as well as the low market value of forest residues. The Waste to Wisdom project was to improve the utilization of forest residues through the use of BCTs that operate at or near the forest. The lessons we learned from this project include operational logistics to produce quality feedstock from forest residues, technical specifications and capacity of BCTs, and socio-economic and environmental benefits from utilization of forest residues. The production of torrefied pellets and briquettes can strengthen energy sources by incorporating renewable fuels into current bioenergy and coal-fired energy facilities. In addition, converting forest residues into biochar is an effective strategy for carbon sequestration and improving the productivity of forest soils while reducing the incidence of catastrophic wildfires. The 14 articles presented in this Special Issue explain in detail the outcomes of the project in a number of key research topic areas, and we encourage the audience to visit the project web site ( to learn about the rest of the research outcomes, final reports, webinar presentations, and photo essays.


This material is based upon work supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy under the Biomass Research and Development Initiative program: Award Number DE-EE0006297.


Alanya-Rosenbaum, S., Bergman, R. D., Ganguly, I., & Pierobon, F. (2018). A comparative life-cycle assessment of briquetting logging residues and lumber manufacturing coproducts in Western United States. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 11-24.

Berry, M., & Sessions, J. (2018a). The economics of biomass logistics and conversion facility mobility: An Oregon case study. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 57-72.

Berry, M., & Sessions, J. (2018b). A forest-to-product biomass supply chain in the Pacific Northwest, USA: A multi-product approach. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 109-123.

Berry, M., Sessions, J., & Zamora-Cristales, R. (2018). Sub-regional comparison for forest-to-product biomass supply chains on the Pacific West Coast, USA. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 157-174.

Bisson, J. A., & Han, H.-S. (2016). Quality of feedstock produced from sorted forest residues. Am. J. Biomass Bioenergy, 5(2), 81-97.

Dooley, J. H., Wamsley, M. J., & Perry, J. M. (2018). Moisture content of baled forest and urban woody biomass during long-term open storage. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 223-228.

Eggink, A., Palmer, K., Severy, M., Carter, D., & Jacobson, A. (2018). Utilization of wet forest biomass as both the feedstock and electricity source for an integrated biochar production system. Appl. Eng. Agric.,34(1), 125-134.

Kizha, A. R., & Han, H.-S. (2016). Processing and sorting forest residues: Cost, productivity and managerial impacts. Biomass Bioenergy, 93, 97-106.

Kizha, A.R., H.-S. Han, J. Paulson, and A. Koirala. 2018. Strategies for reducing moisture content in forest residues at the harvest site. Appl. Eng. Agric.,34(1), 25-33.

Page-Dumroese, D. S., Ott, M. R., Strawn, D. G., & Tirocke, J. M. (2018). Using organic amendments to restore soil physical and chemical properties of a mine site in northeastern Oregon, USA. Appl. Eng. Agric.,34(1), 43-55.

Palmer, K. D., Severy, M. A., Chamberlin, C. E., Eggink, A. J., & Jacobson, A. E. (2018). Performance analysis of a biomass gasifier genset at varying operating conditions. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 135-143.

Sasatani, D., & Eastin, I. (2018). Demand curve estimation of locally produced woody biomass products. Appl. Eng. Agric.34(1), 145-155.

Sasatani, D., Eastin, I. L., Bowers, C. T., & Ganguly, I. (2018). Public acceptance of pre-commercial thinning and energy and soil amendment products from post-harvest residues in western forests of the U.S. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 99-108.

Severy, M. A., Chamberlin, C. E., Eggink, A. J., & Jacobson, A. E. (2018a). Demonstration of a pilot-scale plant for biomass torrefaction and briquetting. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 85-98.

Severy, M. A., Carter, D. J., Palmer, K. D., Eggink, A. J., Chamberlin, C. E., & Jacobson, A. E. (2018b). Performance and emissions control of commercial-scale biochar production unit. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 73-84.

Sifford C., Pierobon F., Ganguly I., Eastin I., Alvorado E., and Rogers L. (2018), Developing an Impact Assessment of Local Air Quality as a Result of Biomass Burns. CINTRAFOR WP 128. University of Washington, Seattle, pp 65.

Woo, H., & Han, H.-S. (2018). Performance of screening biomass feedstocks using star and deck screen machines. Appl. Eng. Agric., 34(1), 35-42.