The forest products industry contributes $14 billion a year to Michigan's economy. Energy is part of those economics, accounting for about 25% of the goods and services produced by our forest resources. Biomass fuel markets provide a market for low-value wood fiber produced as a result of commercial timber harvest, and in the manufacture of paper, board and lumber. This helps lower the cost of the goods and services provided by these industries.
The cost of everything goes down when waste is eliminated. Everyone benefits when all our resources are put to good use and not thrown away. Biomass power does that with wood, as well as other materials that pose problems at landfills or have better use as alternative fuels.
The majority of biomass fuel in Michigan comes from harvest residuals, like tops, limbs and other forest-based byproducts that don't have other markets. This includes slabs cut from the saw log to turn it into a square saw timber, or the bark removed from the log before it's processed into pulp for cardboard. Paper, lumber and board mills produce sawdust and other wood byproducts that can also be used for energy. Biomass fuel markets provide markets for these materials, reducing the cost of these products to consumers.
Each year, millions of tons of wood end up in landfills. This takes up landfill space that would be better used for things that can't be recycled. Diverting wood from landfills prevents that wood from decaying and producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Biomass power diverts clean "recycled wood," such as broken crates, pallets and other wood gleaned from the waste stream and extracts energy from it. It also collects "green" wood from storm cleanup, landscaping debris, land clearing and power line and road right-of-way maintenance – all going into energy.
Wood isn't the only material that biomass power plants divert from landfills. In proper amounts, and under the requirements of their operating permits, biomass power plants blend "alternative" fuels into their wood fuels. This keeps these materials out of landfills and improves emissions at the power plants.
Michigan drivers generate 8 million scrap tires a year. Tires are almost indestructible and are banned from Michigan landfills. Under the state's scrap tire management program, these tires are collected and sold into markets, the largest being tire-derived fuel (TDF). Blended into wood fuel in small amounts, TDF improves biomass power plant performance and reduces total air emissions.
Like scrap tires, old railroad ties treated with creosote are managed as a solid waste and are not accepted at most landfills. Like TDF, they are ground and blended in small amounts with regular wood fuel, improving power plant performance and reducing total air emissions.