by Brooks Hays
Corvallis, Ore. (UPI) Dec 28, 2016
There has been some thought among those in the fields of forestry and rural development that biomass processing plants might offer an economic boost to rural communities.
But a new study by economists at Oregon State University suggests the costs are simply too steep for a biomass operation to be sustainable without subsidies.
"There's a lot of interest in focusing on the use of biomass to meet multiple objectives, one of which is support for rural communities," lead researcher Mindy Crandall, now an assistant professor at the University of Maine, said in a news release.
"We thought this might provide some support for that idea," Crandall said. "But from a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn't all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support."
Biomass are the branches and treetops left behind by timber harvesting operations. The biomass can be collected, chipped and processed to create fuel.
Researchers suggest future improvements in the efficiency biomass operations through technological improvements, as well as the opening up of new applications and new markets, could be spurred by public investment.
But as it currently exists, the market is unlikely to support biomass operations in rural locations. The latest analysis -- detailed in the journal Forest Policy and Economics -- suggests transportation costs are just too high.
Scientists looked at how the economics of biomass operations would play out in 65 potential locations in western Oregon. Operation and transportation costs are too high and the market value of biofuel is too low to sustain rural operations, researchers found.
"Just like with real estate, it's 'location, location, location' that matters here, and national forest lands are not uniformly distributed across the landscape," said study co-author Darius Adams. "They are frequently in less accessible areas, and it would cost more to transport material."
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