Woody Biomass Crops


Most of the biomass projects currently taking place in Alaska rely on timber harvested or culled from the surrounding area. However, there is the possibility of growing biomass for use in Alaska. These types of projects in other areas have shown that quick growing biomass does have potential for commercialization, notably projects in New York and Sweden have provided valuable data.1

In 2009, The University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences and the Alaska Center for Energy and Power published a report on growing woody biomass for fuel. This report gave a brief overview of projects, and addressed them in terms of Alaska. In the conclusion of this report, they specified that the following areas needing research.

  • Which species will grow the fastest and produce the largest amount of biomass?
  • How long should the plants grow before coppicing?
  • How much biomass will they produce in 3, 5, 8 years?
  • What types and levels of fertilizers will they need?
  • What is the best way to plant the chosen species?
  • How much weed control is required?
  • Which weed control systems will not harm the biomass species?
  • When is the best time to harvest the biomass? In the fourth year? During the fall or winter?
  • How much is a power plant willing to pay per ton? Is it cost effective to grow?2

Project Objectives

Further research on Alaskan woody biomass crops has been continued addressing some of questions asked in the 2009 report.

Identifying appropriate short rotation crops for woody biomass fuel production could provide great benefits to Alaskans by lowering their dependence on costly fossil fuels. Additionally, these crops could possibly be grown in or near communities utilizing biomass technology reducing transportation costs.

Woody biomass like willow and poplar have around an 8000-10,000 BTU/lb potential compared to coal BTU potential which is around 8000-13,000 BTUs/lb. In unmanaged plots in Alaska, yields were between .5 and 3 tons/acre after 3-5 years for willow and 5-7 years for poplar.3

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