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FOREST INK: New approaches for solving air pollution

A net zero approach to the problem
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for Black Press.

New Deli is one of the most air polluted cities in India (perhaps the world). The pollution is due to a variety of activities but the worst is from farmers surrounding Deli burning crop stubble left over from the harvest.

Some cities in China had a similar problem until they went to a net zero approach to the problem. The straw is bailed up and taken to a pyrolysis plant where it is turned into oil, biochar and electricity fed into the grid. The oil is used to power the tractors moving the materials to and from the fields and biochar is returned to the fields to maintain soil carbon.

Lead author Steven Davis and a group of scientists from University of California, Irvine are suggesting avoiding agriculture altogether to produce some basic foods. Their approach is to use wide scale synthetic production of dietary fats through chemical and biological processes.

The raw materials for this method are the same as those used by plants: hydrogen in water and carbon dioxide in the air. They are not proposing the synthesis of whole fruits or vegetables but additives like palm oil used in many foods which is blamed for deforestation of many tropical forests. Their calculations show a lot less hydrocarbon is used to end up with a product that would not taste any different than the palm oil.

The management of harvest residues is an ongoing challenge for British Columbia operators who are trying to balance wildfire fuel loading, planting space, and financial, operational, and regulatory constraints. Society’s concerns about carbon emissions have been added to that list and practices will have to change.

Lead author Eric Nance and a team of researchers identify potential management alternatives to slash pile burning (SPB) that would make better use of residual fibre across a range of operational conditions in B.C. A number of alternatives are listed in the February 2023 issue of Canadian Biomass.

“Common practice in the industry today includes either leaving residues piled in the cutting area to decompose or open-burning residues with the practice of slash-pile burning (SPB). While these low-cost treatments may meet the minimum management requirements, more needs to be done to improve their use and management moving forward.”

Some of the alternatives include the following: Redistribution of materials after whole-tree harvesting, Brush-mats and road amendments, leave large material in oriented piles, mobile burning containers, make residuals into liquid and solid biofuels and many other products.

The authors present a path forward as follows: “Residue management is complex and has interactions with many environmental (e.g., fire risk) and operational (e.g., transportation distances) factors, creating a system that is highly dependent on site- level conditions – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Where possible, residues should be used in the bioeconomy, whether that be for energy production, or small-scale products manufacturing. These opportunities can provide GHG emissions benefits relative to the business-as-usual practices, increase timber supply, and provide job opportunities for British Columbians. Residues are a component of the fibre profile alongside the others, which should be managed with as much care and stewardship as the high-value logs that B.C. is known for. The more we start planning for residues as we lay out our cutblocks, and not as an afterthought once the logs are gone, the more operational efficiencies we will be able to command, the lower our costs will be for treatment and processing, and the smaller our emissions will be in the forest.”

In the past slash piles were considered by some to be potential habitat for some forest creatures but as Greeny Lake trapper Paul Blackwell pointed out in the Nov. 9. 2023 issue of the Tribune, they could be deadly for hibernating black bears if burned during the winter. In future articles we could look more closely at some of the alternatives listed above which could minimize the danger to bears and other critters.

READ MORE: FOREST INK: Company invests $10M in biochar

READ MORE: Greeny Lake trapper raising alarm about slash piles

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