Georgia's Biomass Industry

The recession hit Georgia’s forestry industry, the second largest in the state, hard. The industry lost over 40,000 direct and indirect employees between 2006 and 2010. This was a disastrous blow to 47 counties within Georgia that are dependent on the state’s forests.
However in recent years, Georgia’s forestry economy has rebounded due in part to the increased demand for timber within the biomass industry. Georgia currently has 32 bioenergy projects, either proposed or in operation. Its 32 projects rank Georgia second in the nation, behind California’s 33.

In 2005, the Georgia Forestry Commission did an initial assessment of forest biomass, showing that Georgia forests had the potential to produce 45 million dry tons annually for use in energy and other product scenarios. However, only 5% of more than 3.5 million dry tons of logging residues produced per year are currently used. Biomass products are greatly underutilized.
Bioenergy projects are investing millions of dollars in rural communities hit hard by the recession. Georgia’s over 24.7 million acres of timberland, miles of railway, and proximity to the coast, with its major (and growing) port in Savannah are of pique interest to the biomass industry. Georgia is home to the fastest growing deep-water ports in the US, and their capabilities are being upgraded. Gov. Nathan Deal allocated more than $134.4 million and proposed $46 million to deepen the Port of Savannah to accommodate super-sized container ships.
Biomass goes beyond using timber for pellets, however. Biomass can come from agricultural residues (i.e. chicken litter), agricultural crops (i.e. ethanol from corn), and other crops (i.e. long grasses). Biomass to energy is such an appealing product because of its renewability, sustainability, and negative carbon footprint.
For example, most ethanol in the US is made from corn. Corn ethanol has many benefits such as the locality of the product, whereas other fuels have to be transported great distances, and it results in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, a byproduct of the manufacturing of corn ethanol is a high-protein animal feed used in the US and overseas. The primary downside to corn ethanol is the increased demand for corn, negatively affecting the price of feed for livestock and driving up prices of both corn and meats. Corn ethanol is the first generation of biofuels.
Ethanol made from wood and other plant products (cellulose ethanol) is not as expansive as the production as corn ethanol. However this would be an ideal source of energy due to the fact that cellulose ethanol is derived from non-food sources and would neither drive up the cost of corn nor livestock. Additionally, the total energy produced by combustion of wood pellets is 9 to 14 times the amount of fossil fuel energy that is needed to produce the pellets.
The increase of bioenergy production will eventually result in higher market demands and higher values for small diameter timber. The market improvements will make forest management more profitable. The Georgia Forestry Commission recommends that as the biomass market and values increase landowners should plant higher tree densities followed by earlier thinning to increase the financial returns. Additionally, beetle-damaged timber can be used and invasive species controlled by turning them into biomass products.
Georgia’s timberlands are growing significantly more than they are being harvested. GFC estimates 9 million tons more growth than harvested. As more and more biomass projects locate to Georgia, pellet producers will have to compete with each other as well as other forestry-related industries, while remaining sustainable. Also, as the EU creates a higher demand for renewable energy use, Georgia’s location and ports with timber availabilities will be the prime market supplier.
This is a prime situation for the nonindustrial private forestland owner because it means that the various industries will be competing for their timber. Taxpayers are eligible for credits when they transport or divert wood waste to biomass facilities on a per-ton basis. Georgia offers tax credits to taxpayers and biomass projects. The USDA also has a vested interest in seeing the biomass industry grow in Georgia. To date, the USDA has invested up to $450 million in biomass projects in the state.
Follow the link to see the map compiled by the GFC on the Bioenergy Industry in Georgia