A biomass plant located in Placer County, California, has developed a use for the dead trees covering the local landscape. Biomass is a source of energy that can be released, usually from burning wood or other organic matter. Due to the challenges of our current environment, new businesses such as these are being born.
One of the places where the innovative technology is being utilized the most is in the Sierra National Forest, where there are presently too many dead trees. In the past seven years, the California “die-off” crisis has claimed more than 102 million trees, which occupy more than eight million acres.
At the Rio Bravo Rocklin Biomass plant, they burn the trees to generate energy and electricity to run the plant. The Placer County facility receives between 25 and 40 truckloads of the state’s dead trees each day. “There’s a good amount that’s available to us right now. It’s good fuel for the plant,” said a plant manager. “We take woody waste material and put it in a boiler. The flame generates heat, which generates steam, which creates electricity.”
In addition to producing energy, there are other ways to put dead, rotted and even beetle-infested wood to use, and other companies are capitalizing on it. “We got into this because we want to help solve a problem,” said Sam Schabacker, co-founder of Sapphire Pine, a start-up furniture company that uses lumber from California’s devastated forests.
Sapphire’s other co-founder, Sandra Lupien, explains, “The pests, when alive, causes a fungus that leaves behind a bluish hue. It changes the color tones of the grain. So it creates these beautiful colors.”
“Instead of cutting down healthy trees, we can use trees that have already succumbed,” says Lupien. “We’re really hoping that people will have deeper conversations about what is happening with our forests in California.”
While the re-use of wood has become big business for some companies, the message is clear that what’s most important is the environment.