Timberland

Timber and land are both concrete, non-ephemeral, and always have some use, regardless of whether markets tank or not. As commented over on Seeking Alpha, true biologically-based “growth cycles,” mostly disconnected from from men-in-suits’ idiocracy – a level of insulation that may as well put it on a different planet. You also have about 1-5+ years to delay harvest in case of down prices.

Regarding wood as fuel: there are some “old school” technologies which make it quite comparable to oil, especially at $60+ a barrel prices.

Combined Heat and Power plants – also known as Cogeneration – deliver energy in the form of both electricity and heat.

In Denmark, for example, several cities operate District Heating systems, whereby heat is literally piped into buildings and apartment as a utility, form CHP plants.

Wood pellets act in some ways like a “liquid” in terms of storage tanks, and can be used in individual suburban and even some urban contexts with a high level of automation in burners. Pellets do require an intermediate manufacturing process involving heat, moisture and pressurisation. They also need to be below a certain percentage moisture, or are less effective.

Wood chips have some advantage in requiring less intermediate processing, are a bit less fussy concerning moisture. In Ireland, some institutions, such as hotels, use woodchip burners quite effectively. It’s also possible for companies to sell the heat, rather than the pellets, by renting container-like units that operate on-site, containing the burner and storage tanks, which are then maintained by the heat-utility company.

An advantage with both of these can be the use of thinnings from forestry, which might normally be a drain.

One key issue when bringing these fuels to market, is the level of intermediary processing; one estimate (I think) is that every time a tonne of the wood is handled, you subtract €5. And the more that a company can add value (e.g. through processing the wood for pellets) especially on-site, the more financial value can be reclaimed from the market, rather than just selling a raw commodity.

Wood-gas burners are another old, very efficient and proven technology with a high level of modern technological development. They’ve also been used – and can be still – in automotive contexts, believe it or not. FEMA even issued a do-it-yourself handbook for farmers in case of national emergency. The process involves heating the wood to release the gas, which is then burned, and is not very complicated.

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