Wood energy teams push for the use of fuel alternatives

By KBJR News 1

August 11, 2014 Updated Aug 11, 2014 at 10:57 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- The prices of propane continue to rise.

That's why a newly formed Minnesota Statewide Wood Energy Team is setting out to find alternatives for those who use propane to heat their buildings.

Some experts say using wood fuel is a great replacement to propane.

Propane prices spiked to $6.67 this past winter, forcing many business owners to make budget cuts in other areas.

"A lot of people just simply had great difficulty affording their energy bills," said Rolf Weberg director at the NRRI in Duluth.

In an effort to lower those costs and conserve energy, wood energy teams throughout Minnesota are pushing for fuel alternatives.

Officials with the NRRI here in Duluth say there are many benefits to using wood as an alternative to propane.

"Number one: it's sustainable and renewable. And number two is the price stability," said Weberg.

They say wood fuel comes in a variety of forms from chips and pellets to large wood chunks.

"Right now there's five and a half million tons of wood available, sustainably harvestable in Minnesota. Today we're only using 40% of that," said Weberg.

Weberg also says if you look at wood over the past couple of years prices have been pretty stable, especially in comparison to the continuously increasing rates for propane.

"It goes back to the old adage a penny saved is a penny earned in business," said Tom Hanson, co-owner of the Duluth Grill.

The NRRI is a core member of the newly formed Minnesota Statewide Wood Energy Team.

Members say they plan to go to Northland businesses to help owners better understand how to use woody biomass to benefit their businesses as well as the economy.

"Wood fuel, I mean if there's a possibility of utilizing it... we live in a region where wood is accessible and if we're bringing in utilities from half-way around the world, ya know, I think we should not eliminate that idea," said Hanson.

Administrators at the NRRI say there are currently 3,000,000 tons of wood material per year that go unused, representing a great deal of opportunity.

Local business owners feel it's their duty to conserve energy in whatever ways they are able.

"It's just kind of the right thing to do," said Hanson.

All in an effort to use Minnesota wood in Minnesota for Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Statewide Energy Team is funded by a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Elsa Robins