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Belmont’s Research Highlighted By National Publications

September 16, 2016
Erica Belmont and Emily Beagle discuss biomass materials in a lab.
Erica Belmont and Emily Beagle discuss biomass materials in a lab.

Energy-production research from the University of Wyoming is in the national spotlight.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Erica Belmont and graduate student Emily Beagle published a paper in Energy Policy Journal, titled “Technoeconomic assessment of beetle kill biomass co-firing in existing coal fired power plants in the Western United States.” That publication explores whether it would make sense to use beetle-kill and other dead timber in existing coal plants, which can be “co-fired” with wood.

The highlights of the report were published in an article in the Washington Post on Sept. 8.

Author Chris Mooney writes that California has nearly 70 million dead trees, killed by drought or bark beetles. Their fate includes decomposition, wildfire or intentional incineration. In recent years, beetle infestations have affected forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

“About 100,000 beetle-kill trees fall every day in Wyoming and northern Colorado, to give you an idea of the order of magnitude,” Belmont says.

The Post goes on to state it’s unlikely that coal plants will spend money to round up dead trees, transport and burn them. But there are sources of possible funding. The U.S. Forest Service is currently spending considerable money to treat forests and rid them of these dangerous trees.

Belmont’s study suggest that money could potentially be given to the companies that burn them for energy instead.

“Moreover, coal plants are facing strong climate regulations, in the form of the pending Clean Power Plan,” Mooney writes. “In this regulatory context, burning trees that are already destined to decompose, catch fire, or be incinerated—and thus, give off greenhouse gases to the atmosphere no matter what—could conceivably supplant some of coal’s voluminous emissions.”

Belmont points to upcoming regulations as an incentive.

“Without those regulations, there would have to be some incentive for them to want to do this, because it is additional complexity to them,” she says.

The Washington Post article can be accessed fully here, and the study also was picked up recently by S&P Global.

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