How is WRBU different from other energy producers?
Combined-heat-and-power (CHP) is a relatively new concept among electrical-power generators. Our heat customers (greenhouses, dryer operations, and space heating in nearby buildings) raise the conversion efficiency of the potential energy of the wood to usable heat from less than 20% (conventional electrical generation using thermal processes) to 80% and higher. In addition to producing thermal (heat) and electrical power from ‘waste’ wood, we will have biochar as a byproduct from the gasified biomass and will kiln-dry firewood from ‘waste’ heat.
Our aim is to be efficient in all aspects of our endeavor. One aspect of this goal: our research and experience shows us that we can purchase the woody biomass from sites within a 25-mile radius of our location. This reduces transportation costs – and fuel consumption – compared to large-scale users of woody biomass, who buy from sources that are often hundreds of miles from their operations.
What is the market environment?
Locally, we have the benefit of being the producer of both electrical and thermal power for all commercial, greenhouse agricultural, and light-industrial businesses at the Wind River Business Park in Stabler (near Carson) WA. Demand for our residential firewood, plus bundled campfire wood to WA State Parks in our region, has increased in spite of many ‘hobby’ firewood operations in the area.
We are also within 60 miles of major metropolitan areas (Portland, OR & Vancouver, WA) where there is a consistent need for more baseload renewable power to meet their needs. There are incentives and mandates for the use of renewable energy that drive high demand for alternatives to fossil fuels in California, Oregon, and Washington.
Biochar is a growing market with good academic support for applications at many state agricultural universities. We are members of the International Biochar Initiative, which includes product developers, sales companies, and marketing organizations.
Our aquaponic greenhouse division, Gorge Greens, is filling several identified gaps in the local food system, The first is around the availability of fresh greens from October through April. Currently, there is no mid-size producer within 500 miles of Portland meeting this demand and produce is trucked in from California. The second is Barramundi – no one is growing Barramundi at the scale we are proposing here on the West Coast. Third is our paprika project. We plan on changing peoples’ perceptions of what paprika could and should taste like. Fourth is the habanada (heatless habanero) market. This is a brand new pepper variety that no one is producing a sauce with at the time of our business development. Black soldier fly larvae fill another niche – specifically around converting food waste into chicken and fish feed. Our sales figures are set at wholesale rates but we’ll be selling direct to consumers for the first year as we develop our contracts.
What do you understand about your business that others don’t get?
The plan for our Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facility is based on high-efficiency processes and local resources that create a sustainable system of capture of raw materials, efficient conversion to energy, and low-cost output of diverse products. Furthermore, all four of the founders have extensive experience, passion, knowledge, and the connections to launch a successful CHP facility.
Who are your competitors? How are you different?
There is one combined-heat-and-power (CHP) operation in our area. SDS Lumber currently utilizes their own wood waste to create kiln-dried lumber and occasionally sells power back to the electrical grid. We do not see them as competitors as we are focused on providing heat and power for our own operations and to our direct neighbors within the Wind River Business Park.
What’s your biggest risk?
The main risk that we see is potential inability to capture sufficient capital to reach our full-scale, integrated operation. Biomass, and renewable energy in general, does not have the political and investment support today that it enjoyed a few years ago. Our plan does allow our business to survive with reduced capital funding from our target ($3 million total), but it will not create the profits that are available at fully integrated build-out.
On the greenhouse side, snow load and high winds are always the stuff of Greenhouse Grower nightmares. We are employing every engineering trick in the book to avoid collapse of our greenhouses.
How will you make money?
Our revenue currently comes from the sale of firewood – bundled campfire wood to 11 local campgrounds and 1 local market and cordwood to local consumers. When fully operational, our revenue will come from electrical power (16%), heat via hot water (30%), biochar (28%), and heat-treated firewood (26%). Kiln-dried firewood will provide a reasonable margin of profit as well and is particularly important to the optimization of our system in that the heat will be re-directed from the greenhouses, when that operation needs low or no heat (e.g., summer months, sunny days). The greenhouse products will provide roughly 1/3 of total sales of the WRBU.
What motivated the 4 owners to start this business?
We’re long-term community members with a deep commitment to our neighbors and to the forests. This woody-biomass-based business and greenhouses will create family-wage jobs, build demand for ‘waste’ wood from our forests that will help to support management activities such as fuels reduction, grow nutritious food, and support an expansion of businesses at the Wind River Business Park by supplying renewable energy to them.
How do you acquire customers?
Our firewood business is currently growing by word-of-mouth, advertising, and local economic development organizations. Electrical power demand is higher than the available supply at the Wind River Business Park (our site is part of the WRBP). Heat demand depends on the establishment of a greenhouse operation. As to biochar – we are members of the International Biochar Initiative, which includes product developers, sales companies, and marketing organizations. After year one, the greenhouses will have secured contracts with retailers after having developed a following via the Farmers Markets in the area.
What assures our access to raw material?
Currently, biomass is a costly waste product and our goal is to convert it into a valuable resource.
A Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) report from 2012 and the Hood River County (Oregon) biomass study from 2007 show that annual biomass supply in our area is several times greater than our projected maximum use. A Washington State University study from 2005 estimated that logging slash alone in our area would approximately equal our projected demand.
Waste food biomass is also currently clogging up sewers in the county and getting trucked to the landfill. We’ll mitigate that by offering discounts on produce when breweries, restaurants and grocery stores provide us with their food waste.
Still have questions? Ask us!