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Sawdust and Wood Waste

The tremendous amount of waste wood and sawdust generated by the lumber industry is a potential alternative energy source.

Mitch Kezar/Getty Images

This idea might sound outlandish - how could we generate enough sawdust to generate a useful amount of energy? The average U.S. saw mill processed 7.1 million board-feet of lumber in 2001 alone [source: Bowe, et al]. Multiply that by the number of mills worldwide, and we're talking about a lot of sawdust.

All the waste material from industrial wood processing is generally discarded, and we're talking tons of wood waste here. Some of it's reprocessed into particle board or into wood pellets for stoves, but there's still a lot of unused waste wood out there. When left to rot, wood waste is actually an environmental hazard that generates methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

One solution is to ship the sawdust to a power plant designed to burn it. The heat is used to generate electricity. The idea is more than feasible, it's already in practice -- a 14-megawatt wood waste power plant is being built in Nigeria. Sawdust from nearby mills will be shipped to the plant, and the electricity generated will in turn be used to power the wood mills, with enough energy left over to sell to the national power company [source: Energy Resource].

The next alternative fuel idea will probably make you wrinkle up your nose, but Canada is willing to give it a go. Why shouldn't you?

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