This initiative involves the work of academics from our university, led by Ricardo Baettig, from the department of forest sciences.

March 24, 2017

The timely opportunity to take advantage of wood burned by the fires, for economic purposes, is proposed by a research project of the University of Talca, aiming at reducing the risk of forest fires through the use of agricultural crops stubble and even weeds to produce pellets for heating purposes.
This initiative, headed by researcher Ricardo Baettig, from the Department of Forestry Sciences of the University of Talca, that also includes Professor German Lobos, from the Department of Economics and Business (FEN) on the economic evaluation, and Jaime Tapia, from the Institute of Chemistry of Natural Resources, on the chemical analysis, is funded by the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness in the Maule Region (FIC-R).
The idea came from the need to contribute in solving the problem of the emission of particulate air pollutants, a problem faced by a vast zone, from Rancagua to the south, as a result of burning wood, a consequence that the combustion of pellets does not have, an input also used in industrial boilers.
"Pellets costs twice as much as firewood, but there are a lot of available biomass and it is little used or not used at all, such as the debris from cereal crops, agro-residues in wine and olive oil, also some nuts, corncobs, peach pits and corn," said Ricardo Baettig.
"This residual biomass is being underutilized and when conveniently combined with low percentages of wood, it agglomerates as pellets or briquettes and makes it possible to use it for home heating in stoves and industrial boilers," he added.
"In this regard, we are testing with unconventional waste, such as peri-urban weeds, such as thistles, litter of pine forests, and also wood from burned forests," he said.
Baettig explained that the post-harvest debris is usually burned - between April and May - what produces pollution. An alternative is to process them with machinery and incorporate them mixed to the ground, with the drawback of allelopathic chemicals that create problems for a while, which is detrimental to a new planting.
He explained that such problems are related to the inhibition of neighboring plants growth or seed germination, caused by certain natural chemical compounds in the leaf litter and debris.
It is the same phenomenon that occurs with the needles of the pine and eucalyptus leaves. He noted, however, that the wood of pine and other species have a wide margin of quality which makes them interesting compatibles to be mixed with other biomass and meet the international standards of quality. This scenario led Ricardo Baettig to undertake a study in order to check the technical and economic feasibility of taking advantage of the residual biomass, one of whose disadvantages is its spatial dispersion, for which it would be necessary to consider the costs of collecting.
"If you can get a cheaper product, it will be a success because it would lower the price of pellets and solve the problem of the stubble, that could then be sold", he said. At the same time, he emphasized that the incineration of biomass for energy purposes constitutes an opportunity to contribute to reduce the cost of energy, reduce the carbon footprint in Chile and lower the dependence of the national energy matrix on imported fuels.
 Waste In Linares
 On the availability of this source of biomass in the Maule Region, the researcher noted that a province that generates waste in abundance is Linares since it has the 50% of the area planted with maize and almost 100% of the rice in Chile, "therefore, it is a province that has an enormous potential to produce energy from biomass."
On the other hand, he remarked that the collection and removing the dead foliage in pine plantations for its use as a biofuel is something that is promoted in some countries, in order to reduce its flammability and generate a desirable use from an environmental point of view. "Agricultural cereal stubbles can also be the focus for fires that start in these agricultural sites and spread to the forests, so the removal of part of this debris is beneficial, in addition it reduces the inconvenience caused by the allelopathic effects of this material on the ground," he said.