A company interested in building a wood pellet export terminal in Charleston and a pellet mill near Winnsboro will spend $3.8 million to research the types of trees that can be burned for electricity production.
Abengoa Energy Crops, whose proposal for the terminal is under fire from environmentalists, revealed the research plan in a joint announcement Wednesday with Clemson University.
The research will, among other things, look at developing certain trees as feedstock for biomass plants, Clemson said in a news release.
Biomass plants burn wood and wood pellets to make electricity. Pellet mills rely on limbs and other types of waste wood to make pellets that can be burned in biomass plants.
Green organizations say some mills also threaten forests by using whole trees, which could clear-cut parts of the landscape and drive away wildlife.
Clemson researchers say the study is in part to find a sustainable source of biomass material. The research will examine how well different hardwoods and conifers would work as sources of biomass energy.
“Field research is needed to evaluate where both limitations and opportunities exist for these new crops,” Abengoa Energy’s Fabian Capdevielle is quoted as saying in the university’s statement.
About a half-dozen pellet mills already are planned for South Carolina, mostly in the western and central interior portions of the state, the Southern Environmnental Law Center says. Pellets brought to the Charleston terminal would likely be exported to Europe, where countries increasingly are relying on pellet-burning biomass plants to make electricity.
Abengoa, a Spanish energy corporation, has not commented on its plan for a pellet terminal on the Cooper River. It also plans a pellet mill in Winnsboro north of Columbia, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Abengoa and another company, Kinder Morgan, have applied for federal environmental permits to establish export terminals in Charleston.
Environmentalists say a new Charleston terminal could increase the number of mills to supply the facility. More mills could cause large swaths of forests to be chopped, environmentalists say. Forest industry officials dispute that.
“South Carolina doesn’t need the wake of destruction that is going to come with this industry,’’ said Scot Quaranda, communications director with the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental group in western North Carolina.