During 2017 Bioeconomy Investment Summit, I had a pleasure to meet and interview professor Jacek Siry from University of Georgia (UGA) Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business. We talked about renewable energy in U.S. and Europe, Metsä Group’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, and the future of bioeconomy concept in the years to come.
First, thank you Professor Siry for accepting the interview invitation. On behalf of Forest Monitor readers’, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. Second, I would like to sincerely congratulate you and your co-authors that book „Forest Management and Planning” has awaited its second edition recently.
It seems that bioeconomy is a big issue in Europe. How does the situation look like in United States?
– The answer depends on how one defines bioeconomy. In the United States renewable energy receives much attention in parts of the country and the same can be said about Europe; however, the United States does not appear inclined to use forest biomass energy on the scale experienced in Europe.
During the Summit, we had a chance to visit the Metsä Group’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, which is often presented as the largest investment of the forest industry in Finland, and even in Europe. Have this bioproduct mill impressed you, and what about such investments in Southeastern United States?
– We had an opportunity to listen to a couple of presentations and then drive through the mill and see the final product assembly line. The mill appears to represent the state of the art technology and that obviously is an attractive feature. The environmental impacts are minimized and the mill is a significant source of bioenergy. In addition to making paper, the mill also has a potential to develop other products lines (e.g., utilization of lignin) should market opportunities arise. At the same time, it still falls into the category of classical pulp and paper mills. We certainly would welcome such investments in the Southeastern United States but the development of such projects can be challenging, with securing environmental permits being particularly difficult.
It seems, at least to me, that whole this bioeconomy in Europe is mostly policy-driven. How does it look in U.S.? Is there a lot of government interventions or the system is more market-oriented?
-It certainly seems to be the case in Europe particularly with respect to industrial uses, in addition to high energy prices. In the United States there is some government intervention supporting new sectors of the economy and trying to help the struggling ones. Corn ethanol would be one example of such government intervention. But on the forestry side, the system is much more market oriented. The forest products industry has made great progress in conserving and using bioenergy in manufacturing. Power co-generation at pulp mills and wood based lumber drying are widespread examples. In parts of the United States forest biomass is used for heating purposes but, by and large, it is too expensive in comparison with other energy sources such as natural gas or coal.
Do you think that the bioeconomy concept will survive in coming years, or it will be replaced by any other beautiful sounding word?
– It is hard to make predictions especially about the future but I suspect that the bioeconomy concept will be alive in some form and shape in the years to come.
Prof. Siry, I know that you come from originally from Poland. Poland, as well as few other countries, relies strongly on coal or other fossil fuels. Do you think that bioeconomy is against Polish interests in using their own abundant fossil fuel resources?
-It does not appear to me so. It may be just another opportunity to somewhat diversify energy sources where it makes sense and develop new sectors of the economy. Now, I do not know much about current energy policies in Poland. Suppling a country with energy is a challenging and expensive task. As an economist, I would analyze the cost and benefits of various approaches to choose the best ones. Then there are energy security concerns which often trump economic and other considerations. True, coal has been in Poland a major source of energy for decades but it comes with heavy costs, including environmental damage. Renewable energy, including forest biomass, however, are not without challenges of their own. It appears to me that Poland will continue to rely on coal for years to come, but I hope that more efficient coal power generation technologies will limit some of the negative impacts. Then the development of renewable sources, energy conservation, and new technologies will help to provide energy for the country’s needs.
And last one. What are your plans for 2018?
– We are just about one year ahead of The Harley Langdale Jr, Center for Forest Business’ 2019 Timberland Investment Conference. Given its size and scope, we will spend much time and effort developing this world’s premier timberland investment event.
More information about the conference and the Center is available at: http://www.ugacfb.com/timberlandasset/
Dr. Siry’s expertise includes international investments and finance, business management, and policy; wood products trade, availability, and costs; and forest management across the world’s leading wood supply regions. His research is focused on the global competitiveness of forest industries, international forest investments, timber market modeling, and forest management efficiency.
Main photo: Together with professor Jacek Siry I had a chance to visit Metsä Group’s bioproduct mill in Äänekoski during 2017 Bioeconomy Investment Summit.
Professor Jacek Siry will be also one of the speakers during International Forest Business Conference 2018, which will take place between 6-8th June 2018, in northern Poland.