What We’re Reading: Twin Cities Metro Area Emerald Ash Borer Wood Waste Study

May 1, 2023 | | Education

Baseball bat enthusiasts and outdoor enthusiasts may appear to have little in common. Yet, they are both concerned about the impact of the emerald ash borer in Minnesota and several other states. The former are concerned because the emerald ash borer beetles have reduced ash trees so dramatically that most major league baseball players have switched to using maple bats after fifty years of ash dominance. On the other hand, outdoor enthusiasts are concerned about the devastating environmental impacts of the widespread emerald ash borer infestation.

The emerald ash borer is a pest that burrows in ash trees and produces larvae that feed on tree bark, disrupting nutrient and water exchange and eventually killing the tree. It was first discovered in Minnesota in 2009. Today, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates that Emerald Ash Borer has spread to at least 40 counties. Minnesota has one billion ash trees, all threatened by Emerald Ash Borer.

A recent study by Cambium Carbon for the Partnership on Waste and Energy examines Emerald Ash Borer’s threat to the Twin Cities. It highlights that the emerald ash borer decimates ash trees and increases wood waste faster than current markets can process the material.

According to projections by Cambium Carbon, Minnesota will have over half a million tons of annual wood waste in 2028, up from 400,000 tons in 2022. This finding underscores the need for increased wood waste management capacity within the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Key takeaways from the study:

  • The emerald ash borer is causing an increase in the volume of wood waste flowing through the Twin Cities wood biomass management system from 394.9 thousand tons in 2022 to a projected 497.2 thousand tons in 2027: a 26 percent increase.
  • The increased volume of bug-kill wood creates opportunities to seek alternative uses for wood waste, such as expanding wood utilization in biomass products, supporting existing biomass processing facilities and budding tree care small businesses.
  • Implementing and centralizing reporting requirements for organizations managing woody biomass to track and identify trends and inform management strategies.

The report assessed the amount of wood waste currently managed, existing management methods, and opportunities for alternative end uses. The study did the following to achieve those goals:

  • Quantified emerald ash borer and its impacts in Minnesota and the Twin Cities area
  • Conducted interviews with tree care and wood generation groups, biomass utilization and processing groups, and government and policy partners to assess existing wood waste management practices
  • Mapped wood waste flows in the Twin Cities area, revealing a reliance on District Energy and growth potential in lumber and biochar markets

The study concluded by offering recommendations to improve wood waste management in the Twin Cities area. Those recommendations included supporting infrastructure such as biomass energy plants and compost facilities, establishing policy incentives to expand wood utilization in lumber products, and developing report requirements for wood waste processing and tree removals.

The study also underscored the importance of the Minnesota Bioincentive Program in expanding woody biomass markets: “The Bioincentive Program presents an existing mechanism for growing markets for targeted value-added wood products”. Fully funding the program, a top priority of the Bioeconomy Coalition of Minnesota, could incentivize using Emerald Ash Borer waste wood to create biobased products.

Read the complete study published on the Partnership on Waste and Energy’s website.