With high-tech wood pellets and efficient burners, brothers push forest biomass as energy good for Oregon
By: Eric Mortenson
ST. HELENS — It could be the ultimate expression of a heated sibling rivalry. The younger brother makes something and the older one burns it up.
But in this case, Chris and Francis Sharron are partners in a problematic revival of the oldest human heating method: setting fire to wood.
Chris Sharron’s West Oregon Wood Products compresses mill sawdust and shavings into wood pellets. His plants have a combined production capacity of 80,000 tons annually, and he employs 50 to 60 people.
Five minutes away, his older brother’s SolaGen Inc. employs 15 to 20 engineers, fabricators and support staff who build large, high-tech burners and boilers. The systems burn pellets to heat schools, hospitals and other facilities, saving thousands on heating bills.
All of which sounds great, and Oregon’s 2005 Renewable Energy Action Plan calls for hot pursuit of wind, solar, geothermal, biogas and biomass — wood and other plant material. But the Sharrons — you wouldn’t be the first to call them the Biomass Brothers — say it isn’t simple being retro industrial manufacturers working on the edge of alternative energy.
“All renewables have tremendous difficulty competing against fossil fuels,” says Francis Sharron. “We’re an ant that can be squashed at any time.”