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After 35 years in the logging business, Beau Butler, a member of Choctaw Electric Co-op, was forced to consider cutting something other than the trees: his workforce. Instead, he chose to look past the treetops to the stars, hoping his new plan would make them align.

By Hayley Imel

’ve had several people ask me at my age, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Butler said. “It’s just not in me to quit. I don’t want to see my employees without work.”


One year ago, the trees from Butler’s business, Biomass and Energy of Oklahoma, were still falling, but the economy was falling harder. Big warehouses were moving in on the market and subsequently shutting other logging operations like Butler’s down.

Yet Butler added fi ve full-time employees to his workforce this year.

How did one small company manage to branch out when statistics say it’s time to trim? The answer won’t stump you; Necessity is the mother of invention.

When diesel began to approach nearly $4 a gallon, essentially tripling production cost, Butler knew he was facing rising fuel costs as the root of his problem. That’s when he began working with Seo Bio, a nearby company in Valliant, Okla. After sitting down and going through all Butler’s

engines, Seo Bio suggested making pure vegetable oil into biofuel as a used grease. Not only did the oil work for all of the company’s machines, but it also enhanced worker safety; the fuel is completely nonfl ammable.

Butler said, “This stuff is amazing, you can stick a match in it and it won’t light.”

After seeing the initial results, Butler said he began asking around what would happen if he ran his machines on biofuel full force all the time. He said nearly everyone he talked to expressed concerned it would lead to engine failure. “I thought, ‘That’s fi ne if the engine blows up, I’ll eat it,” Butler said. “This whole world is based too much around the petroleum industry, and we’ve got to fi nd a better way to do things.” His risk was met with great reward. The machines

ran cooler, quicker and longer. The logging operations are now burning 33% less fuel at a lower cost.

“We’re saving on an average $1,000 a week in fuel costs,” Butler said. “Now that’s substantial, I’m telling you.” Butler could have stopped at this point and


stayed satisfied with the savings, but he was already planting seeds of thought for a completely renewable company.

“We got to thinking and we thought, ‘You know, we have a lot of slash left over that just rots,’” Butler said. “How can we convert this woody biomass into useable fuel?”

His search for such a machine lead him to Remus, Mich. where he discovered a drum chipper made by Bandit Industries. Butler said the machine is different from a disc chipper, which is what most logging operations use.

“This machine can take material into it as small as a pencil and transform it into a useable fuel-type pellet,” Butler said.

Bandit Industries created a specialized drum chipper just for Biomass and Energy of Oklahoma: the model 2090 Bandit. All in all, the machine weights about 13,000 pounds. It can chip a 22- inch diameter log into ¼ inch pieces in seconds, not minutes.

The timing could not have been better for Rusty Booker, manager of fi ber supply and wood processing at International Paper also in Valliant, Okla. The mill has its own boilers that make its own energy fueling with woody biomass as opposed to using natural gas.

Booker said demand for biomass to burn to make

a days steam can range anywhere from 600 to 1200 green tons depending on the season. By using the new drum chipper, Butler can grind the entire tops of trees and make fuel out of them. Booker said the mill could not afford to buy the same material if it had to be delivered from 250 miles away. “It’s a big cost lever for us,” Booker said. “It’s huge from an energy standpoint for the mill to remain competitive.”

This partnership augments Booker’s steam demand for the mill and helps Butler’s business model. Instead of chipping down a good forest, Butler uses the waste product from clearing harvest timber. Not only are the trees sowing energy for the paper mill, but the landowners are also reaping the benefi ts.

“We’re clearing cattle ranchers land and they get paid for it,” Butler said. “They’re tickled to death. When we leave, we leave the land looking like a park.”

Butler’s initiative is impacting the state’s environment as well. When woody biomass is burned it circulates carbon the trees have already captured, as opposed to pulling petroleum from the ground, which adds carbon that has not been in the atmosphere.

“I would daresay we probably have the least carbon footprint of any company of our kind in the United States,” Butler said.

The biofuel is also completely biodegradable. Even if it were somehow accidentally spilled, Butler said there would be no harm to the land. The company also invests in the tree population by replanting every winter. Considering the long list of benefi ts, one lingering question remains: What is the downside to clean, cheap and completely renewable energy?

“We’re all gaining weight because we smell French fries and hamburgers all the time using the oil,” Butler said with a laugh. “We’ll be working and somebody’ll holler, ‘Throw me a fry!’” Butler’s business is cooking up quite the storm.

He’s looking ahead to increased production on a worldwide scale from interested woody biomass buyers from Romania, Hungary, Russia and China. One could say Butler is gaining a bit of stardom from his venture into renewable energy. However, he won’t take any of the credit for his company’s progress. Butler said it’s his sounding board of 25 employees, partnerships with local companies and Bandit Industries that helped him turn renewable energy into his company’s revival.

“All the stars had to align for it to work,” Butler said. “Good people made it happen.” OL

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