In recent years, the young dense forests of northern Arizona have suffered extreme droughts, wildfires, and insect outbreaks. Improving forest health requires reducing forest density by cutting many small-diameter trees with the consequent production of large volumes of residual biomass. To offset the cost of handling this low-value timber, additional marketing options for current operations are urgently needed to recover more value as wood products, energy, and chemicals. Northern Arizona forests are predominantly composed of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) which, besides producing abundant timber, can also yield many useful chemicals such as essential oils and resins.
We describe a case study to assess the opportunities, constraints, and information required to integrate recovery of essential oils into forest and mill operations as might be used in northern Arizona. Preliminary results support the proposition there is an available, large supply of biomass with high concentrations of essential oils. The chemistry and process engineering for recovering these essential oils by distillation are well known. The potential output and uses also appear attractive given the substantial United States market for such products. However, less is known of the capability of essential oils extracted from ponderosa pine to compete with products imported from other countries. A more detailed assessment of product uses and further analysis of viable markets and environmental benefits are justified.