Bioenergy from Forests is Part of the U.S. Energy Solution
Renewable forest bioenergy uses fuel from the forest, including limbs, branches, bark, underbrush, smaller and inferior trees, and wood wastes from manufacturing to produce energy, including power, heat and transportation fuels. It is the original renewable energy and accounts for 8% of renewable electricity production. The future holds the promise of using forest bioenergy as a renewable, domestic source of energy that can decrease our dependence on foreign oil. The forest products industry uses wood waste from the manufacturing process to meet about two-thirds of its power needs.
Forests are part of the natural carbon cycle.
Forest bioenergy releases carbon dioxide captured in recent years back into the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2007, forest bioenergy does not increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when it is used sustainably. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a concern because of climate change. The chief source of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fossil fuel combustion (anthropogenic carbon dioxide). This fossil carbon dioxide is released from storage deep in the Earth and is reintroduced into the natural carbon cycle, where it accumulates in the atmosphere. In contrast, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), carbon dioxide storage in U.S. forests continues to increase, sequestering more than 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually and offsetting about 12% of U.S. CO2 emissions. Carbon dioxide from the combustion of forest biogenic emissions is part of the natural carbon cycle. Rather than accumulating, it is recycled through the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is absorbed by growing plants and trees, released through combustion and other uses, and then reabsorbed when plants and trees grow back.
Eventually, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases stored in plants and trees are released to the atmosphere through decomposition, wildfires, prescribed fires, or the burning of logging debris. Using forest bioenergy simply captures the energy potential of the carbon dioxide as it moves through the natural carbon cycle.
The use of renewable forest bioenergy in the U.S. helps conserve working forests.
The U.S. has an extensive framework of laws, regulations, policies, and voluntary agreements that work together to keep working forests working, allowing the U.S. to grow more trees than it harvests. USDA reports that the standing inventory or volume of growing trees in U.S. forests has grown by 50% between 1953 and 2011.
Using forest bioenergy for new renewable energy markets will help conserve forestland. Today the greatest threat of deforestation comes from the conversion of forests to non-forest uses that have a higher economic value. The families, businesses and individuals that own 56% of our nation’s forests depend on the returns they get from forest products to make additional investments in sound, long-term forest management. When existing markets for their products are strong, or when new markets like forest bioenergy emerge, they provide forest owners the means to keep their land forested by investing in tree planting and forest health.
Forest bioenergy, in addition to other renewable sources, is part of the U.S. energy solution.
The U.S. requires a broad mix of energy sources to meet its energy demands. Renewable energy is important to the long-term sustainability of our energy supplies and to decreasing our reliance on foreign energy sources. The most important energy sources are those that can produce electricity when it is needed (baseload) since electricity cannot be stored on a large scale. Traditional baseload energy sources include coal, natural gas and nuclear. Forest bioenergy is a reliable, renewable baseload power source. Additionally, energy resources vary by region. Areas of the U.S. that are abundant in forest resources often are not practical for wind and solar generation. Forest bioenergy is a necessity if these regions are to meet renewable energy goals.
The marketplace for forest bioenergy encourages long-term growth of working forests.
The economics of forestry favors the growth of large trees to produce high-value products, like lumber for homes or furniture. Energy production is one of the lowest value uses of forest material. Because of this, forest owners will continue to grow forests for long periods to produce large trees that can produce high-value products. Forest owners will use smaller and inferior trees, along with tree limbs, tops and other debris from logging for energy production. Forest owners can also manage their forests to produce more forest bioenergy fuel and larger trees over time. Market history and recent studies show that forest owners can increase forest bioenergy fuel from well-managed forests by as much as 150% on planted forests and 75% on naturally growing forests as the market demand for forest bioenergy fuel increases.
Even with this potential, forest bioenergy facilities in the U.S. will only be built as economic and other conditions, such as securing necessary permits and financing, will allow. Credible market analysis shows that only 58% of all the new bioenergy projects announced as of January 2013 are expected to be online by 2023. This will create a gradual build-up in the demand for forest bioenergy rather than a sudden spike that could create short-term shortages of forest fuel.
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review.
- American Forest and Paper Association.
- U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Combined Heat and Power Partnership, Biomass Combined Heat and Power Catalog of Technologies (September 2007).
- Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2011, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (April 15, 2013).
- USDA Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment (August 2012).
- Ecological Implications of Biomass Policies for Private Forests in the United States. Dr. Alan Lucier. National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (April 2010).
- A Developing Bioenergy Market and its Implications on Forests and Forest Products Markets in the United States: Economic Considerations. Clutter, Abt, Greene, and Siry (April 2010).
- Forisk Bioenergy Research.