Scientists Nationwide Endorse Wood Energy

December 6, 2019

The US Industrial Pellet Assn. (USIPA) has endorsed a recent letter signed by more than 100 scientists from more than 50 colleges and universities citing the benefits of wood energy. The letter, published by the National Assn. of University Forest Resource Programs (NAUFRP), calls on policymakers to consider key fundamentals related to forest biomass.

Emphasizing that research on the use of forest biomass dates back to the 1980s, the scientists noted that the “carbon benefits of sustainable forest biomass are well established.” The letter also cites a report from United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which notes: “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.”

The scientists also emphasized research showing that “demand for wood helps keep land in forest and incentivizes investments in new and more productive forests, all of which have significant carbon benefits.”

Reacting to the report, Seth Ginther, USIPA Executive Director, comments, “This is a resounding statement of academic consensus on the benefits of renewable wood energy. The value of biomass energy production in lowering carbon emissions and supporting healthy forests is well-documented through decades of peer-reviewed research. This letter underscores exactly what we are hearing from the UN IPCC: that sustainably-sourced wood biomass is an essential technology to fight climate change and limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.”

NAUFRP was formed in 1981 to provide university-based natural resource education, research, science, extension and international programs promoting American forest health. Today, NAUFRP represents 80 universities and their respective scientists, educators and extension specialists.

Reviewing more than 30 years of scientific research on forest biomass utilization, scientists from a diverse range of universities identified four fundamentals for science- based decision-making on biomass energy production and added these explanations:

 

1) The carbon benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are well established. The long-term benefits of forest biomass energy are well-established in science literature. As stated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” Most debates regarding the carbon benefits of forest biomass energy are about the timing of the benefits rather than whether they exist.

2) Measuring the carbon benefits of forest biomass energy must consider cumulative carbon emissions over the long term. The most effective carbon mitigation measures are those which reduce carbon accumulation in the atmosphere over time. Forest biomass energy yields significant net decreases in overall carbon accumulation in the atmosphere over time compared to fossil fuels. Comparisons between forest biomass emissions and fossil fuel emissions at the time of combustion and for short periods thereafter do not account for long term carbon accumulation in the atmosphere and can significantly distort or ignore comparative carbon impacts over time.

4) Economic factors influence the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy.

Research demonstrates that demand for wood helps keep land in forest and incentivizes investments in new and more productive forests, all of which have significant carbon benefits. This is particularly true when landowner investments are made in anticipation of future market demand. Likewise wood markets significantly influence both the availability of wood and the kind of wood used for biomass energy. For example, large trees better suited for higher value markets are typically not used for energy. The consideration of landowner response to the marketplace is essential to fully account for the long-term carbon impacts of using forest biomass for energy. Failing to consider the effects of markets and investment on carbon impacts can distort the characterization of carbon impacts from forest biomass energy.

Research on the use of forest biomass as an energy source to mitigate GHG emissions dates back to the late 1980’s. Changes in technology, forest conditions, and markets and global economics will influence forest biomass utilization now and in the future. A commitment to continuing research on forest biomass utilization is necessary to quantify the risks and benefits associated with its use, encourage dialogue and debate, drive innovation and investment in new technologies and inform policy.

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