Sustainability of Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy Prodution Questioned

Over at the Summit County Citizens Voice, Bob Berwyn notes a study that throws cold water on some folks zeal for “Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy.” According to Berwyn, the study, by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and several universities suggests that such large-scale production “may be unsustainable and is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.” Here are a few “concerns” raised by the study:

  • The general assumption that bioenergy is carbon-neutral is not valid.
  • The reduction of biomass and lost carbon sequestration by forests could take decades to centuries to be “paid back” by fossil fuel substitution, if paid back at all.
  • There are significant concerns about the economic viability of biofuels, which may require government mandates or subsidies.
  • A higher demand for biomass from forests will increase prices for the biomass, as in Germany where they have already increased in price 300-600 percent from 2005 to 2010.
  • An emphasis on bioenergy production from forests could lead to shorter rotation lengths, questionable management practices and increased dependence on wood imports.
  • Negative impacts on vegetation, soil fertility, water and ecosystem diversity are all possible.
  • Fertilizer use, another important source of greenhouse gas emissions, could increase.
  • The use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution allowed previously degraded forests to recover in much of Europe and the U.S., while industrial-scale use of forests for biomass would likely reverse this trend.

Full study from GCB Bioenergy (2012) here (pdf)

Also reported at Science Daily
The source feed for all these reports and the “full study” link, from Oregon State University, is here

8 thoughts on “Sustainability of Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy Prodution Questioned”

    • Thanks Matthew. I must have been busy and/or distracted with income taxes and other pressing Spring chores. So maybe this time around we can dive deeper into Sharon’s allegation the last time around:

      This is an example of what I call “sleight of science.” …
      First, people imagine something that people don’t do, think about possible results and then make inferences related to what people actually do. If we used A LOT of biomass, from biomass plantations, then bad things would happen based on our assumptions.

  1. Biomass energy from Federal lands should merely be a by-product of good forestry. I don’t think we will see any proposals for intensive biomass harvesting from the Feds. There are a whole lot of “could” and “may” in these warnings. Germany has a healthy wood industry, as well as healthy forests. Is that a coincidence? Probably not. We should be doing SOME biomass harvesting, maybe requiring funding, as a part of a more comprehensive forest health package.

    I really don’t think that predictions of 30 million acres of clearcuts is a valid scenario, here, as the anti-biomass lobby has stated. Pretending that could happen on Federal lands is a giant fallacy.

      • All forms of energy have their non-desirable impacts. I’m sure someone can find an “endangered” species which lives mostly in corn fields. *smirk*

        • I was NOT talking about the “non-desirable impacts” of energy. I was talking about what the Congress has done, and will do again (perhaps not in this instance). I was talking about the fact that this article ought not to be dismissed by the mere presumption that the Congress might not set up means to subsidize this “biomass energy from federal lands.”

          In particular, how do you justify this comment, “Pretending that could happen on Federal lands is a giant fallacy”? How do you make such a prognostication in the face of the Corn Ethanol fiasco, and other similar giant missteps by the US Congress?

  2. Of course, Larry, corn fields used to be native woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, etc. Now that native habitat is a corn field and much of the native wildlife is gone.


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