Summary

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) invites you to learn about the direct linkage between scale and sustainability inherent in the biomass technologies. A good understanding of this relationship is essential for the development of biomass applications that are economically and environmentally sustainable. Compared to fossil fuel deposits, forests are incredibly dynamic systems. They develop within relatively short time periods (tens to thousands of years) and are subject to sudden and unpredictable disturbances from fires, windstorms, and pest infestations. Forests are also complex systems, created and maintained in a state of flux by the innumerable interactions of biota, soils, topography, hydrology, climate, and human communities; but when forest ecosystems are perceived as static pools of market commodities, the door is opened to unsustainable exploitation. Excessive harvesting and bad management practices result in reduced ecosystem services, biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and other environmental impacts. They also result in the “boom-and-bust” cycles that have traditionally characterized many timber markets, leading to economic stagnation and reduced quality-of-life in many rural, forest-dependent communities.

Sustainable, appropriately-scaled biomass applications, on the other hand, can reverse this trend, providing forest communities with stable jobs, a local source of renewable energy, and full participation in the stewardship of diverse forest ecosystems. There is a wide array of biomass technologies available across a large range of scales, including thermal applications (wood pellets, “combined heat and power” or CHP), electric generation (steam boilers, gasification, co-firing), liquid transportation fuels (cellulosic ethanol, methanol, renewable diesel), and biobased co-products. Determining what is appropriate in a given location is not a small task. It requires a comprehensive evaluation of many resources in addition to the forest itself, such as infrastructure, available labor, and market demand for energy and products. In addition to these quantifiable resources, local culture and public values will also help determine what is appropriate, as well as the management constraints necessary to ensure biodiverse landscapes, ecological functioning, clean water, recreational opportunities, and the other values and environmental services that society demands. These are the topics that will be addressed at the briefing.

Woody biomass refers to wood, branches, and other organic matter from trees and shrubs that can be used as a renewable substitute for fossil fuels in the production of both energy and products. Woody biomass can be an important component in a national renewable electricity standard (RES), a renewable energy feed-in tariff or any other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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