On May 13, Senator Wyden (D-OR), introduced the BioEnergy Act of 2015 (S.1294), to provide increased funding for research and development related to biomass thermal heat and electricity. In a similar vein, Senator King (I-VT) introduced The Working Forests for Clean Energy Act (S. 1284), a bill that would consider sustainably harvested biomass as carbon neutral under the Clean Power Plan.  Woody biomass, consisting of low-value tree tops, limbs, sawdust, chips and waste trees, can be used to provide thermal heat in small-scale applications like homes or businesses, or to generate electricity in the power sector.

If sustainably managed, electricity and thermal applications are appropriate uses for the waste material from the timber, pulp and paper industries.  The two bills illustrate the parallel, but highly related issues that hamper higher penetration of woody biomass in the thermal and electricity sectors: scant research dollars have been provided to improve pellet processing, increase efficiencies, and develop other ways to make woody biomass even more economical and environmental; and the federal government has yet to define what qualifies as sustainable biomass.

Senator Wyden’s bill would establish a working group between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the “Bioheat and Biopower Initiative,” as well as several grants to fund projects on biomass power and heat. These grants would include:

  • a $30 million grant program at DOE, to fund projects that “promote … efficient economical and environmentally sustainable approaches for using wood for heat and power;”
  • a $10 million grant program at the U.S. Forest Service for feasibility assessments and engineering design;
  • expansion of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program at the USDA Rural Utilities Service to include biomass for heat and power applications, and;
  • technical assistance to communities exploring district energy and research programs on sustainability.

In November, the EPA released a draft memo, the “Framework for Assessing Biogenic CO2 Emissions from Stationary Sources,” suggesting that the agency may consider “waste-derived feedstocks” and “forest-derived industrial by-products” as being “likely to have minimal or no net atmospheric contributions of biogenic CO2 emissions.”  Unfortunately, it is possible that the Biogenic Framework won’t be ready by the time the Clean Power Plan is finalized this summer. If the Framework is not finalized, biomass energy will be a less appealing compliance option to individual states. According to Senator King, clarifying the definition of biomass resources is necessary, as “the success of [biomass resources] depends on the effectiveness of federal policies.” 


For more information see:

King bill establishes biomass emissions as carbon neutral, Biomass Magazine 

Wyden introduces bill to boost biomass energy, promote healthy forests, Forest Business Network

Bioenergy Act of 2015 Summary, Senator Wyden