This briefing was largely based on the results of a February 2009 symposium, Ensuring Forest Sustainability in the Development of Wood Biofuels and Bioenergy: Implications for Federal and State Policies. The meeting was convened by the Heinz Center and Pinchot Institute and brought together 39 organizations from the forest industry, public agencies, community groups, environmental NGOs, and academia to map out key issues and concerns and consider potential policy solutions. Questions considered at the meeting included:

  1. How can biomass harvesting serve as a positive tool for ecological restoration and forest stewardship?

  2. How will significant increases in wood harvesting for energy affect key environmental values?

  3. How will harvest levels respond to increased total demand for woody biomass?

  4. How much woody biomass is available on a sustainable basis?

  5. What are the roles of certification systems, sustainability standards, and harvesting guidelines?

  6. What are the appropriate policies for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks from bioenergy to the sustainable management of the nation’s forests?

The Heinz Center and the Pinchot Institute plan on using the conclusions from that first meeting as a starting point for a series of future meetings and discussions, with the ultimate intent to provide reliable and objective input to Congress and other policymakers grappling with these critical and timely issues.

On April 9, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing to discuss sustainability issues and stewardship opportunities arising from the use of woody biomass for energy. In national efforts to halt global climate change and enhance U.S. energy security, bioenergy is widely seen as a cost-effective and scalable solution. Woody biomass from forest management is a renewable, low-carbon resource that can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels in the production of heat, electricity, transportation fuels, and a variety of chemicals and products. Wood also is a locally-produced resource that can help advance the energy independence and economic vitality of the nation overall, as well as states, regions, and communities that rely on imports to meet their energy needs. Realizing these benefits while ensuring the conservation of biological diversity, water quality, and other forest values will require greater attention to sustainable forestry practices and the careful scaling of bioenergy applications based on accurate estimates of the biomass supply that can be sustained by local forests.

  • Wood bioenergy (fuels, power) has an important role in the U.S. energy future, although its development will have implications for forest practice and policy.
  • Forests are a limited resource; renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable in the long-term. The goal is to make wood bioenergy sustainable.
  • Federal and state bioenergy policy suffers from ambiguous (and sometimes conflicting) objectives. Polices targeted towards increasing energy security, mitigating climate change, promoting forest sustainability, or spurring economic and community development are all intended to accomplish different things and these differences are reflected in existing incentives.
  • A tilted playing field exists among different bioenergy applications. Mandates, such as a renewable electricity standard (RES) or renewable fuel standard (RFS), and incentives are only for certain technologies and industries. In addition, distributed generation faces many obstacles to access the grid.
  • Al Sample discussed a Pinchot Institute analysis looking at potential impacts of renewable energy mandates on the sustainability of forests. He cautioned that the availability of logging residues may not enough to satisfy the woody biomass demand that would result from a combined 25 x '25 target for electricity and biofuels, and that the remainder is likely to be met through diversion of resources from the existing wood products industry and increased harvest of roundwood. The large majority of this demand would go towards the production of renewable electricity in mid- to large-sized power plants.
  • Al emphasized the value in using limited woody biomass supplies as efficiently as possible, emphasizing that combined heat and power (CHP) plants are 60-80 percent efficient compared to 18-24 percent for electricity-only plants.

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