On November 30, 2012, EESI Policy Associate Ned Stowe gave a presentation on biomass, bioenergy, and sustainability to the 11th Annual Great Lakes Environmental Legislators Forum of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators in Chicago, IL. The presentation addressed questions such as: What is the potential for biomass energy in the region? Is it sustainable? Is it climate-friendly? Is it clean?

Biomass can play a critical role addressing the nation’s climate, energy, economic, and environmental challenges, providing the feedstocks for biofuels, biopower, bioheat, biomass combined heat and power, and bio-based products. However, assuring sustainability is key.

The Great Lakes region produces a LOT of biomass annually and there is significant potential to displace fossil fuels with biomass energy. However, most of the region’s biomass energy potential remains untapped.

The overall sustainability of biomass and bioenergy production systems depends upon many factors. Local natural resource, environmental, and economic factors play critical roles in determining what types of biomass and bioenergy systems will be most appropriate and sustainable over time for a given locale. The type of biomass, the way it is produced, the way it is converted to energy, and the scale of production, can all affect the overall sustainability of a bioenergy system over time.

For example, the overall efficiency of the biomass-to-energy conversion technology affects the overall sustainability of a bioenergy system. The more efficient a bioenergy system is at converting biomass to useful energy (heat, power, or fuel), the less biomass that needs to be produced to meet energy needs, and the more fossil energy that can be displaced per unit of renewable biomass.

Perspectives on the potential of bioenergy systems to help mitigate harmful climate change and address air quality concerns were also presented.

Below is a revised and expanded version of the presentation.

You can also download the entire presentation (in PDF format) here.

Ned was joined on the panel by Dennis Becker of the Department of Forestry at the University of Minnesota, who addressed policy approaches to advance bioenergy and assure sustainability.