Canadian Forest Service Publications

Climate, economic, and environmental impacts of producing wood for bioenergy. 2018. Birdsey, R., Duffy, P., Smyth, C., Kurz, W. A., Dugan, A. J., Houghton, R. Environ. Res. Lett. 13 050201.

Year: 2018

Available from: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 39350

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aab9d5

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Abstract

Increasing combustion of woody biomass for electricity has raised concerns and produced conflicting statements about impacts on atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, climate, and other forest values such as timber supply and biodiversity. The purposes of this concise review of current literature are to (1) examine impacts on net GHG emissions and climate from increasing bioenergy production from forests and exporting wood pellets to Europe from North America, (2) develop a set of science-based recommendations about the circumstances that would result in GHG reductions or increases in the atmosphere, and (3) identify economic and environmental impacts of increasing bioenergy use of forests. We find that increasing bioenergy production and pellet exports often increase net emissions of GHGs for decades or longer, depending on source of feedstock and its alternate fate, time horizon of analysis, energy emissions associated with the supply chain and fuel substitution, and impacts on carbon cycling of forest ecosystems. Alternative uses of roundwood often offer larger reductions in GHGs, in particular long-lived wood products that store carbon for longer periods of time and can achieve greater substitution benefits than bioenergy. Other effects of using wood for bioenergy may be considerable including induced land-use change, changes in supplies of wood and other materials for construction, albedo and non-radiative effects of land-cover change on climate, and long-term impacts on soil productivity. Changes in biodiversity and other ecosystem attributes may be strongly affected by increasing biofuel production, depending on source of material and the projected scale of biofuel production increases.

Plain Language Summary

Scope: This review article examined the effects on GHGs and other impacts on climate and the environment of using wood for biofuel based on a review of relevant and objective literature. It referenced several recent case studies of increasing exports of wood pellets from the SE and Canadian forests to EU electricity producers and of increasing domestic use of wood biofuel. We identified the specific circumstances under which GHG effects were positive or negative over different time horizons, and highlighted accounting methods that assess climate benefits and the attribution of carbon credits and debits to wood suppliers and consumers. Key findings: Increasing bioenergy production and pellet exports often increase net emissions of GHGs for decades or longer, depending on source of feedstock and its alternate fate, time horizon of analysis, energy emissions associated with the supply chain and fuel substitution, and impacts on carbon cycling of forest ecosystems. Alternative uses of roundwood often offer larger reductions in GHGs, in particular long-lived wood products that store carbon for longer periods of time and can achieve greater substitution benefits than bioenergy. Changes in biodiversity and other ecosystem attributes may be strongly affected by increasing biofuel production, depending on source of material and the projected scale of biofuel production increases.

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