Journal Articles

Assessing the sustainability of forest biomass harvesting practices in the southeastern US to meet European renewable energy goals

July 02, 2024

Biomass and Bioenergy July 2024


Hannah C.M. Bays, M. Chad Bolding, Joseph L. Conrad, Holly L. Munro, Scott M. Barrett, Alicia Peduzzi


Over the last decade, renewable energy expansion, driven by legislation such as the Renewable Energy Directives passed by the European Union (EU) member states has generated a surge in demand for sustainable feedstock alternatives, notably woody biomass in the form of wood pellets. Expansion of woody biomass harvesting in the southeastern United States (US) has raised concerns regarding removal, distribution, and spatial allocation of forest residues following harvesting, and potential ramifications for nutrient depletion, biodiversity, accelerated erosion, and water quality impairment. This study evaluated the current state of knowledge regarding the sustainability of woody biomass and wood pellet feedstock harvesting on the effects of woody residue, soil characteristics, biodiversity, carbon, and water quality. Our survey of existing literature revealed a lack of research evaluating the effects of forest residue removal across the southeastern US. Limited field studies have assessed biomass harvesting in general, and effectively no studies assessed wood pellet feedstock operations specifically. Primary recommendations include completing field studies on wood pellet feedstock harvests in the southeastern US to better understand resource utilization, changes in forest land allocation, and the potential effect on site sustainability. Current management standards such as biomass harvesting guidelines (BHGs) and best management practices (BMPs) appear effective at managing base recommended thresholds in specific regions, but should further evaluate what criteria are necessary, appropriate, and operationally feasible for sustainable biomass production. These studies should be conducted regionally to evaluate potential effects of increased residual removal for wood pellet feedstock as compared to conventional practices.