Biomass Harvesting

Expanded use of forest harvesting residuals for new products

Forests are efficient solar collectors producing woody biomass that can be harnessed to provide electric power and heat, new chemical feedstocks, and alternative fuels for heating and transportation while also providing wood for traditional uses such as home construction and papermaking. Moreover, forestry and agroforestry operations have several advantages as sources of biomass.

  • Trees and other perennial crops (e.g., switchgrass) can be grown on soils not suitable for annual food crops, thus mitigating concerns about effects of biomass production on food supplies. In addition, environmental footprints associated with tilling, fertilizing, and harvesting are generally much lower for perennials than for annuals.
  • Trees represent a “dense” biomass resource that can be stored “on the stump” and harvested in all seasons.
  • There are already in place substantial inventories of forest biomass that can be accessed using established harvest and transport systems.

Changes in government policies and market forces portend rapid growth in use of wood and other “cellulosic biomass” as feedstocks for renewable energy and materials. In the United States, for example, expanded use of forest biomass as a fuel for electrical power generation seems inevitable in regions with extensive commercial forests in light of renewable electricity standards already in place in several states. Use of wood pellets and other forest-derived biomass for energy in industrial and residential applications has been increasing in Western Europe for several years and seems destined to expand in North America as well. Biorefineries that utilize cellulosic biomass to produce ethanol and other liquid fuels are still under development, with one or more biorefinery concepts expected to achieve commercial viability in the near future.

The “social license” to expand production and use of forest biomass hinges on: (i) demonstration that the resource will be sustainable when new uses are added to time‐honored uses such as production of pulp and paper, building materials and other traditional forest products; and (ii) resolution of environmental concerns associated with the combustion and other processing of wood in many different applications.

Priority topics include effects of biomass production and use on wood supplies, biodiversity, water quantity and quality, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Literature on Biomass Harvesting

From time to time, NCASI has been asked about the relevant papers and body of knowledge related to the environmental aspects of biomass harvesting (i.e., removal of some or all residual biomass from an area where the forest products industry has either undertaken pre-commercial thinning or full-tree harvesting operations). NCASI recently collaborated with Natural Resources Canada on a request of this nature, and prepared a synthesis of key references. The list covers literature on a range of topics, including overview of bioenergy potential, overview of environmental impacts, soil impacts, biodiversity impacts, harvesting guidelines, slash left in operations, and monitoring.

Download list of key references on biomass harvesting (PDF file)

Studies on Woody Biomass for Power Generation

In 2015, NCASI accepted a contract from the Sustainable Biomass Partnership (SBP) to assemble a database of influential literature on forest bioenergy that has been released since 2010. As a first step, NCASI contacted over 300 experts from around the world to solicit their ideas on literature that is, or should be, influencing the development of forest bioenergy policy. Experts in academia, industry, government, research institutes and ENGOs were included.

Download list of studies suggested by responding experts (PDF file)