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How Much Woody Biomass is Readily Available for US Bioenergy Projects?

If a tree falls in the woods, is it available raw material for a wood bioenergy facility?  Not necessarily.  Intense investment and regulatory focus on wood bioenergy has raised questions from both the environmental community and the traditional forest products sector regarding the potential impacts of evolving biomass policies and markets on the sustainability of forest supplies in the US.  Limitations of previous research into this area include insufficient accounting for what forest and wood residues are, in practice, logistically accessible and economically viable.  We addressed this issue through a study commissioned by the American Forest & Paper Association.  Key findings include:

  • In the US, the forest products industry, which consumed 522 million green tons in 2005, is returning to trend and expected to use 516 million green tons in 2015 and 534 million tons by 2020.
  • Nation-wide, 49.6 million dry tons of forest and wood-related residues are estimated to be “readily available” for bioenergy users.  Logging residues represent the single largest source (57%); mill residues represent the smallest source (3%). This does not include ~5 million tons of unused, pulpwood-sized material.
  • “Readily available” includes wood residues that are (1) unused by other wood raw material consumers and (2) directly accessible with existing logging configurations without major capital reinvestments.

The complete study, titled “Availability and Sustainability of Wood Resources for Energy Generation in the US,” is available here.

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