Woody Biomass and Green Energy
Society is actively searching for alternatives to fossil fuels for both environmental purposes and for energy
independence. Forests help provide an answer through the conversion of woody biomass to green energy. Woody biomass—including
wood chips, sawdust, bark, shavings and tree trimmings—is a renewable source of energy harvested from sustainably
Today, woody biomass provides the most renewable energy in the country after hydroelectric power. According to the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the majority of biomass energy is produced from wood and wood wastes.1 The forest products industry generates approximately 80% of all renewable biomass energy, making it the nation's largest industrial renewable energy producer.2 Scientists are also working to improve the efficiency of converting large amounts of biomass to cellulosic ethanol for transportation. According to a study conducted by The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cellulosic ethanol produced from woody biomass has the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gases when compared to 14 alternative energy sources.3
The following chart displays the total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions displaced by substituting alternative biofuel options.4
Cellulosic ethanol has the greatest ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas it would take 4.6 gallons of corn ethanol to displace the emissions of one gallon of gas, it would only take 1.1 gallons of cellulosic ethanol to displace the emissions of one gallon of gas. Further research and development should be encouraged, along with market-based incentives granted, to make liquid biofuels a large scale reality in the near future.
Policy: Woody Biomass and Green Energy
There are over 22 million acres of forestland in Washington State, more than half of the total land base. At both the Federal and State level, legislators are debating bills that would require power producers to purchase specified amounts of "renewable" energy. Most experts agree that woody biomass is an excellent source of renewable energy. Yet, in current Washington State law, some biomass energy sources are counted as renewable, and some are not—even though they all come from sustainably managed sources.
Sustainably managed forests play an important role in protecting our climate. Science tells us that excessive amounts of greenhouse
gasses, such as carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. The use of fossil fuels is the main
source of excess greenhouse gases. Healthy, growing trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store carbon in all of the
parts of the tree, primarily in the trunk. Young, healthy, vigorously growing trees sequester carbon at a higher rate than older
trees, which absorb less carbon as they mature. As long as the forest is in a healthy state, both young and old forests provide
significant benefits to the climate.
Managed forests provide some additional climate benefits. In a managed forest, trees are harvested and then replanted. This cycle maintains over time a constant level of carbon on the landscape and extends the benefit by storing carbon in lumber, furniture and wood products.
In addition to storage, when we use wood for building or for energy, we displace the use of more carbon intensive building products and energy sources.
- Temperate Forest Foundation. Biomass for Energy and Forest Fuel Reduction. Eco-Link, 13: 3.
- National Alliance of Forest Owners, Working Forests
- United States Environmental Protection Agency, Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Expanded Renewable and Alternative Fuels Use (February 19, 2010)
- Larry Mason, et al., Wood to Energy in Washington: Imperatives, Opportunities, and Obstacles to Progress, College of the Environment School of Natural Resources: University of Washington (June 2009)