Ill-informed anti-forestry activist groups like the Dogwood Alliance often assert that renewable wood bioenergy contributes to deforestation in the US. The data has always proven otherwise, and a new report out this month from a consortium in Europe associated with Wageningen University & Research in The Netherlands once again demonstrates wood bioenergy from the US is sustainable.
Wageningen University & Research examined the sustainability of wood bioenergy sourced from the US Southeast, and found that “sustainable export of pellets is possible.” They note that even though the US pellet industry has grown rapidly, producing around 14 million tonnes per year, this is well-below what the industry can support while also maintaining its strong commitment to sustainability.
Wageningen finds that “sustainable export potential from Southeastern US is around 35 million tonnes of pellets,” which is more than double the current production.
The reason for this is straightforward: Forests in the US Southeast are growing, and stronger demand for wood bioenergy increases incentives for landowners to expand forests.
Wageningen concludes that, “Despite the growth of the pellet industry, the extra growth of the forests remains higher than the harvest. Annually 360 million m3 round wood grows, while 220 million m3 is harvested. More forest is being planted because of the growing demand for wood and the increasing prices this brings along.”
Wageningen’s findings echo research from experts at the University of Georgia and the US Forestry Service, who examined the market incentives created by the wood bioenergy industry earlier this year. They found that the absence of demand for wood biomass would actually result in deforestation up to 15,000 square kilometers (5,791 square miles), roughly the size of the entire state of Connecticut and slightly larger than the country of Montenegro. That is a massive potential loss in forest area due to increased urbanization. Conversely, they found that increased demand for wood pellets retains thousands more square kilometers in natural timberland area.
This makes sense – by strengthening the market for wood products, wood bioenergy incentivizes landowners to plant more trees and disincentivizes them from converting their land to environmentally-damaging uses, such as development or cattle ranching. The net result is more trees planted and a growing carbon sink.
The results of these studies confirm what university scientists, forestry experts, climate scientists with the IPCC have repeatedly been saying: wood bioenergy grows forests, expands the carbon sink and is a sustainable, low-carbon source of renewable energy.