New Study: Wood Bioenergy Demand Could Grow Forests By 30% By 2100

A new study featured in Bloomberg last month from leading researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Maine, and Ohio State University is shedding light on the positive role wood bioenergy plays in climate change mitigation. The study, published in March in Science Advances, was intended to address controversy over wood biomass’ carbon mitigation benefits, and specifically set out to address the impact of bioenergy demand on forest carbon stocks.

The researchers found that increased bioenergy demand increases net forest stocks because it incentivizes landowners to invest in afforestation and more intensive forest management. This is caused by the higher timber prices that result from increased wood biomass demand.

The researchers explain:

“Increasing demand for woody biomass will have noticeable impacts on the global forest sector compared with a no-policy baseline case…. Higher prices provide a market signal to landowners, who will take steps to increase their forest stocks via expanding the area in managed forests and/or improving management activities.”

After analyzing different demand scenarios for wood bioenergy, researchers found that if demand is high enough, “The largest demand scenario (RCP 1.9) estimates a potential increase in forest area by 1.1 billion ha, 30% more than the current forest cover by 2100.”

In other words, greater demand for wood bioenergy grows total forest area, up to 30% by 2100.

Additionally, the researchers found that woody biomass demand could increase expenditures on forest management by 70% compared to the baseline, another key metric that shows the forest retention value of wood bioenergy markets.

The researchers explain the logic behind this forest growth – that rising prices encourage landowners to grow more forests. They note, “when demand grows, prices rise and landowners with growing forests will typically hold trees to take advantage of the rising prices, as there is a higher opportunity cost of felling them prematurely.”

The researchers also explain why their work comes to different conclusions than those cited by some activist groups – these activist groups rely on scientists that ignore “how landowners respond to incentives” and that “economic incentives promote more forest management.”

This paper is the latest in a series of academic research that shows the forest growth and carbon mitigation benefits of wood bioenergy. The findings of leading researchers from around the world are clear and consistent: the markets supported by wood bioenergy protect and grow forests. You can read more about the science and other recent studies here.