Ohio State University Professor Brent Sohngen is speaking up about the carbon mitigation and forest retention benefits of wood bioenergy, after he published a new report with researchers from the University of Maine and the Georgia Institute of Technology finding significant upside from utilizing woody biomass as a renewable energy source.
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.
Sohngen, in an interview with Inside Sources, noted the key takeaway from the study should be the carbon benefits of wood bioenergy.
“The first thing people should take away from our research is that, without a doubt, biomass is carbon neutral,” said Sohngen. “That debate should be over.”
Professor Sohngen, who studies environmental and resource economics, pointed out that the forest products industry isn’t about cutting down trees and leaving land bare – rather, forestry is a net generator of forest area.
“Previous studies were based on a 1900’s vision of the world where we have all these trees and we’re just going to cut them down, take them, and use them,” Sohngen said. “The reality is that, in the last century, we’ve flipped the world from being one where we take resources to one where we generate resources.”
To see this in action, look to the US Southeast, where much of the supply for sustainable wood pellets is concentrated, and where 56 percent of forest acreage is held by private landowners. According to data from the USDA Forest Service, forest acreage in the South has grown by 10 million acres since the 1970s.
Sohngen notes that wood bioenergy is renewable as practiced by foresters in the United States. “What the critics have forgotten is that by the time he cuts down a tree, any smart forester already has trees growing to replace it. For every ton of wood products harvested, there are 30 years of new tonnage somewhere in the growth cycle,” said Sohngen. “So when you cut down trees for biofuels, it doesn’t take any time to regenerate that because you’re actually already doing it.”
Because of this, “Higher prices [from biofuel demand] actually incentivize more growth.” Wood bioenergy ensures that trees are “worth something.”
Sohgen’s work is just the latest in a growing body of academic research demonstrating the forest growth and carbon mitigation benefits of wood bioenergy. You can read more about the science and other recent studies at FFJ’s new Research Directory here.