Study Shows Carbon Savings from Forest Residue-Based Power

Slash piles, consisting of tree tops and limbs left by the logging and timber industry

Source: Biomass Magazine

A recent study commissioned by the Biomass Power Association (an organization representing 80 biomass power plants across the U.S.) compared the carbon intensity of a forest residue biomass power facility in New Hampshire to that of a combined cycle natural gas facility.

Dr. Madhu Khanna (of the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural/Consumer Economics) and Dr. Puneet Dwivedi (of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources) found significant carbon benefits can be achieved through the use of organic residue based biomass instead of natural gas in power generation facilities.

The results showed immediate carbon savings of 115%, and 98% carbon savings over 100 years.

This “forest residue” is the leftover matter from harvesting wood fiber in a managed forest for paper mills and lumber mills. The leftovers include tops, limbs and other forestry byproducts are generated regardless of being used for power or just left to decay. If it’s not collected and used as biomass power, it will typically remain in the forest in slash piles – which are isolated piles burned safely in order to keep forests healthy. This kind of forest management is important, because unlike living trees that draw carbon from the atmosphere – dead tree leftovers release carbon into the atmosphere.

“The avoidance of carbon and methane emissions by removing from the forest and using materials that decay results in a significant GHG reduction over time. While the decay of these materials releases small amounts of methane consistently over time, the methane gas has a 21 times higher global warming impact on the climate than carbon dioxide. Even a small amount of avoided methane release can substantially increase the near term benefits of removing harvesting residues and using them for electricity generation instead of leaving them in the forest and continuing to burn natural gas for electricity.”

-Case Study: Carbon Intensity of Harvesting Residue-Based Electricity

The decay rate of forest biomass, the carbon/methane emissions that would have occurred if the organic leftovers stayed on the forest floor, and the incidental carbon emissions incurred during the harvesting/chipping/transportation process were all factors taken into account during the study.

Interested in learning more? Check out the full study, here.

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