Study says forest biomass process on US west coast isn’t sustainable

A new study says biofuels produced from woody biomass from forest on the west coast of the US can increase carbon emissions by ‘at least 14%’ if operations are not efficient enough.

The research, released by the scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and other institutions in Germany and France, looked at 80 forest types in 19 eco-regions in Oregon, Washington and California.

However, when Biofuels International asked Biotechnology Industry Organisation’s director, Paul Winters, about the report he said that current practice for forest in this area is to leave it largely untouched.

‘It [the study] identifies some forest areas – such as those stricken by disease or infestation – where active management and biomass removal can actually bring a greenhouse gas benefit, when compared to leaving forests untouched. The study also does not consider tree plantations for production of biomass,’ says Winters.

However, one of the study’s authors, Tara Hudiburg, argues that on the west coast of the US research found that ‘projected forest biomass removal and use for bioenergy in any form will release more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than current forest management practices.’

‘Most people assume that wood bioenergy will be carbon-neutral, because the forest re-grows and there's also the chance of protecting forests from carbon emissions due to wildfire. However, our research showed that the emissions from these activities proved to be more than the savings,’ she says.

Winters refutes this and says that US biofuel policy protects these untouched forests by ‘preventing biofuels derived from them from qualifying for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard’.

The report concludes that under the most ‘optimal levels of efficiency’, management for fire prevention increased it 2%; for better economic return, 6%; and for higher bioenergy production, 14%.

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