Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Carbon mitigation strategy uses wood for buildings first, bioenergy second

Proposals to remove the carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuel from the atmosphere include letting commercially managed forests grow longer between harvests or not cutting them at all.

An article published in the journal Forests says, however, that Pacific Northwest trees grown and harvested sustainably, such as every 45 years, can both remove existing carbon dioxide from the air and help keep the gas from entering the atmosphere in the first place.

That's provided wood is used primarily for such things as building materials instead of cement and steel – which require more fossil fuels in their manufacture – and secondarily that wood wastes are used for biofuels to displace the use of fossil fuels.

"When it comes to keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, it makes more sense to use trees to recycle as much carbon as we can and offset the burning of fossil fuel than it does to store carbon in standing forests and continuing burning fossil fuels," said Bruce Lippke, University of Washington professor emeritus of forest resources.

Lippke is one of eight co-authors of the article in Forests. It is the first to comprehensively calculate using woody biomass for bioenergy in addition to using wood for long-lived products. The article focuses on the extra carbon savings that can be squeezed from harvesting trees if wood not suitable for long-term building materials is used for bioenergy. Such wood can come from the branches and other debris left after harvesting, materials thinned from stands or from plantations of fast-growing trees like willow.

For the article, the co-authors looked at selected bioenergy scenarios using wood from the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Southeast and Northeast.

They considered two ways of producing ethanol from woody biomass – gasification and fermentation – and used what's called life cycle analysis to tally all the environmental effects of gathering, processing and using the resulting fuels. Ethanol from woody biomass emits less greenhouse gas than an equivalent amount of gasoline, between 70 percent and a little over 100 percent less.

How much of a reduction depends on the process. Achieving slightly more than a 100 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is possible, for example, using a fermentation process that both produces ethanol and generates enough electricity to offset the fossil fuel used in the fermentation process.

In contrast, producing and using corn ethanol to displace gasoline reduces greenhouse gas emissions 22 percent on average, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's fact sheet "Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Expanded Renewable and Alternative Fuels Use."

While biofuels from woody biomass are carbon friendly, Lippke cautions that the U.S. should not use tax breaks or other incentives that inadvertently divert wood to bioenergy that is better used for long-lived building materials and furniture.

"Substituting wood for non-wood building materials can displace far more carbon emissions than using the wood for biofuel," the article says. "This fact creates a hierarchy of wood uses that can provide the greatest carbon mitigation for each source of supply."

Lippke said using wood for products and bioenergy can be considered carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide trees absorb while growing eventually goes back to the atmosphere when, for instance, wood rots after building demolition or cars burn ethanol made from woody debris. With sustainably managed forests, that carbon dioxide is then absorbed by the growing trees awaiting the next harvest.

The co-authors aren't advocating that all forests be harvested, just the ones designated to help counter carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Older forests, for instance, provide ecological values even though they absorb less carbon dioxide as they age.

In the article the authors also urge policymakers and citizens to consider not just carbon mitigation but also to find ways to weigh the importance of energy independence from fossil fuels when considering how to use woody biomass for bioenergy.

"Simply burning woody biomass to generate heat or electricity makes sense for carbon mitigation," he says, "But there's no energy independence gained," Lippke said. So carbon efficiency is only one part of the equation. Transportation fuels depend heavily on imported oil and therefore biofuels that replace them make additional contributions to the domestic economy, including energy independence and rural economic development, the authors said.

Other co-authors are Richard Gustafson and Elaine Oneil with the UW, Richard Venditti with North Carolina State University, Timothy Volk with the State University of New York, Leonard Johnson with the University of Idaho, Maureen Puettmann of WoodLife Environmental Consultants and Phillip Steele with Mississippi State University.

The publication integrates findings across many previous reports generated by a consortium of 17 research institutions that have been involved in life cycle analysis of wood products for more than 15 years through the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, based at the UW. The recent biofuel life cycle research was funded with a grant from the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory.

For more information:

Lippke, 206-322-8205, office 206-543-8684, cell 206-931-7297,

Oneil, UW faculty and executive director CORRIM, office 206-543-8684,

Gustafson, UW faculty, advanced biofuels such as ethanol from cellulose, 206-543-2790,

Puettmann, CORRIM's consultant for reviewing life cycle data, 541-231-2627,

Suggested websites

Abstract and link to pdf of article

Bruce Lippke

EPA fact sheet "Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Expanded Renewable and Alternative Fuels Use"

Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials

Sandra Hines | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Algorithm could streamline harvesting of hand-picked crops
13.03.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

nachricht A global conflict: agricultural production vs. biodiversity
06.03.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>