Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Standing trees better than burning ones for carbon neutrality

The search for alternatives to fossil fuels has prompted growing interest in the use of wood, harvested directly from forests, as a carbon-neutral energy source.
But a new study by researchers at Duke and Oregon State universities finds that leaving forests intact so they can continue to store carbon dioxide and keep it from re-entering the atmosphere will do more to curb climate change over the next century than cutting and burning their wood as fuel.

"Substituting woody bioenergy for fossil fuels isn't an effective method for climate change mitigation," said Stephen R. Mitchell, a research scientist at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. Wood stores only about half the amount of carbon-created energy as an equivalent amount of fossil fuels, he explained, so you have to burn more of it to produce as much energy.

"In most cases, it would take more than 100 years for the amount of energy substituted to equal the amount of carbon storage achieved if we just let the forests grow and not harvest them at all," he said.

Mitchell is lead author of the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy. Mark E. Harmon and Kari E. O'Connell of Oregon State University co-authored the study.

Using an ecosystem simulation model developed at Oregon State, the team calculated how long it would take to repay the carbon debt – the net reduction in carbon storage – incurred by harvesting forests for wood energy under a variety of different scenarios.

Their model accounted for a broad range of harvesting practices, ecosystem characteristics and land-use histories. It also took into account varying bioenergy conversion efficiencies, which measure the amount of energy that woody biomass gives off using different energy-generating technologies.

"Few of our combinations achieved carbon sequestration parity in less than 100 years, even when we set the bioenergy conversion factor at near-maximal levels," Harmon said. Because wood stores less carbon-created energy than fossil fuels, you have to harvest, transport and burn more of it to produce as much energy. This extra activity produces additional carbon emissions.

"These emissions must be offset if forest bioenergy is to be used without adding to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in the near-term," he said.

Performing partial harvests at a medium to low frequency – every 50 to 100 years or so – could be an effective strategy, O'Connell noted, but would generate less bioenergy.

"It's a Catch-22," she said. "Less intensive methods of harvesting release fewer emissions but yield less energy. The most intensive methods, such as clear-cutting, produce more energy but also release more carbon back into the atmosphere, prolonging the time required to achieve carbon sequestration parity."

Given current economic realities and the increasing worldwide demand for forest products and land for agriculture, it's unlikely that many forests will be managed in coming years solely for carbon storage, Mitchell said, but that makes it all the more critical that scientists, resource managers and policymakers work together to maximize the carbon storage potential of the remaining stands.

"The take-home message of our study is that managing forests for maximal carbon storage can yield appreciable, and highly predictable, carbon mitigation benefits within the coming century," Mitchell said. "Harvesting forests for bioenergy production would require such a long time scale to yield net benefits that it is unlikely to be an effective avenue for climate-change mitigation."

The research was funded by a NASA New Investigator Program grant to Kari O'Connell, by the H.J. Andrews Long-term Ecological Research Program, and by the Kay and Ward Richardson Endowment.

Tim Lucas | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

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 >>>