Biogenic Carbon

The Biogenic Carbon Cycle

Biogenic carbon is part of a cycle whereby carbon is absorbed by forests over their lifetime.  This same carbon is then released when wood is used to produce energy and reabsorbed by growing tree stands.  This is in stark contrast to carbon from fossil fuels, which release new, additional carbon into the atmosphere that was previously stored underground.  It is this additional carbon being added into the atmosphere over the long-term that causes climate change.  The image above highlights these processes.

The biogenic carbon cycle is considered carbon neutral when the woody biomass used for energy is sourced from forests experiencing net growth and where carbon stocks are stable or increasing, as is the case in the US Southeast.  In the forests of the US Southeast, there are tens of thousands of tree stands, all at different stages of growth, all absorbing and storing carbon.  A small fraction of these forest resources are harvested every year for forest products (less than 4%), while at the same time forest resources are also expanding and growing year over year.  As shown in the image below, this means that carbon stocks and forest growth are on an upward trajectory across the southeastern US region and there is no 'carbon debt' or 'payback period' associated with sustainable forestry so long as this net growth continues.  

The USDA Forest Service maintains the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) which routinely monitors and measures US forest health, forest inventory (net trees per acre), and carbon stocks.  FIA data indicates that the US has experienced year over year growth in forest inventory since the 1950s, and that carbon stocks in US forests have doubled over that same time period. FIA data provides the forest products industry concrete measurements to demonstrate their positive impact on US forests.

Helpful Resources

Carbon Savings with Trans-Atlantic Trade in Pellets

University of Indiana and University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry

Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in US Bioenergy Policy

Society of American Foresters

How Is Wood-based Pellet Production Affecting Forest Conditions In the Southeastern United States?

US Dept. of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Science Fundamentals of Forest Biomass Carbon Accounting

National Alliance of University Forest Resources Programs (NAUFRP)


Carbon Benefits of the Wood Energy Industry

Emissions at the smoke stack from using wood energy to produce power and heat are  considered carbon neutral by regulators and policymakers around the world.  The scientific reasoning behind this is explained above.  

Wood energy does release emissions along the supply chain, in manufacturing, processing, and transport.  USIPA members report these emissions to regulators in EU Member States, who use these figures to demonstrate compliance with EU and Member State climate laws.  These figures have shown that using wood energy in place of coal to produce electricity can reduce carbon emissions up to 90%.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has long been a supporter of bioenergy as a climate change mitigation tool.  In their recent special report on land use in August 2019, the IPCC indicated that all scenarios that keep the planet's warming below 1.5C include combinations of biomass for energy production, afforestation and reforestation, and carbon capture.  US-produced wood energy supports all three.

Using wood energy in place of coal to produce electricity can reduce carbon emissions up to 90%.

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS)

Leading climate scientists agree that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be a critical component to any successful climate change mitigation strategy.  By adding bioenergy to the process (known as BECCS), negative emissions can be achieved.  Most recently, the UK's Committee on Climate Change stated in a recent report that BECCS is vital to the country meeting its net carbon zero goal by 2050.