Forest products manufacturers use biomass from sustainable forestry operations to produce energy, providing significant carbon reducing benefits to the environment. AF&PA urges policymakers to continue to recognize our industry’s unique biomass use as carbon neutral. EPA’s pending release of a framework to regulate biogenic carbon makes this issue current and of great significance to the forest products industry.
Science of the Natural Carbon Cycle
As forests grow, carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis. This CO2 is converted into organic carbon and stored in woody biomass. Trees release the stored carbon when they die, decay, or are combusted. As the biomass releases carbon as CO2, the carbon cycle is completed. The carbon in biomass will return to the atmosphere regardless of whether it is burned for energy, allowed to biodegrade, or lost in a forest fire. The net impact of these processes is that CO2 flows in and out of forests and through the forest products industry by both biomass combustion and sequestration in products. Overall, the flow of forest CO2 is carbon positive when forests are sustainably managed, and the forest system remains a net sink of CO2 from the atmosphere. Thus, the carbon neutrality of sustainably managed forest biomass is a scientifically supported fact.
The carbon neutrality of biomass harvested from sustainably managed forests has been recognized repeatedly by an abundance of studies, agencies, institutions, legislation and rules around the world, including the guidance of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the reporting protocols of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As governments continue to implement incentives and mandates to increase the use of renewable fuels, concerns arise over the potential depletion of forest carbon stocks that may upset the carbon balance. Increasing demand must be coupled with increased supply.
Accounting for CO2 in Biomass Energy
In 2011, EPA proposed regulating biogenic emissions under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program. EPA deferred a decision for three years while they proposed an Accounting Framework for Biogenic CO2 Emissions From Stationary Sources
(which recognized the greenhouse gas reduction benefits of energy produced from mill residuals and byproducts) and submitted it to its Science Advisory Board (SAB) for peer review, which was completed in September 2012. EPA is considering the SAB recommendations and public comments as it works to revise the framework and propose regulations on biogenic emissions this year, with final regulations expected in 2014.
Industry’s Responsible and Efficient Biomass Use
The forest products industry is the largest producer and user of bioenergy of any industrial sector and has long-standing operations in the U.S. The creation and use of biomass energy in forest products mills is integral and incidental to the manufacture of products such as pulp, paper, packaging, and wood products. Pulp mills, integrated pulp and paper mills, and wood products mills convert biomass residues to energy while manufacturing biobased products that are useful to society. The forest products industry has created a highly efficient, market-based system of managed forest use with significant carbon benefits including:
providing biomass power by utilizing forest and mill residues;
efficiently using biomass residuals through combined heat and power (CHP) systems to assure forest biomass resources minimize total forest system greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions;
- reducing the industry’s and our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and reducing GHG emissions while simultaneously meeting society’s needs for forest products;
- reducing potential GHG emissions that otherwise would result from residue disposal (e.g., methane from decomposition);
- balancing forest supply and demand through market-based systems for biomass due to forest planting and re-growth, as evidenced by net increases in forest carbon stocks over most of the last 50 years; and
- robustly recycling paper to reuse valuable biomass resources.
These carbon benefits can be perpetuated if forests continue to remain abundant and well managed, with forest use and growth balancing supply and demand.
- Energy from biomass residues from both manufacturing mills and forests should be acknowledged for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These wood residues would have released CO2 to the atmosphere anyway if they had not been used to displace fossil fuels.
- Biomass used to create energy should be treated as carbon neutral where the growth rate of forests is greater than or equal to harvest levels.
- Public policies should not construct artificial mandates or incentives, which disrupt the nation’s existing efficient and balanced forest biomass markets.
- Public policies should recognize that sustainably managed forests and forest products sequester and store carbon and reduce greenhouse gases.