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What is Biomass Energy? 

The paper and wood products industry is part of a circular value chain that prides itself on sustainable practices. We’re a crucial part of the climate solution.

One of the ways we’re doing that is through the production of carbon beneficial and renewable biomass energy. Then we use that biomass energy to fuel our mills to displace the use of fossil fuels. 

Let’s dive into what biomass energy is and how our industry uses it in manufacturing.

What is Biomass Energy?

Different groups use a variety of definitions, some wider and some narrower. For our purposes, biomass is organic plant material from forests.

Biomass energy is when you can use that organic plant material from forests as fuel to create heat and power.

How is Biomass Energy Used by the Paper and Wood Products Industry?

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Leftover bark and sticks for biomass energy
We use biomass energy to replace fossil fuels

Our industry uses every part of the trees possible so that nothing goes to waste. For our industry, biomass energy comes from the leftover parts of the tree that could otherwise go to landfills. Things like branches, bark and chips.

We use biomass energy to replace fossil fuels when creating the heat and power needed to manufacture our products. The things you use every day like paper, packaging, tissue and wood products like the lumber in your house.

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Is the Paper Industry Cutting Down Trees for Biomass Energy?

No. We use the leftover parts of the tree that could otherwise go to landfills to create biomass energy. Things like bark, branches and liquid bioenergy extracted from wood chips while manufacturing pulp for paper products.

The paper and wood products industry then uses every part of the tree possible in our manufacturing process, so nothing goes to waste.

From the log to create lumber and other wood products, to the leftover chips that are used in pulp and paper products.

The log goes on to create products like lumber, furniture, paper and packaging. Anything remaining is converted to biomass energy used to power the mills.

Where Does the Paper Industry Get Trees for Products?

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A person planting a pine tree sapling.
90%
of wood is sourced from private, sustainably managed working forests

The paper industry uses trees from healthy, managed working forests where harvesting of trees is permitted. We source our trees from two types of working forests:

  • Private Working Forests
  • Public Working Forests

The vast majority of our country’s working forests are on private land. These are owned by individuals, families, small and large businesses. Many of these forests have been in families for generations.

Trees on working forests are replanted and grown again while protecting the ecosystem of the forest. Careful harvesting and planting ensure there are forests for decades to come.

90% of the wood that is used to produce the essential paper and wood products that Americans use every day is sourced from private, sustainably managed working forests.

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Does the Paper Industry Cause Deforestation? 
 

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A confier forest
1/3
of the U.S. is forested, totaling 766 million acres

Our industry is a leader in promoting sustainable forest management. Forests in the U.S. are strong. In the U.S., more than 1 billion trees are planted each year. One-third of the nation is forested, totaling nearly 766 million acres.

Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forests to other uses like new housing developments or agriculture. Harvesting is the removal of trees, but it is not the permanent conversion of a forest.

As a condition of membership, AF&PA members commit to sustainable forest management and sourcing wood from responsibly managed working forests.

The U.S. grows twice the volume of trees than is harvested. And, about 2% of working forests are harvested each year. More forestland in the U.S., both working and non-working, is disturbed by natural events like insects, disease and fire than is harvested.

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How is Biomass Energy Helping Capture Carbon?

Forests are one of the single greatest carbon storage technologies on the planet.

And as those trees mature, they suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store that very same carbon in the products we make. A whole lot of it. American forests, for instance, offset about 13% of U.S. carbon emissions annually.

That means biomass energy is helping take more carbon out of the atmosphere than it emits.

This makes it a much cleaner and more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels like coal.

Is Biomass Energy Renewable and Sustainable? 

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Cars on a highway. The text reads, "35 million. The approximate amount of cars removed from the road from the industry’s use of biomass energy."

Yes, biomass energy created by the paper and wood products industry is renewable and sustainable. For an energy source to be renewable, it needs to come from a source that is non-exhaustible or can be replenished continuously.

Our industry uses every part of the tree in our manufacturing process. We use the leftovers from the tree like bark, liquid bioenergy, and branches to create biomass energy.

We source our trees from sustainably and responsibly managed working forests to manufacture essential products. Those forests are healthy, growing and helping to capture carbon.

Trees on working forests are replanted and grown again while protecting the ecosystem of the forest. Careful harvesting and planting ensures there are forests for decades to come. This cycle is done through long-term and continuous planning.

About 2% of working forests are harvested each year. More forestland in the U.S., both working and non-working, is disturbed by natural events like insects, disease and fire than is harvested.

How our industry uses biomass energy is also sustainable. About two-thirds of the energy used by paper and wood products mills is generated from biomass energy. We also sell power, called bioelectricity, to the grid.

The sustainable use of biomass energy to power paper mills reduces greenhouse gas emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.

Our use of biomass energy prevents about 181 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere each year. That’s roughly equal to removing 35 million cars from the road.

We’ve also decreased our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 24% since 2005. That was accomplished in part by using biomass energy.

Does that Mean Biomass Energy is Carbon Neutral?

Yes, biomass energy is carbon neutral.

Repeated studies, agencies, institutions, policies and virtually every country around the world recognize the carbon neutrality of the biomass energy produced by the paper and wood products industry.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper