U.S. wood pellets can help EU meet renewable energy goals

By Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions | June 08, 2015

Wood pellet supplies from the southeastern United States could assist the European Union to meet its 2020 policy goals for increased renewable energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions without decreasing U.S. forest inventories or diminishing their carbon storage capacity.

A new analysis by researchers at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and North Carolina State University examined the contribution by forests in the southeastern United States to EU wood pellet markets. The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology-Bioenergy, examined how participation in those markets will affect forest inventories and carbon storage in this region and whether EU sustainability guidelines for pellets can be met.

“In our modeled scenarios, we found that future increases in wood pellets from the Southeast United States could meet sustainability guidelines set by the EU to achieve its larger renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals,” said lead author and Nicholas Institute Senior Policy Associate Christopher Galik. “In fact, the analysis indicates that the projected level of future demand could actually promote increases in forest area and forest carbon storage in the U.S.”

EU sustainability guidelines require that biomass sources of heat and electricity, including wood pellets, meet initial greenhouse gas reductions of 35 percent—increasing to 60 percent by 2018. Galik and co-author Robert Abt combine—for the first time—an economic model of forest markets in the southeastern United States with spatially explicit information on sensitive forest lands to examine the implications of new demand for biomass sources under these guidelines and to track how that demand feeds into the economy. Their work shows that increased biomass demand would expand the area of southeastern forests by over 6 million acres and lead to a small increase—roughly 1.5 percent—in forest carbon storage by 2040 as compared with a scenario in which biomass demand remained at current levels.

Our approach allows us to observe the complex interactions between local forest conditions and broad market feedbacks triggered by the increase in biomass demand,” Galik said. “In doing so, we provide a more realistic account for how applying EU sustainability guidelines to actual locations could positively or negatively affect evolving forest markets and landscapes in the southeastern United States.”

The study was conducted, in part, with funding from the Southern Forest Resource Assessment Consortium.