Carbon Balance and Management
Forests store large amounts of carbon in forest biomass, and this carbon can be released to the atmosphere following forest disturbance or management. In the western US, forest fuel reduction treatments designed to reduce the risk of high severity wildfire can change forest carbon balance by removing carbon in the form of biomass, and by altering future potential wildfire behavior in the treated stand. Forest treatment carbon balance is further affected by the fate of this biomass removed from the forest, and the occurrence and intensity of a future wildfire in this stand. In this study we investigate the carbon balance of a forest treatment with varying fates of harvested biomass, including use for bioenergy electricity production, and under varying scenarios of future disturbance and regeneration.
Bioenergy is a carbon intensive energy source; in our study we find that carbon emissions from bioenergy electricity production are nearly twice that of coal for the same amount of electricity. However, some emissions from bioenergy electricity production are offset by avoided fossil fuel electricity emissions. The carbon benefit achieved by using harvested biomass for bioenergy electricity production may be increased through avoided pyrogenic emissions if the forest treatment can effectively reduce severity.
Forest treatments with the use of harvested biomass for electricity generation can reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere by offsetting fossil fuel electricity generation emissions, and potentially by avoided pyrogenic emissions due to reduced intensity and severity of a future wildfire in the treated stand. However, changes in future wildfire and regeneration regimes may affect forest carbon balance and these climate-induced changes may influence forest carbon balance as much, or more, than bioenergy production.
Kelsey et al.: Short and long-term carbon balance of bioenergy electricity production fueled by forest treatments. Carbon Balance and Management 2014 9:6.