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Biomass energy: promise & limits

Feb. 22, 2011, Millbrook, NY – Forest biomass could replace as much as one-quarter of the liquid fossil fuel now being used for industrial and commercial heating in the northeastern United States.


February 22, 2011
By PR Newswire | Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Feb. 22, 2011, Millbrook, NY – Forest
biomass could replace as much as one-quarter of the liquid fossil fuel now
being used for industrial and commercial heating in the northeastern United
States. That's according to a new report released by the Cary Institute of
Ecosystem Studies
.

But the report also presents sharp caveats:
The potential for forest biomass varies widely within the region, and forest
resources must be carefully managed to protect the other important services and
goods they provide. Under the right circumstances, however, forest biomass
could provide a domestic energy resource, create local jobs, and provide
incentives to forest owners.

"In targeted applications, the heat
generated by locally grown biomass can reduce dependence on fossil fuels and
support local economies," says Dr. Charles Canham, forest ecologist at the
Cary Institute and co-author of the report. "But each forested landscape
is different, and regional variation in forest conditions and energy
infrastructure means there is no one-size-fits-all solution."

The report’s authors analyzed forest data
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for Connecticut,
Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and
Vermont. The results indicate that using forest biomass for heat in the region
would be far more effective in replacing liquid fossil fuels than converting it
to cellulosic ethanol for road transport. Biomass burned in combined heat and
power plants would reduce fossil fuel use more than five times more effectively
than substituting gasoline with cellulosic ethanol.

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Under best-case scenarios, however, energy
generated sustainably from forest biomass in the U.S. Northeast could replace
only 1.4% of the region's total fossil fuel energy. But for some states,
biomass energy could be much more compelling when replacing fossil fuel use in
certain sectors.

"Maine and New Hampshire show the
greatest potential for forest biomass energy," says Dr. Thomas Buchholz, a
researcher at the University of Vermont's Carbon Dynamics Lab and co-author of
the report. "Our study found that New Hampshire could replace as much as
84% of its liquid fossil fuel dependence in the industrial and commercial
heating sector, and Maine could replace 49% of its liquid fossil fuel
dependence in the home-heating sector."

The report cautions that utmost care must be observed in all parts of the region.

"There is a misconception that
northeastern forestland is a vast, untapped resource," notes Canham.
"This is simply not true. Unrealistic growth in biomass energy facilities
could lead to serious degradation of forest resources. While forest biomass is
part of the renewable energy toolkit, it is by no means a panacea."

To access the full report, Forest Biomass
and Bioenergy: Opportunities and Constraints in the Northeastern United States,
  visit www.caryinstitute.org/biomass.html or download the pdf: www.caryinstitute.org/report_biomass_2011.pdf.


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