De-risking the supply chain: Salvage harvesting for wood-based bioenergy
By Nicolas Mansuy
April 12, 2019 - With the most biomass per capita in the world, and 6.5 per cent of the world’s theoretical bioenergy potential, Canada is well positioned to play an increasing role in the future of global bioenergy and the emerging bioeconomy. However, the economic and environmental benefits of replacing fossil fuels with wood-based bioenergy are complex, and debates are ongoing on issues such as environmental sustainability of biomass procurement, profitability of supply chains and carbon neutrality.
By Nicolas Mansuy
In collaboration with co-workers from the Canadian Forest Service, Laval University, Queen’s University, University of British Columbia, and University of Wisconsin, we reviewed the opportunities and challenges of salvage logging of biomass to supply wood-based bioenergy.
Despite being variable in time and space, salvaged feedstock from fire and insects could theoretically provide about 100×106 oven dry ton (ODT) biomass per year, on average. Considered as wood waste, the yet-untapped biomass from disturbed forest areas could provide a substantial amount of dead and low-grade trees to supply the bioenergy sector. From a land-use perspective, it does not compete with the fiber supply from other conventional forest industries or with food production and allows leaving living trees untouched. From a sustainability perspective, numerous existing policies and guidelines for harvesting of woody biomass in Canadian jurisdictions could definitively support an increase in biomass removal.
In terms of quality, this type of biomass is also particularly suitable for the bioenergy sector since the moisture content drops rapidly after disturbance. Salvage feedstocks have the potential to generate atmospheric benefits relatively rapidly (decrease GHG emissions relative to a reference scenario), but attention should be paid to the factors that may shorten the time required to achieve such benefits. These conditions include enhancing forest regeneration after salvage harvesting and focusing on substituting GHG-intensive fuels such as coal. However, uncertainties remain as to the development of competitive and profitable supply chains, because of the potential large distances between the locations of this feedstock and available processing sites. A further measure to mitigate risks is to develop flexible supply chains that can rely on multiple sources of feedstock, with conventional forest products, waste streams and agricultural residues being integrated to optimize biomass flow and uses.
Momentum in the wood-based bioenergy sector will develop only if both the forest industry sector and the energy sector collaborate toward innovative and integrated forest management and procurement solutions, making it possible to extract maximum value from the resource while maintaining its sustainability. As climate change will likely increases natural disturbances occurrences and extents in Canadian forest, advanced forest monitoring and flexible wood supply chains are required to maximize the benefits, ecological and economic, of the forest sector.
Nicolas Mansuy is a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, in Edmonton.