Measuring Sustainability: How Do Wood Pallets Stack Up?

There are more than 1.8 billion pallets in service in the United States each day, and ninety-three percent of these pallets are made from wood. That staggering statistic begs the question of just how sustainable wooden pallets really are. Luckily, we know who to ask.

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have set out to investigate the life cycle of wooden pallets in an effort to help manufacturers keep up with the demand for environmentally friendly pallets.

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Wooden pallets used for shipping purposes in the United States (NWPCA 2016).

Supervisory Research Forest Products Technologist Rick Bergman said the life-cycle assessment (LCA) study has a number of goals and benefits.

“LCA is a method used to measure the environmental impacts. For example, greenhouse gas emissions that result from the production of a product over its entire life cycle,” Bergman said. “From the extraction of raw materials through production, use, recycling, and ultimately, disposal of the product.”

Researchers are also using the information to help the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA), with whom FPL has a memorandum of understanding, develop future environmental product declarations that will result in more sustainable pallet use, and pinpoint areas of success and improvement within the production market.

Bergman and his team will survey a number of pallet manufacturing facilities to collect the assessment data and plan to present the findings at a future conference on LCA or green building.

To learn more about this project and the life of wooden pallets, read the full Research in Progress report.

Interestingly, this isn’t FPL’s first foray into the world of pallets. Click here for a historical perspective dating back to the 1930’s and a great video showing just how monumentally “pallets move the world.”

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta

The Updated Billion-Ton Resource Assessment: A New Publication

A resource assessment published in 2005, commonly referred to as the Billion-Ton Study (BTS), estimated “potential” biomass within the contiguous United States based on numerous assumptions about current and future inventory, production capacity, and technology; the main conclusion of the study was that U.S. agriculture and forest resources have the capability to sustainably produce one billion dry tons of biomass annually.

The Updated Billion-Ton Resource Assessment by Supervisory Research Forester Ken Skog and Mathematical Statistician Patricia Lebow appears in a recent Science Online article.

Graphic

The 2011 Billion-Ton Update (BT2) improves on the 2005 BTS in several ways, including a more comprehensive and rigorous model of environmental sustainability. The POLYSYS model is used to estimate supply curves for energy crops, and most resources are estimated at the county level. Further, the update emphasizes the 2012–2030 time period coincident with implementation of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and U.S. Department of Energy initiatives, rather than on updating the 2050 projection results in the original study.

The 2011 BT2 shows that large quantities of biomass are available while meeting food, livestock feed, industrial, and export demands. The BT2 is consistent with the 2005 BTS in terms of magnitude of the resource potential. Total available resources increase over time as yields increase.

Generally, the scenario assumptions in the updated assessment are much more plausible to show a “billion ton“ resource, which would be sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption and provide more than enough biomass to meet the 2022 requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Key Points

  • The updated resource assessment more plausibly shows that large quantities of biomass are available.
  • This “billion ton“ resource is sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s present petroleum consumption and provide more than enough biomass to meet the 2022 requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
  • Cooperators include FPL; Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee; WrightLink Consulting, Ten Mile, Tennessee; University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee; and CNJV, Golden, Colorado.

 

 

Join the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests Webinars

The Forest Service is working with scientists from around the country to compile and analyze data for the National Report on Sustainable Forests. This report is the review from the United States on how the Nation’s forests are doing based on the 7 Criteria and 54 Indicators for Sustainable Forests put forth by the Montreal Process. (Credit: Dandog77, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TypicalDriftless.jpg)

Before the review draft is even released, YOU have the opportunity to attend a series of webinars presented by national leaders for each criterion section, as well as to hear from Dr. Guy Robertson, the editor of the National Report.

Participating in these webinars will allow you to achieve the following:

  • Learn about the indicators that help us understand how our forests are doing for each criterion.
  • Discover the initial findings that researchers are seeing as they evaluate the last 5 years of data since the 2010 report.
  • Discuss with the lead researchers of each criterion what they’re finding and what it means.
  • Help shape the conclusions and perspectives presented in the final report.

Each 60-minute webinar provides an initial glimpse into the data while highlighting topics for conversation on the Sustainable Forests Roundtable site and on social media, including the Sustainable Forests Roundtable Dialog on Facebook.

We invite you to take this opportunity to have a “sneak preview” of data from the upcoming National Report on Sustainable Forests. The criteria leads for each of the seven criteria (including Forest Products Laboratory economist Ted Bilek) will be presenting on the data they are collecting, and share initial interesting results they are finding. It will also be an opportunity to give feedback and reflect on each criterion and the indicators that relate to it–feedback that will then be used to help determine the content of the final report.

To learn more and register for webinars, visit the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests Webinar webpage.

About the Report

The National Report on Sustainable Forests provides a comprehensive assessment of forests in the United States across the ecological, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability. Close to 30 Forest Service scientists and university collaborators are contributing to the 2015 edition of the report. Other forestry professionals and concerned individuals are helping to inform the National Report through their ongoing participation in the Sustainable Forest Roundtable, a national, open-membership stakeholder group devoted to promoting sustainable forest reporting and management in the United States.

Using the Montréal Process Criteria and Indicators for Forest Sustainability as a foundation, the National Report combines summary analysis with hard data on specific aspects of forest ecosystems, data on topics such as forest area and biodiversity measures, forest carbon sequestration, the social and economic benefits supplied by forests, and the institutions through which we manage them. In fact, one of the main purposes of the National Report is to make these data as accessible as possible so that people can come to their own conclusions about forest conditions and sustainability.

Updating Building Design Software to Quantify Environmental Impacts

With continuously growing interest in green building, it is important for building designers to consider the environmental impacts of their designs. Unfortunately, no building design software currently offers a way to quantify those impacts for building structures with wood.

Composit-framing

Software changes will allow building designers to compare the environmental impact of wood products with non-wood materials.

Richard Bergman, a research forest products technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory, is working to incorporate whole-building life-cycle assessment (LCA) data in design software so the impacts of building with wood can be quantified and points can be gathered toward green building certification.

A substantial body of wood product LCA data has been developed in the past 15 years for North America, however its greatest impact in the marketplace will likely come with its inclusion in building design software.

Results from this project will allow building designers to make on-demand environmental performance comparisons of building made with wood and non-wood building materials.

For more information, please see this Research in Progress report.

This project is conducted in cooperation with the American Wood Council.

New Research Shows Markets and Timing Matter When Accounting for Biogenic Carbon

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has published “Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in US Bioenergy Policy” in the Journal of Forestry. The article, which was authored by an SAF-sponsored team comprised of some of the US’s leading forest carbon experts (including FPL Research Forester Ken Skog), identifies and examines scientific-based insights essential to understanding forest bioenergy and “carbon debts.”

KenSkog

FPL’s Ken Skog is an author on the Journal of Forestry article.

As noted by Reid Miner, the lead author and chair of the SAF team, the article’s insights, which are built on a comprehensive review of the most current literature, illustrate why quantifying the full spectrum of forest-based activities is critical when accounting for biogenic carbon and carbon dioxide, and why policymakers should consider that:

– Even while the greenhouse-gas benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are sometimes delayed, it is well established that these benefits are substantial over the long term.

– The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that peak global temperature is likely to be determined by long-term cumulative CO2 emissions, and that forest-based energy and products help limit cumulative CO2 emissions.

– An accurate comparison of the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy with those of other energy sources requires the use of consistent timeframes in the comparison.

– Landowner responses to increased wood demand can have a significant influence on the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy.

The release of this article comes as a number of groups await the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Accounting Framework for Biogenic Carbon Emissions, following a three-year deferral to examine the issue. Dr. Roger Sedjo, a member of both the SAF team and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) said, “I was concerned about the complexity of the SAB recommendations that resulted from our discussions, and was also uncertain whether the SAB process captured the importance of market dynamics, including the effects of markets on forest investment levels. The magnitude and timing of benefits from use of forest bioenergy depends upon availability of markets for wood products. This article clearly shows how influential markets are as we consider how forest biomass factors into our energy future.” Sedjo also noted that timing of carbon benefits is often misrepresented in current literature—something that is also addressed in this article.

University of Washington scientist Dr. Elaine Oneil added, “In the West, reducing forest biomass density is an effective means of stemming the threat of large-scale intensive wildfires. Generally, the non-merchantable residues from thinning projects are burned on site to reduce fire risk and improve forest health. Utilizing residues to produce biomass energy, instead of burning them in the forest, returns carbon to the atmosphere at the same time as burning residues on site without energy recovery, so the net impact of energy production on biogenic carbon emissions is essentially zero and the benefits from using residues for energy are immediate. However, these benefits are not possible without markets for these residues.”

North Carolina State Professor Dr. Robert Abt was impressed by the SAF team’s work, which represents different disciplines and regions of the country. “The study provides a comprehensive review of the science surrounding wood bioenergy and carbon emissions. Unlike many discussions, it recognizes the economic relationships among wood bioenergy uses, forest harvests, and forest investments by providing a review of both the theoretical rationale and the empirical evidence of the effect of an increase in wood demand on forest carbon. The literature demonstrates that increased demand for wood bioenergy can lead not only to increased harvests, but also to increased forest investments, which provide offsetting forest growth and associated offsetting increases in forest carbon.”