USDA Awards Funds to Expand and Accelerate Wood Energy and Wood Product Markets

(The following is a USDA news release.)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of over $9 million to expand and accelerate wood energy and other wood product markets. The federal funds will leverage $22 million in investments from partners, resulting in a total investment of $31 million in 23 states.

Even small investments in woody biomass utilization can have substantial impacts. (

Even small investments in woody biomass utilization can have substantial impacts. (

“Working with our partners, the Forest Service is promoting deployment of new technologies, designed to support new market opportunities for wood energy and innovative wood building materials,” said Vilsack. “This funding also supports forest management needs on the National Forest System and other forest lands throughout the United States.”

“The Forest Service recognizes the need for a strong forest products industry to help accomplish forest restoration work,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “One of the best opportunities for reducing the cost of restoration treatments is to ensure strong markets for the byproducts of these treatments.”

This year over 100 proposals were received for the Wood Innovations grant program, highlighting the expanding use of wood as a renewable energy source and as a building material. The awarded funds will stimulate the use of hazardous fuels from National Forest System lands and other forested lands to promote forest health while simultaneously generating rural jobs.

For more information on the grant and cooperative agreement program, visit

States receiving funding include: Alaska, Ariz., Calif., Colo., Idaho, Ill., La., Mass., Mich., Minn., Mont., N.C., Neb., Nev., Ore., Pa., S.C., S.D., Utah, Va., Vt., Wash., and Wis. See a complete list of the awards.

The Secretary also announced a new partnership agreement between USDA and the Softwood Lumber Board (SLB) to help coordinate research, demonstration and market development for innovative wood building technologies in the built environment. The SLB is an industry-funded research and promotion program designed to promote the benefits and uses of softwood lumber products in outdoor, residential and non-residential construction. Through cooperative planning and execution of research and promotional activities, the USDA and SLB will create jobs in rural communities, expand wood use in the built environment and stimulate demand for forest products.

Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in U.S. Bioenergy Policy

Let’s take a quick look at one of FPL’s key publications, Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in U.S. Bioenergy Policy, by  Reid Miner, Robert Abt, Jim Bowyer, Marilyn Buford, Robert Malmsheimer, Jay O’Laughlin, Elaine Oneil, Roger Sedjo, and FPL Supervisory Research Forester Kenneth Skog.


This shows a healthy, sustainably managed forest.

A large body of research in the pub focuses on the effects of greenhouse gas (GHG) from using forest bioenergy as a substitute for fossil fuel and wood building products as a substitute for concrete and steel.

Forest bioenergy research on GHG, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), sometimes produces widely varying and occasionally contradictory results. This publication, appearing in the Journal of Forestry, examines research on the effects of GHG on energy derived from forest biomass, including all parts of the tree, living and dead, to allow improved interpretation of the research. The review accounts for biogenic carbon and biogenic CO2 and the potential effects of CO2 on global temperatures.

According to Skog, as long as land remains in forests, long-term carbon mitigation benefits are derived from sustainably managed forests. These forests provide an ongoing output of wood and other biomass to produce long-lived products and bioenergy, displacing GHG-intensive alternatives.

Demand for wood keeps land in forests, provides incentives for expanding forests and improving forest productivity, and supports investments in sustainable forest management that can help offset the forest carbon impacts of increased demand.

Although forest bioenergy systems sometimes produce near-term increases in CO2, they typically result in lower cumulative CO2 emissions over time.

When assessed using a framework that is consistent with that used for other GHGs and that reflects the effects of market-induced investments and forest growth dynamics, the types of forest-derived biomass likely to be used for energy in the United States typically have low (sometimes less than zero) warming impacts.

Skog has long been working on climate change research, having been one of 13 Forest Service researchers granted a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for these efforts. Climate change is a priority area of research for the Forest Service.



Wood Energy and the Environment

Forest Products Laboratory retiree John Zerbe has told us about the many ways that wood is used as a form of energy, but how does its use affect the environment? The Forest Service has chosen climate change as one of its top areas of concern; therefore, this question is of great interest. Zerbe breaks the matter down for the reader.

This old stove is quaint, but not the best for the environment. Photo by Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons

This old stove is quaint, but not the best for the environment. Photo by Victor Grigas via Wikimedia Commons

Carbon Dioxide

The increasing accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is generally considered to be a threat to future stability of the earth’s climate.

There can be no doubt that our vast use of fossil fuels is the major contributor to increased atmospheric carbon. The renewability of wood and other biomass fuels makes them a desirable alternative to fossil fuels to prevent or retard increasing retention of carbon dioxide emissions. When new trees are grown to replace the wood that was the source of the fuel, carbon is constantly used and regenerated in the growth cycle. The carbon that is emitted to the atmosphere is absorbed by photosynthesis in new growth.


Sulfur emissions to the atmosphere are undesirable because they can precipitate and cause harmful acidic conditions in soil and water. Wood contains little sulfur, but some coal and some oil contain substantially more. Therefore, sulfur emissions from wood are more easily controlled than those from their fossil fuel counterparts.

Oxides of Nitrogen

Oxides of nitrogen emissions tend to be lower with wood fuel than with fossil fuels. On the other hand, forest fires are a major source of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere. Higher oxides of nitrogen emissions usually accompany combustion at higher temperatures. New technology stoves designed to be more efficient have higher oxides of nitrogen emissions than conventional stoves.


Emission of particulates is the most common cause for concern in meeting environmental requirements with the burning of wood fuel. In the United States in some municipalities and under some atmospheric conditions, particularly air inversions, there are periods when wood burning in fireplaces and stoves is not permitted. Catalytic stoves can help in attaining lower emission rates. Inefficient stoves, such as outdoor wood boilers, which more and more places are banning, have been correlated to increases in asthma and other breathing difficulties.

Altogether, with increasingly sophisticated technology in wood stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces, wood is a more benign source of energy than fossil fuels as well as being renewable. FPL’s Mark Knaebe states that, “Burning wood efficiently can actually be better than letting it rot in the woods because a significant amount of methane is produced during decay.”

Wood Pellets: Today's Choice for Wood Energy

In his overview of wood as fuel and a source of energy from the Encyclopedia of Forest Sciences, Forest Products Laboratory retiree John Zerbe reviews chips and sawdust, shavings, manufactured fireplace logs, and briquettes as sources of wood energy, but here at FPL, we know that wood pellets are the most popular alternative to cordwood for heating.


Zerbe and FPL Natural Resources Specialist Mark Knaebe state that wood pellets are becoming increasingly popular. Pellets are made from processed, ground, debarked logs held together with a binder. When pellets are made from clean wood with little bark, the ash content is low.

Pellets are sold at retail outlets in 40-pound sacks, which handle and store easily. The consumer can purchase pellets in bulk, including in one-ton bags, which can be replenished by a truck delivery. Knaebe says, “Bulk pellets are just like with oil heat: the truck will come and fill your container, and your thermostat tells an auger to feed your boiler or furnace. The pellets should be kept dry to prevent disintegration and to avoid risk of mold and decay.”

“In very large piles of pellets,” warns Knaebe, “you will get a fire about 3 weeks after the pile gets wet because of spontaneous combustion and the high insulating properties of a big pile. This can be prevented with blowers or making smaller piles, never more than 10 feet deep.”

Sometimes pellets for cooking are made from woods with special flavors that can be used in barbecuing, directly or with charcoal or gas, for conveying this flavoring to meat or poultry. Excellent pellet grills are available now. However, the most common use of pellet fuel is for heating with modern and convenient pellet stoves. Some of these stoves have automatic ignition, feed, and control systems. To be EPA certified, they must be 78% efficient. To determine the efficiency of your fuel, you can download FPL’s popular Fuel Value and Power Calculator.

How Wood Is Used for Energy


Metapolisz Images through Wikimedia Commons

Doesn’t that fire look inviting? So what’s the scoop on firewood?

According to John Zerbe and FPL’s Mark Knaebe of the Forest Products Marketing Unit, cordwood is the most common kind of wood fuel we like to burn. The most common way of using cordwood for fuel is to burn pieces about 1–1 ½ feet long that are split from logs. We burn much of such wood in our fireplaces and wood stoves today, and, formerly, such firewood provided the main fuel source for home heating, domestic hot water, and food preparation. Wood is still used for heating some homes in industrial countries. Usually heat is not produced efficiently in fireplaces, but some fireplaces are sealed with glass doors and designed to use blowers to be more effective. Stoves and furnaces burn firewood more efficiently and are getting much cleaner.

However, for some applications, wood is converted to other forms of fuel that are more convenient, waste less energy, and are less prone to emit undesirable particulates and other pollutants to the air. Examples of other kinds of fuel are manufactured fireplace logs (firelogs), which are made from waste wood and wax to provide open-hearth warmth and ambience with clean fuel. More recently, however, the main alternative to cordword is wood pellets, the main advantage of which is their dryness and their ability to be automated.