Production of renewable energy from biomass can help reduce greenhouse gases, improve energy security, and provide jobs. Uncertainties remain, however, regarding how the agriculture and forest sectors might work together, responding to increased demand for biomass that can be used as raw material for energy production (i.e., bioelectricity feedstocks). Potential environmental consequences of increased biomass production are also a concern.
A recent paper in the journal Energy Policy focuses on these complexities. Ken Skog, supervisory research forester at FPL contributed to this research along with lead researchers from Oregon State University’s Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management and contributions from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.
Researchers used an economic model to examine how the agriculture and forest sectors might jointly contribute to meet increased demands for bioelectricity under simulated future national-level renewable electricity standards.
Agricultural and forest-based biomass will both be needed to meet part of the nation’s future energy demands. Because of ready availability, researchers say, the forest sector would be the initial primary provider of biomass, mostly in the form of logging residues. As demand increases over time, however, the agricultural sector would provide most of the biomass via energy crops such as switchgrass and some crop residues.
At the highest targets for bioelectricity production, the research team projected that more forest land may be converted to agricultural land to support agriculture biomass production. Greenhouse gas emissions from both the forestry and agricultural sectors, a key concern in judging the value of future energy contributions, are projected to involve only minor increases. Similarly, crop prices were projected to be generally stable in the face of increased bioelectricity demand and displacement of traditional agriculture crops.