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Regional Assessment of Woody Biomass Physical Availability as an Energy Feedstock for Combined Combustion in the US Northern Region

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Woody biomass is a renewable energy feedstock with the potential to reduce current use of nonrenewable fossil fuels. We estimated the physical availability of woody biomass for cocombustion at coal-fired electricity plants in the 20-state US northern region. First, we estimated the total amount of woody biomass needed to replace total annual coal-based electricity consumption at the state level to provide a representation of the potential energy footprints associated with using woody biomass for electric energy. If all woody biomass available were used for electric generation it could replace no more than 19% of coal-based electric generation or 11% of total electric energy generation. Second, we examined annual woody biomass increment at the state level in a series of concentric circles around existing coal-fired electricity plants to examine some of the opportunities and limitations associated with using woody biomass for cofiring at those plants to coincide with state-level renewable portfolio standards. On average, an individual coal-fired power electricity plant could theoretically replace 10% of annual coal use if it obtained 30% of the net annual woody biomass increment within a 34-km radius of the plant. In reality, the irregular spatial distribution of coal-fired power plants means potential biomass supply zones overlap and would greatly diminish opportunities for cofiring with biomass, numerous other regulatory, economic, and social considerations notwithstanding. Given that woody biomass use for electricity will be limited to selected locations, use of woody biomass for energy should be complementary with other forest conservation goals.

Keywords: US Forest Inventory and Analysis; co-combustion; renewable energy; woody biomass

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2012

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Forestry is the most widely circulated scholarly forestry journal in the world. In print since 1902, the Journal has received several national awards for excellence. The mission of the Journal of Forestry is to advance the profession of forestry by keeping forest management professionals informed about significant developments and ideas in the many facets of forestry: economics, education and communication, entomology and pathology, fire, forest ecology, geospatial technologies, history, international forestry, measurements, policy, recreation, silviculture, social sciences, soils and hydrology, urban and community forestry, utilization and engineering, and wildlife management. The Journal is published bimonthly: January, March, May, July, September, and November.
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