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Wood pellets, what else? Greenhouse gas parity times of European electricity from wood pellets that are produced in the south-eastern United States using different softwood feedstocks

Several EU countries import wood pellets from the south-eastern United States. The imported wood pellets are (co-)fired in power plants with the aim of reducing overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electricity and meeting EU renewable energy targets. To assess whether GHG emissions are reduced and on what timescale, we construct the GHG balance of wood-pellet electricity. This GHG balance consists of supply chain and combustion GHG emissions, carbon sequestration during biomass growth and avoided GHG emissions through replacing fossil electricity. We investigate wood pellets from four softwood feedstock types: small roundwood, commercial thinnings, harvest residues and mill residues. Per feedstock, the GHG balance of wood-pellet electricity is compared against those of alternative scenarios. Alternative scenarios are combinations of alternative fates of the feedstock materials, such as in-forest decomposition, or the production of paper or wood panels like oriented strand board (OSB). Alternative scenario composition depends on feedstock type and local demand for this feedstock. Results indicate that the GHG balance of wood-pellet electricity equals that of alternative scenarios within 0–21 years (the GHG parity time), after which wood-pellet electricity has sustained climate benefits. Parity times increase by a maximum of 12 years when varying key variables (emissions associated with paper and panels, soil carbon increase via feedstock decomposition, wood-pellet electricity supply chain emissions) within maximum plausible ranges. Using commercial thinnings, harvest residues or mill residues as feedstock leads to the shortest GHG parity times (0–6 years) and fastest GHG benefits from wood-pellet electricity. We find shorter GHG parity times than previous studies, for we use a novel approach that differentiates feedstocks and considers alternative scenarios based on (combinations of) alternative feedstock fates, rather than on alternative land uses. This novel approach is relevant for bioenergy derived from low-value feedstocks.

Hanssen SV , Duden AS , Junginger HM , Dale VH , van der Hilst F
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Virginia H. Dale
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Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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Bioenergy Category
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1111/gcbb.12426
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