Skip to main content

biopower

Synthesis manuscript for an Ecology & Society Special Feature on Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability

Abstract: European demand for renewable energy resources has led to rapidly increasing transatlantic exports of wood pellets from the southeastern United States (SE US) since 2009. Disagreements have arisen over the global greenhouse gas reductions associated with replacing coal with wood, and groups on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have raised concerns that increasing biomass exports might negatively affect SE US forests and the ecosystem services they provide. We use the telecoupling framework to test assertions that the intended benefits of the wood pellet trade for Europe might be offset by negative consequences in the SE US. Through a review of current literature and available data sets, we characterize the observed and potential changes in the environmental, social, and economic components of the sending and receiving regions to assess the overall sustainability of this renewable energy system. We conclude that the observed transatlantic wood pellet trade is an example of a mutually beneficial telecoupled system with the potential to provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits in both the SE US and Europe despite some negative effects on the coal industry. We recommend continued monitoring of this telecoupled system to quantify the environmental, social, and economic interactions and effects in the sending, receiving, and spillover systems over time so that evidence-based policy decisions can be made with regard to the sustainability of this renewable energy pathway.

Citation: Parish, E. S., A. J. Herzberger, C. C. Phifer and V. H. Dale. 2018. Transatlantic wood pellet trade demonstrates telecoupled benefits. Ecology and Society 23 (1):28. [online] URL:https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol23/iss1/art28/

Phone
Publication Year
Project Title
Bioenergy Sustainability: How to Define and Measure it
Email
parishes@ornl.gov
DOI
doi.org/10.5751/ES-09878-230128
Contact Person
Esther S. Parish
Contact Organization
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Bioenergy Category
Author
Esther Parish, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory , Anna Herzeberger, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Michigan State University , Colin Phifer, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University , Virginia Dale, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
WBS Project Number
4.2.2.40
Funded from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office.

The U.S. biomass resource can be used several ways that provide domestic, renewable energy to users. Understanding the capacity of the biomass resource, its potential in energy markets, and the most economic utilization of biomass is important in policy development and project selection. This study analyzed the potential for biomass within markets and the competition between them. The study found that biomass has the potential to compete well in the jet fuel and gasoline markets, penetration of biomass in markets is likely to be limited by the size of the resource, and that biomass is most cost effectively used for fuels instead of power in mature markets unless carbon capture and sequestration is available and the cost of carbon is around $80/metric ton CO2e.
 
Biomass Utilization Issues
Biomass is a limited resource with many competing uses. Its allocation for fuel, power, and products depends upon characteristics of each of these markets, their interactions, and policies affecting these markets. In order to better understand competition for biomass among markets and the potential for biofuel as a market-scale alternative to petroleum-based fuels, the Transportation Energy Futures (TEF) study created a unique modeling tool to analyze the impact of these multiple demand areas.
 
There are compelling reasons for use of biomass in each of these three markets:
• Fuel: Biomass is the primary renewable resource that can be used to generate liquid fuels for today’s vehicles and infrastructure.
• Power: Technology is currently available to enable co-firing with coal, reducing the carbon intensity of baseload electricity and providing one of the few renewable dispatchable options.
• Products: Mixtures of chemicals with carbon-hydrogen-oxygen bonds such as those found in biomass are too valuable to burn.
 
Federal policy and activities have supported both biofuels and biopower. Relevant policies include the renewable fuels standard, the renewables portfolio standard, the clean energy standard, and many state and regional greenhouse gas (GHG) policies. Goals for biofuel policies include reduction in petroleum and, especially, petroleum imports to increase energy security. Other goals for biofuel policies focus on environmental and economic concerns, GHG emissions reduction, and diversification of agricultural products. Goals for biopower policies include displacement of coal for environmental concerns and GHG reduction. In the past two decades, the U.S. Department of Energy’s research and development (R&D)

Organization
Lab
Bioenergy Category

Biomass power offers utilities a potential pathway to increase their renewable generation portfolios for compliance with renewable energy standards and to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to current fossil-based technologies. To date, a large body of life-cycle assessment (LCA) literature assessing biopower’s life-cycle GHG emissions has been published.
 
Phase A of this project performed an exhaustive search of the biopower LCA literature yielding 117 references that passed quality and relevance screening criteria. Fifty-seven papers reported 280 life-cycle GHG emission estimates. Literature indicates that, excluding land use change (LUC), well-managed and well-designed biopower systems can deliver electricity with low life cycle GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels. The use of residues and organic wastes for biopower could result in significantly lower life-cycle GHG emissions if biomass is diverted from landfill or open-air burning. Using carbon mitigation technologies such as carbon capture and storage, rarely studied for biopower systems, could yield even deeper emission reductions.
 
Phase B of this project constructed a spreadsheet model of the biopower life cycle to conduct a sensitivity analysis using biomass supply chain parameters that were taken from applicable literature in the LCA literature review. The spreadsheet model, created from NREL’s Systems Advisor Model (SAM) structure, was expanded to evaluate GHG emissions from dedicated biomass crops. These capabilities were integrated into SAM.

 

Lab

Interest in using biomass feedstocks to produce power, liquid fuels, and chemicals in the U.S. is increasing. Central to determining the potential for these industries to develop is an understanding of the location, quantities, and prices of biomass resources. This paper describes the methodology used to estimate biomass quantities and prices for each state in the continental U.S. An Excel™ spreadsheet contains estimates of biomass quantities potentially available in five categories: mill wastes, urban wastes, forest residues, agricultural residues and energy crops. Availabilities are sorted by anticipated delivered price. A presentation that explains how this information was used to support the goal of increasing biobased products and bioenergy 3 times by 2010 expressed in Executive Order 13134 of August 12, 1999 is also available.
Originally available at https://bioenergy.ornl.gov/resourcedata/index.html (Accessed January 7, 2013).

Attachment
Bioenergy Category

The IPCC SRREN report addresses information needs of policymakers, the private sector and civil society on the potential of renewable energy sources for the mitigation of climate change, providing a comprehensive assessment of renewable energy technologies and related policy and financial instruments. The IPCC report was a multinational collaboration and synthesis of peer reviewed information: Reviewed, analyzed, coordinated, and integrated current high quality information. The OBP International Sustainability activities contributed to the Bioenergy chapter, technology cost annex as well as lifecycle assessments and sustainability information.

Email
ethan.warner@nrel.gov

One of the major objectives of the current expansion in bioenergy cropping is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions for environmental benefit. The cultivation of bioenergy and biofuel crops also affects biodiversity more directly, both positively and negatively. Ecological impact assessment methods for bioenergy projects (including changes to policy and land use) should address not simply changes to species abundance at field level, but include larger scale issues, including changes to landscape diversity, potential impacts to primary and secondary habitats and potential impacts on climate change. Such assessments require a correspondingly broad range of scientific methods, including modelling of climate and land use as well as the observation of biodiversity and landscape indicators. It is also possible to adopt evidence-based guidelines for good practice for situations where comprehensive assessments are not available. These might include favouring projects and policies that avoid gene flow to wild relatives of crops in centres of diversity, that do not result in invasion by the crop into other habitats, that enhance field-scale biodiversity, that increase landscape diversity, that do not threaten valued habitats within the local landscape, that promote the sustainable management of biodiverse habitats, that do not increase the risk of loss of primary habitats and that result in a proportionately large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Email
Les.firbank@bbsrc.ac.uk
Data Source
BioEnergy Research
Contact Person
Les G. Firbank
Bioenergy Category
Author
Les G. Firbank
Subscribe to biopower