Forestry biomass will increase greenhouse gas emissions, study warns
A large, global move to produce more energy from forest biomass may be possible and already is beginning in some places, but scientists say in a new analysis that such large-scale bioenergy production from forest biomass is unsustainable and will increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Early suggestions that such a forest biofuel industry would be greenhouse "neutral" or even reduce greenhouse emissions "are based on erroneous assumptions," a group of international researchers said in an invited analysis in Global Change Biology/Bioenergy, a professional journal.
A major increase in this industry, they concluded, would also result in shorter tree rotations, younger forests, depleted soil nutrients, increased risk of erosion, loss of forest biodiversity and function, higher costs for bioenergy than are now being anticipated, and increased use of fertilizers — also a source of greenhouse emissions.
"The main objective of bioenergy production from forest harvest is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the strategy is likely to miss the mark," said Beverly Law, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and one of the co-authors.
This report was led by the Max-Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany, OSU, and other universities in Switzerland, Austria and France. The work was supported by several agencies in Europe and the U.S. Department of Energy.
"The article raises important issues for bioenergy policies," said co-author Helmut Haberl, who is also an author of the climate mitigation chapter of the fifth assessment that is under way by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This analysis was based on a theoretical, significant increase in energy from forest biomass, as has been proposed by some researchers, to 20 percent or more of current global primary energy supply. For instance, about 20 percent of all European Union energy consumption is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2020, with bioenergy as a focal point.
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