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Biomass Power Improves Forest Health, Benefits the Environment

By Bob Cleaves
Increasing America's use of biomass power will improve the health of our nation's forests and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

On average, the biomass power industry removes 68.8 million tons of forest waste annually, improving forest health and dramatically reducing the threat of forest fires. This forest waste includes dead debris and brush left to rot on the forest floor.
Clearing this debris is a part of regular forest maintenance and is frequently done by state forest services in the form of open burns. By using this waste to generate electricity, the biomass power industry is preventing the need for open burns and significantly reducing the risk and spread of forest fires.

Waste byproducts from other industries and organic waste from the forest floor continue to be the only economically viable fuel sources for biomass power.

Areas of the country that have robust forest-based industries often create the biomass necessary to operate and sustain a power plant. Biomass power facilities cannot operate at a loss. If there are not sustainable resources available in the surrounding area, biomass power plants will not be built. The decision is whether to allow these woody byproducts to decompose, or instead use them to generate clean, renewable electricity.

A 2008 Pacific Institute study found electricity generated from woody biomass to be "carbon neutral" because the carbon that is released is already part of the atmospheric carbon cycle. For example, fossil fuels increase the level of carbon in our atmosphere because their carbon has been sequestered for centuries deep in the Earth. Biomass power taps into a fuel supply that is already actively releasing methane and carbon during the decomposition process. This carbon is already in the atmospheric cycle, and biomass power plants simply use it to create electricity.

Furthermore, by removing decomposing waste debris from the forest floor and using it to generate electricity, the biomass power industry eliminates the harmful methane that would have otherwise been released during this decomposition. Generating electricity from biomass power actually reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that would have been emitted if the material simply decomposed on the forest floor. What's more, the electricity generated from clean biomass will reduce demand for other dirtier sources of energy. In this way, biomass power is without question carbon neutral, and in many cases reduces greenhouse gases.

The forest products industry plants trees as part of a continued devotion to forest health. By planting these trees, the industry is ensuring the forest will flourish and produce a steady supply of waste debris and other organic biomass in the future. Replanting trees, however, is not the reason that biomass power is carbon neutral.

Biomass power is carbon neutral electricity generated from renewable organic waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfills, openly burned or left as fodder for forest fires. Increasing our use of clean, renewable biomass power by tapping into vast resources, particularly in the Southeast U.S., will reduce carbon emissions, improve forest health, and move America closer to energy independence.

Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit www.USABiomass.org.
 

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