Forest products industry studies biomass impact

By Kris Bevill
Web exclusive posted Sept. 26, 2008 at 10:24 a.m. CST

RISI, an information provider for the forest products industry, has released a report examining the emerging biomass industry and how it could potentially affect U.S. timber supply and prices.

The report, titled "The Emerging Biomass Industry: Impact on Woodfiber Markets," examined whether enough woodfiber supply is available to meet the accelerating demands for advanced biofuel production as mandated by the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and current and proposed renewable portfolio standards (RPS). The study's authors determined that if woodfiber were to account for approximately one-third of the total RFS and renewable portfolio standard requirements, overall demand for woodfiber would nearly double by 2023. "Clearly this additional demand for wood is not realistic, and would place demands on the nation's forests that are unsustainable," the study stated.

Co-author of the report Erik Kankainen, senior timber analyst at RISI, told Biomass Magazine that the current supply of woodfiber in the United States is capable of supporting both the forest products industry and the biomass industry in the short term. However, if current trends continue, that supply will be severely strained in the long term.

Kankainen said the authors of the report took into consideration the use of waste wood (including logging residue, sawmill residue, urban waste wood and short-cycle energy crops such as poplar trees) and determined that it could contribute up to one-third of the projected demand needed to meet RFS and RPS mandates. However, they concluded that even with the use of wood waste, the combined demand of biomass and forest products would require additional growing stock removals from U.S. forests.

The authors concluded that the U.S. government would never allow the nation's forests to be depleted in such a manner, thus leaving three possible solutions to the demand issue:

1. A massive shift from traditional forest products production. Kankainen said the authors did not believe this option is realistic, as it would result in massive job losses and harm an industrial sector that is already one of the largest producers of renewable energy in the United States.

2. Policy mandates will be met by greater use of other forms of non-wood biomass, such as dedicated energy crops, and other types of renewable energy, including solar and wind power. The result would have wood accounting for much less than one-third of the total share.

3. Current standards will be changed.

Kankainen stressed that the report was not written to analyze public policy, but merely to address the potential effect an emerging biomass industry might have on the wood fiber markets. He said that there is some concern on behalf of the forest products industry as to the effect of biomass energy facilities, however many forest product production facilities are also utilizing biomass technologies to reduce energy costs at their plants.

The entire report is available for sale by RISI. Ordering information can be found at