In a recent story published in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and other institutions in Germany and France claim that an emphasis on bioenergy from West Coast forests would increase carbon dioxide emissions from these forests at least 14 percent, if the efficiency of such operations is optimal.
These claims are counter to assumptions and some previous studies that suggest biofuels from this source would be carbon-neutral or even reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Oregon State study’s findings were backed up by scientists at the US Department of Energy.
During the past four years, the study examined 80 forest types in 19 eco-regions in Oregon, Washington and California, ranging from temperate rain forests to semi-arid woodlands. It included both public and private lands and different forest management approaches. “On the West Coast, we found that projected forest biomass removal and use for bioenergy in any form will release more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than current forest management practices,” said Tara Hudiburg, a doctoral candidate at OSU and lead author on the study.
The study examined thousands of forest plots with detailed data and observations, considering 27 parameters, including the role of forest fire, emissions savings from bioenergy use, wood product substitution, insect infestations, forest thinning, energy and processes needed to produce biofuels, and many others.
“Most people assume that wood bioenergy will be carbon-neutral, because the forest re-grows and there’s also the chance of protecting forests from carbon emissions due to wildfire,” Hudiburg said. “However, our research showed that the emissions from these activities proved to be more than the savings.”