Computer Model Charts Environmental, Economic Impacts of Biomass

Computer Model Charts Environmental, Economic Impacts of Biomass

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, March 7, 2011

CONTACT: Erin McKenzie
(919) 613-3652

DURHAM, N.C. – A computer model created by a Duke University researcher, in partnership with North Carolina State University, provides a detailed visual representation of how woody biomass could be used to meet renewable energy targets in the South.

Developed with support from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Excel-based tool offers more than 400 scenarios to weigh the environmental and economic trade-offs associated with using forest biomass to meet renewable fuel and electricity standards.

“Renewable fuel and electricity standards are intended to increase the percentage of fuel and electricity that come from renewable sources,” said Christopher Galik, research coordinator at Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “Beyond solar and wind, biomass is one of the key sources often under discussion when the conversation shifts to these standards in the Southeast. The problem is its use is not always so cut-and-dry. There are some tradeoffs to consider when using biomass on the scale needed to make a dent in fossil fuel use.”

The model is intended for use by a specialist audience familiar with biomass terminology to help inform the debate surrounding the renewable energy source.

Galik collaborated with N.C. State Professor Robert Abt on the model and a companion white paper, “An Interactive Assessment of Biomass Demand and Availability in the Southeast United States,” being released March 7. The 21-page paper walks readers through using the tool and provides example scenarios to illustrate its impact on renewable energy and fuel targets.

The tool uses a timber forecasting model developed at N.C. State that runs data from the U.S. Forest Service to provide state-specific results for the Carolinas and Georgia. Users can customize factors including the type of biomass intended for use—whole trees or forest debris—in 140 scenarios for each of the three states. The results not only reveal a scenario's ability to meet renewable energy and fuel targets, but also display a more detailed, graphical representation of everything from the effect on forest carbon to forested acres.

While this model currently provides results for the Carolinas and Georgia, Galik said it could be expanded to include information for other Southeastern states in the future.

For access to the white paper, model and a short video tutorial on how to use it, visit: