August 12, 2010

Burning Biomass with Coal Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010

CONTACT: Erin McKenzie
(919) 613-3652

DURHAM, N.C. -- Across the Southeast, mixing wood and other forest biomass with coal to create energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared to just burning coal alone, according to a new working paper by researchers at Duke University and North Carolina State University.


“If we look at all the coal-fired boilers in the Southeastern United States that aren’t currently using biomass, and we maximize the amount of biomass that they can potentially co-fire, we generate an amount of energy equivalent to 5.3 percent of nuclear, coal, and natural gas electric power sector energy consumption in the region,” said Christopher Galik, co-author of the study and a research coordinator at Duke’s Climate Change Policy Partnership (CCPP).


The authors estimated the amount of potential energy that biomass could provide when maximizing co-fire potential in existing coal-burning facilities across 10 Southeastern states. “We estimate that biomass can achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions, but exact reductions vary by place, time, and a number of other factors. There are also important impacts on current industrial users to consider.”

Data were broken down regionally and sub-regionally to account for differences in both demand and supply of forest biomass.

“The southern part of the country has the best data to analyze both the biological and economic components of a response to new markets,” said Robert Abt, professor of forest resource economics at North Carolina State University and lead author of the study. The researchers used this data to model the effects that increased demand for forest biomass would have on resource pricing, forest inventory, harvests and existing users of forest resources. Finally, they examined net greenhouse gas implications and identified areas for further research.

“While we estimate that biomass can supply a significant amount of energy for the region, there are important impacts on current industrial users and greenhouse gas emissions to consider,” Galik said. He notes that the team’s findings contrast with other recent studies on forest biomass.

“At least in the Southeast, market effects matter,” Galik said. “We find that increased demand for forest biomass leads to increases in both harvests and planting. It also has the potential to price out or displace existing users of forest resources. Added up, these effects temper a loss of carbon in forests that could otherwise come with increased use of woody biomass for bioenergy. We believe that the study adds much-needed information and perspective to the debate over the role that biomass could play in state, regional and national climate and energy policy.”

The paper, “The Near-Term Market and Greenhouse Gas Implications of Forest Biomass Utilization in the Southeastern United States,” is online at‌publications.html.


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CCPP is an interdisciplinary partnership of Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Nicholas School of the Environment and Center on Global Change. CCPP researches carbon-mitigating technology, infrastructure, institutions and systems to inform lawmakers and business leaders as they lay the foundation of a low-carbon economy.


Robert Abt is a professor of forest resource economics at North Carolina State University and co-director of the Southern Forest Resource Assessment Consortium (SOFAC.) Jesse Henderson, a doctoral student in North Carolina State’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources program, co-authored the paper with Abt and Galik.