Energy from Woody Biomass

Lead Author: Kathryn Fernholz

Publish date: 07.29.2009


A Review of Harvesting Guidelines and a Discussion of Related Challenges


Current estimates are that biomass from forestry and agriculture provides about 14 percent of the world’s primary energy supplies, principally in the form of wood used for cooking and home heating. With effective planning, strategic development, and a focus on the latest technologies for converting wood to useful energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes the potential exists for biomass resources to meet 50 percent of world energy demands during the next century while still reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels.


A cornerstone of responsible biomass energy development is the establishment of guidelines for biomass harvesting and utilization that fully consider short- and long-term impacts on the local and regional environment and communities. The potential for significant impacts from biomass harvesting and collection suggests an important public policy and planning role – particularly when forests are involved – as a large number of communities, existing biomass-dependent industries, and a broad swath of the landscape will likely be engaged. Thus, broad and proactive stakeholder input that considers ecological, social, and economic impacts will be important to help ensure that unintended consequences of biomass energy development can be avoided. Periodic updating of guidelines, based upon the results of monitoring and improved scientific knowledge, will also be important.


In some regions, including several U.S. states, guidelines have been developed for removal of woody biomass from forested areas; similarly, guidelines for removal of agricultural residues, in anticipation of commercialization of cellulosic ethanol and other fuels, have been developed. This report provides a brief overview of forest biomass harvesting guidelines and their importance in the United States and other regions of the world.