The Future of Biomass in North America and Europe
North America has a great opportunity to develop a biomass industry. In the US and Canada, there are more than 300 million acres of certified sustainable forestland (1) maintained by public and private interests. While the majority of forests in the US are privately owned (2), governments in both countries are heavily involved in maintaining healthy and productive public forests. Since the US Forest Service was established in 1905, its priority has been to diligently maintain public forests to keep them healthy and efficient, as well as beneficial to the industries they supply.
The commitment by European nations to move towards clean energy has made biomass an attractive option in the EU.
While wind and solar generation continue to increase rapidly, biomass is seen as a way to make a significant dent in long-time dependence on fossil fuels. Without biomass to provide renewable baseload generation, Europe would be tied indefinitely to coal and natural gas to supply consistent energy.
The demand for biomass in Europe has led to the EU’s consumption of the entire 7.7 million metric tons (mmt) of wood pellets produced there each year. Not satisfied with that amount, Europe imports an additional 3.2 mmt of wood and pellets. North America, on the other hand, uses much less of its available wood source, consuming only about 2.8 mmt of the 6.2 mmt of wood suitable for wood pellets and, in 2009, exporting close to 7.9 mmt of wood and pellets (3). Because of the strong and sustainable forest products industry in North America, the United States is uniquely positioned to significantly increase its use and production of biomass energy. We can look to Europe’s example to help the US anticipate potential pitfalls going forward, and build upon the ways in which Europe’s biomass industry is growing and succeeding.
Today there is a sense that large and lasting change is at work: with the advance of the digital economy, newspaper readership has fallen, and more and more people are choosing digital readers over books and magazines. Industries that produce paper products are certainly aware of this change, and the fiscal strain is felt all the way to the rural areas that depend on the forest industry for jobs and economic health. For decades healthy domestic and international demand for lumber, paper, and other forest products has supported a strong sustainable forestry industry; during that time, forest stocks have increased in North America. Now, as demand for some forest products declines, how can we afford to keep our forests healthy, sustainable, and well managed?
The biomass industry will provide a growing market that uses ecologically sound resource and production processes and will also provide the incentive needed to continue to expand our sustainable forests. At Zilkha Biomass we see this cultural shift as a great opportunity to revitalize and repurpose some of the forestry industry.
The European Union has committed to moving 20% of their energy to renewables by 2020, and many other laws are already in place in Europe to reduce pollutants and limit greenhouse gases. European utilities have identified biomass as a significant part of their renewable portfolio. Fourteen states in the US have already passed the 25×25 Resolution, which strives to increase the percentage of America’s energy from renewable resources to 25% by 2025. In addition, the US Congress and the EPA are considering tougher regulations of greenhouse gases.
As the US moves toward a cleaner energy economy, biomass is well positioned to create renewable, dispatchable energy, break our dependence on fossil fuels, and promote healthy sustainable forests.
- In the US and Canada, we have more than 100 million acres of FSC certified forest. The US has more than 32 million acres of FSC Certified forest. In the US and Canada, there are 82.3 million hectares (2.5 hectares to acres).
- The majority of forests in the US are privately owned by the USDA Forest Service.
- North America has exported 7.9 mmt of wood and pellets in 2009.