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WIREs Energy Environ.
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Reference scenarios for evaluating wood pellet production in the Southeastern United States

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Wood pellet exports from the Southeastern United States (SE US) to Europe have been increasing in response to European Union member state policies to displace coal with renewable biomass for electricity generation. An understanding of the interactions among SE US forest markets, forest management, and forest ecosystem services is required to quantify the effects of pellet production compared to what would be expected under a reference case or ‘counterfactual scenario’ without pellet production. Inconsistent methods to define and justify the counterfactual scenario result in conflicting estimates and large uncertainties about the impacts of pellet production on SE US forests. Guidelines to support more consistent and transparent counterfactual scenarios are proposed. The guidelines include identifying major influences on current SE US forest conditions, developing potential futures that clearly document underlying assumptions and associated uncertainties, identifying the most likely alternative feedstock fates, and estimating the effects of no pellet demand on future forest conditions. The guidelines can help modelers to more accurately reflect the past and current forest dynamics and to consider the implications for SE US forest landscapes of future scenarios with and without pellet production. WIREs Energy Environ 2017, 6:e259. doi: 10.1002/wene.259 This article is categorized under: Bioenergy > Climate and Environment Energy and Climate > Climate and Environment Energy and Development > Climate and Environment
Factors determining availability of biomass material used for export wood pellet production in the Southeastern United States. Sources of biomass not used in the manufacture of wood pellets for commercial‐scale bioenergy production are shown in red font (e.g., old growth forests). The ‘Use’ portion of the figure shows common wood products in generally descending order of economic value. Note that mill residues generated during the production of one type of wood product are often used as inputs into other wood products further down the list.
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Forests are found across many lands‐use types in the Southeastern United States The top three circles represent land uses that currently do NOT supply wood for pellets. The yellow ovals illustrate that (a) at present, biomass for wood pellet exports is obtained only from commercially harvested timberland. However, significant potential supplies for pellet production could be sourced from other areas (b) in the future due to wood wastes requiring disposal after disturbances (storms, insect outbreaks), reduction of fuel loads to reduce risk of devastating wildfire, clearing for urban development, construction debris, removal of invasive species and underbrush to maintain habitat for species of concern, and other human activities. Thus, the biomass resources available for pellets may expand over time beyond timberland operations.
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Past land uses and current conditions of forest landscapes in the Southeastern United States are heterogeneous and offer distinct challenges to attempts to project future conditions. Past land uses influence current productivity and vary with time and place. Current forest conditions within fuelsheds can be verified more easily than historical conditions. Future conditions are highly uncertain. Photo credits: Keith Kline and Virginia Dale except (a): US National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) Photo 280115.
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US timberland removal types (TPO 2017) and wood products. Terms used for removal types are associated with traditional pulp and saw timber industries. One parameter, log diameter at breast height (DBH), is illustrated in the figure. Additional qualities and market opportunities determine if and where a harvested log can be sold. aProduct specifications from Georgia Stump Prices, first quarter 2016, Timber Mart‐South. bSouth Carolina Forestry Commission. Understanding trees as a commodity. http://www.state.sc.us/forest/lecom.htm. cRef .
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