Carbon Emission Reduction Impacts from Alternative Biofuels

Lippke, Bruce; Puettmann, Maureen E.; Johnson, Leonard; Gustafson, Richard; Venditti, Richard; Steele, Philip; Katers, John F.; Taylor, Adam; Volk, Timothy A.; Oneil, Elaine; Skog, Kenneth; Budsberg, Erik; Daystar, Jesse; Caputo, Jesse
April 2012
Forest Products Journal;Apr2012, Vol. 62 Issue 4, p296
Academic Journal
The heightened interest in biofuels addresses the national objectives of reducing carbon emissions as well as reducing dependence on foreign fossil fuels. Using life-cycle analysis to evaluate alternative uses of wood including both products and fuels reveals a hierarchy of carbon and energy impacts characterized by their efficiency in reducing carbon emissions and/or in displacing fossil energy imports. Life-cycle comparisons are developed for biofuel feedstocks (mill and forest residuals, thinnings, and short rotation woody crops) with bioprocessing (pyrolysis, gasification, and fermentation) to produce liquid fuels and for using the feedstock for pellets and heat for drying solid wood products, all of which displace fossil fuels and fossil fuel-intensive products. Fossil carbon emissions from lignocellulosic biofuels are substantially lower than emissions from conventional gasoline. While using wood to displace fossil fuel-intensive materials (such as for steel floor joists) is much more effective in reducing carbon emissions than using biofuels to directly displace fossil fuels, displacing transportation fuels with ethanol provides the opportunity to also reduce dependence on imported energy. The complex nature of wood uses and how wood fuels and products interact in their environments, as well as the methods needed to understand these impacts and summarize the relative benefits of different alternatives, are discussed herein. Policies designed to increase biofuel use by subsidies or mandates may increase prices enough to divert biomass feedstock away from producing products, such as for composite panels, resulting in increased emissions from fossil fuel-intensive substitutes. Policies that fail to consider life-cycle implications are discussed, identifying their unintended consequences.


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