Forest-based biomass is gaining interest as a potential renewable industrial energy source. In response to our changing climate and the growing demand for energy, the use of renewable energy sources including biomass from forests has become indispensable. However, the utilisation of wood as a source of energy at the industrial scale is a very complex process having far-reaching environmental, social and economic consequences.
By Piotr Gołos
The use of wood for energy production at the industrial scale is a new trend in the response of the economy to the global threat to the environment. Due to its large-scale use, such activities provoke many questions and oblige scientists to reflect upon the direction of changes occurring in our contemporary globalised world.
Although wood had been both a major energy source and construction material up until the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to a movement towards increased usage of fossil fuels as an energy source and an important feedstock in the production of modern construction materials e.g. steel.
Threats of forest exploitation
In spite of this history, recent concern over climate change is driving reconsideration of the role of natural products, including forest biomass, in a modern energy economy. In their research article published in the journal Forest Research Papers, the authors identify many of the legislative measures which have led to this renewed interest.
They point out that the benefits resulting from this process to reduce climate change should not overshadow threats related to excessive exploitation of forest stands or ash utilisation. To a large degree, biomass use for energy production purposes positively affects and will affect the advance of agriculture, and therefore should be considered as a vital element of agricultural policy.
Negative consequences on timber industry
However, the wide use of forest wood biomass for the purposes of energy production could have negative consequences for the development of rural areas due to weakening various branches of the timber industry, which in different degrees contribute to economic development.
On examination of the forest bioenergy industry through the lenses of the environmental, social, economic, and technological aspects, the authors conclude that there are a large number of counterbalancing factors.
Ultimately, they do not either recommend or reject the utilization of forest-based biofuels, but instead caution that development of climate policy in this area needs to carefully evaluate the social and economic cost of increased timber consumption.
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This article was originally published on Energy Today