Tag: forests

Morehouse catchment area analysis

Working forest in southern Arkansas within the Morehouse catchment area

The forest area around the Drax Morehouse BioEnergy plant has a long history of active management for timber production. 96% of the forest owners are private and around half of these are corporate investors seeking a financial return from forest management. The pulp and paper (p&p) sector dominates the market for low grade roundwood with over 75% of the total demand. The wood pellet markets use only 6% of the roundwood, of which 4% is used by Morehouse.

Given the small scale of demand in the pellet sector, the extent of influence is limited. However, the new pellet markets have had a positive impact, replacing some of the declining demand in the p&p sector and providing a market for thinnings for some forest owners and a new off-take for sawmill residues.

Pine forest is dominant in this area with an increasing inventory (growing stock) despite a stable forest area. Active management of pine forests has increased the amount of timber stored in the standing trees by 68 million tonnes from 2006 to 2018.  Over the same period the hardwood inventory remained static.

Chart showing historic inventory and timberland area in Morehouse catchment

Historic inventory and timberland area in Morehouse catchment; click to view/download.

US Forest Service FIA data shows that the pine resource in this catchment area has been maturing, the volume of timber has been increasing in each size class year on year. This means that the volume available for harvesting is increasing and that more markets will be required to utilise this surplus volume and ensure that the long-term future of the forest area can be maintained.

Chart showing historic pine inventory by DBH Class

Historic pine inventory by DBH Class in Morehouse catchment; click to view/download.

This is reflected in the growth drain ratio – the comparison of annual growth versus harvesting. A ratio of one shows a forest area in balance, less than one shows that harvesting is greater than growth. This can be the case when the forest area is predominantly mature and at the age when clear cutting is necessary.

A growth drain ratio of more than one shows that growth exceeds harvesting, this is typically the case in younger forests that are not yet ready for harvesting and are in the peak growing phase, but it can also occur when insufficient market demand exists and owners are forced to retain stands for longer in the absence of a viable market.

Drax Morehouse plant

Drax’s Morehouse BioEnergy compressed wood pellet plant in northern Louisiana

This can have a negative impact on the future growth of the forest; limiting the financial return to forest owners and reducing the cumulative sequestration of carbon by enforcing sub-optimal rotation lengths.

The current growth drain ratio of pine around Morehouse is 1.67 with an average annual surplus of around 7 million metric tonnes. This surplus of growth is partly due to a decline in saw-timber demand due to the global financial crisis but also due to the maturing age class of the forest resource and the increasing quantity of timber available for harvesting.

Historic growth and removals of pine in Morehouse catchment (million metric tonnes)

YearGrowthRemovalsNet GrowthGrowth-to-Drain
200914.112960762411.1860124622.92694830041.26166145535
201014.580331100610.91819493463.662136166021.33541589869
201115.129903273610.72162297824.408280295451.41115792865
201215.357258404710.30755904395.049699360811.48990254039
201315.63898206189.701617808065.93736425371.61199733603
201415.91041518229.376564771556.533850410651.69682773701
201515.94235364499.669133266476.273220378431.64878828387
201616.43527840789.579357241816.855921165961.71569740985
201716.838075354610.1594737396.678601615681.65737672908
201817.770968348910.65938820047.111580148561.66716588371

The chart below shows the decline in pine saw-timber demand in the catchment area following the financial crisis in 2008. It also shows the recent increase in pulpwood demand driven by the new pellet mill markets that have supplemented the declining p&p mills.

Sawmills are a vital component of the forest industry around Morehouse, with most private owners seeking to maximise revenue through saw-timber production from pine forests.

As detailed in the table below, there are 70 markets for higher value timber products around this catchment area. These mills also need an off-taker for their residues and the pellet mills can provide a valuable market for this material, increasing the viability of the saw-timber market.

Operating grade-using facilities near Morehouse timber market

TypeNumber of MillsCapacityCapacity UnitsHardwood Roundwood At Mill From Market Softwood Roundwood At Mill From Market 
Consumption, million green metric tonnes
Lumber6810538.8235294M m³1.737194320550.88604623042613.06745552335.69986977638
Plywood/Veneer2904M m³000.9617438725360.506109617373
Total701.737194320550.88604623042614.02919939586.20597939376

Pulp and paper mills dominate the low grade roundwood market for both hardwood and softwood. The pellet mill market is small with just 3 mills and therefore does not influence forest management decisions or macro trends in the catchment area. However, demand for wood pellet feedstock exceeds 1.5 million tonnes p.a. and this can provide a valuable market for thinnings and sawmill residues. A healthy forest landscape requires a combination of diverse markets co-existing to utilise the full range of forest products.

Operating pulpwood-using facilities near Morehouse timber market

TypeNumber of MillsCapacityCapacity UnitsHardwood Roundwood At Mill From Market Softwood Roundwood At Mill From Market 
Consumption, million green metric tons
Pulp/Paper117634.86896M metric tons3.489826926741.192570970097.557287050371.66598821268
OSB/Panel62412.55M m³002.567325398621.19890681942
Chips178395.08999M metric tons2.938909722111.46484421365.287607151192.18745126814
Pellets31573.965975M metric tons002.078219858451.01128896402
Total346.428736648862.6574151836917.49043945866.06363526426

In its analysis, Forisk Consulting considered the impact that the new pellet mills including Morehouse BioEnergy have had on the significant trends in the local forest industry. The tables below summarise the Forisk view on the key issues. In its opinion, the Morehouse plant has had no negative impact.

Bioenergy impacts on markets and forest supplies in the Morehouse market

ActivityIs there evidence that bioenergy demand has caused the following?Explanation
DeforestationNo
Change in forest management practiceNo
Diversion from other marketsPossiblyBioenergy plants compete with pulp/paper and OSB mills for pulpwood and residual feedstocks. There is no evidence that these facilities reduced production as a result of bioenergy markets, however.
Increase in wood priceNoThere is no evidence that bioenergy demand increased stumpage prices in the market.
Reduction in growing stocking timberNo
Reduction in sequestration of carbon / growth rateNo
Increasing harvesting above the sustainable yieldNo

Bioenergy impacts on forests markets in the Morehouse market

Forest metric Bioenergy impact
Growing Stock Neutral
Growth Rates Neutral
Forest Area Neutral
Wood Prices Neutral
Markets for Solid Wood Neutral to Positive*
*Access to viable residual markets benefits users of solid wood (i.e. lumber producers).

Read the full report: Morehouse, Louisiana Catchment Area Analysis. An interview with the co-author, Amanda Hamsley Lang, COO and partner at Forisk Consulting, can be read here. Explore every delivery of wood to Morehouse BioEnergy using our ForestScope data transparency tool.

This is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: ,

Others in the series include: Georgia MillEstonia, Latvia, Chesapeake and Drax’s own, other three mills LaSalle BionergyMorehouse Bioenergy and Amite Bioenergy.

Findings and Recommendations from the First Meeting of Drax’s Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass (IAB)

Sir John Beddington

Dear Will,

Findings and Recommendations from the First Meeting of Drax’s Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass (IAB)

The Independent Advisory Board on Sustainable Biomass provides this statement following its first meeting on Friday 15th November 2019.

Attendees: John Beddington (Chair), John Krebs (Deputy Chair), Virginia Dale, Sam Fankhauser, Elena Schmidt, Robert Matthews (Ex-Officio Member).

During the meeting, IAB members:

The IAB shares this summary of its findings and recommendations.

  • The IAB agreed that its role is to provide independent advice to Drax on its sustainable biomass policy and practice. IAB members will do this by scrutinising the science and evidence, informing Drax’s approach, and by providing independent feedback to Drax on how it can adopt best practices. In addition to holding two face to face meetings each year, the IAB agreed to hold two interim telephone meetings.
  • The IAB recommended Drax refer to “forest environment” not “natural environment” in its policy.
  • The IAB noted that the ten criteria Drax have outlined to reduce the carbon emissions of its biomass approach have been designed to reflect the findings of Forest Research’s Carbon Impacts of Biomass Consumed in the EU report (2018). The IAB found that the Drax criteria are an accurate interpretation of the report.
  • The IAB would like to explore how the science can further be developed with regard to the use of small, early thinnings and small roundwood, and consider how Drax’s policy might evolve.
  • The IAB and Drax discussed the possibility of developing some sub criteria for specific forest types.
  • The IAB suggested Drax could consider a “Restatement of the Evidence” academic review process to better understand, and draw alignment on, where there is scientific evidence on the sustainability of biomass.
  • The IAB suggested Drax should consider both a goal to continuously improve and consider the longer term implications of its policy commitments in light of potential climate changes.
  • The IAB emphasised that the way Drax operationalises its commitments will be critical. It stressed the importance of robustly exploring the counterfactuals to Drax’s biomass activities, highlighting the potential for trade-offs between climate and biodiversity outcomes as an area for more detailed review.
  • The IAB highlighted a number of considerations for Drax in its use of the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP). It welcomed SBP’s adoption of a multi-stakeholder approach and suggested it will be important to scrutinise its evolution. It noted that, as Drax’s sustainability commitments go beyond SBP’s current criteria, Drax needs a strategy on how to evidence the compliance for these additional commitments.
  • The IAB expressed interest in learning about Drax’s long term vision. It noted that the ceasing of subsidies in 2027 will be a key milestone and highlighted its interest in exploring Drax’s strategy for managing this.

In future meetings with Drax, the IAB will further examine evidence of Drax’s approach, performance and impact against its commitments, to identify any changes that Drax may need to make. The IAB noted the following specific topics for further consideration:

  • Evidence relating to the impact of thinning a forest on carbon, pest control and fire risks;
  • How Drax operationalises its commitments, the counterfactuals of Drax’s biomass activities, and potential trade-offs between biodiversity and carbon outcomes;
  • Drax’s approach to biodiversity;
  • Drax’s long term vision including its plans for developing and scaling bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and its broader roadmap to net zero carbon emissions;
  • Drax’s evidencing for each of its climate related commitments;
  • Potential differences between the standards expected by stakeholders and local legal standards;
  • Water and soil management practices.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Sir John Beddington
Chair of the IAB

View/download the PDF version here

How a Mississippi wood pellet mill supports healthy forests and rural economies

Pine saplings in Weyerhaeuser tree nursery, Hazlehurst, Mississippi

The landscape of the Amite catchment area in Mississippi is dense with forests. They cover 84% of the area and play a crucial role in the local economy and the lives of the local population.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – land area distribution by land classification & use (2017)

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – land area distribution by land classification & use (2017)

On the state’s western border with Louisiana, near the town of Gloster, Drax’s Amite BioEnergy pellet mill is an important part of this local economy, providing employment and creating a market for low-grade wood.

Amite produces half-a-million metric tonnes of wood pellets annually that not only benefit the surrounding area, but also make a positive impact in the UK, providing a renewable, flexible low carbon source of power that could soon enable carbon negative electricity generation.

However, this is only possible if the pellets are sourced from healthy and responsibly managed forests. That’s why it’s essential for Drax to regularly examine the environmental impact of the pellet mills and their catchment areas to, ultimately, ensure the wood is sustainably sourced and never contributes to deforestation or other negative climate and environment impacts.

In the first of a series of reports evaluating the areas Drax sources wood from, Hood Consulting has looked at the impact of Amite on its surrounding region. The scope of the analysis had to be objective and impartial, using only credible data sources and references. The specific aim was to evaluate the trends occurring in the forestry sector and to determine what impact the pellet mill may have had in influencing those trends, positively or negatively. This included the impact of harvesting levels, carbon stock and sequestration rate, wood prices and the production of all wood products.

The report highlights the positive role that the Amite plant has had in the region, supporting the health of western Mississippi’s forests and its economy.

Woodchip pile at Amite BioEnergy (2017)

Woodchip pile at Amite BioEnergy (2017)

The landscape of the Amite BioEnergy wood pellet plant 

Amite BioEnergy’s catchment area – the working forest land from which it has sourced wood fibre since it began operating – stretches roughly 6,600 square kilometres (km2) across 11 counties – nine in Mississippi and two in Louisiana.

Map showing Amite BioEnergy catchment area boundary

Amite BioEnergy catchment area boundary

US Forest Service data shows that since 2014, when Amite began production, total timberland in this catchment area has in fact increased by more than 5,200 hectares (52 million m2).

An increase in market demand for wood products, particularly for sawtimber, can be one of the key drivers for encouraging forest owners to plant more trees, retain their existing forest or more actively manage their forests to increase production.

Markets for low grade wood, like the Amite facility, are essential for enabling forest owners to thin their crops and generate increased revenue as a by-product of producing more saw-timber.

Around 30% of the annual timber growth in the region is pine pulpwood, a lower-value wood which is the primary source of raw material used at Amite. More than 60% of the growth is what is known as sawtimber – high-value wood used as construction lumber or furniture, or chip n saw (also used for construction and furniture).

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – net growth of growing stock timber by major timber product. Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – net growth of growing stock timber by major timber product. Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

The analysis shows that harvesting levels in each product category are substantially lower than the annual growth (as shown in the table below). This means that every year a surplus of growth remains in the forest as stored carbon.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – harvest removals by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – harvest removals by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

In 2017, total timber growth was 5.11 million m3 while removals totalled 2.41 million m3 – less than half of annual growth. Of that figure, the pine pulpwood used to make biomass pellets grew by 1.52 million m3 while just 850 thousand m3  was removed.

The table below shows the ratio of removals to growth in the pine forests around Amite. A ratio of 1 is commonly considered to be the threshold for sustainable harvesting levels, in this catchment area the ratio is more than double that amount, meaning that there is still a substantial surplus of annual growth that has not been harvested.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – annual growth, removals & growth-to-removal ratios by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area – annual growth, removals & growth-to-removal ratios by major timber product (2017). Source: USDA – US Forest Service.

Between 2010 and 2017 the total stock of wood fibre (or carbon) growing in the forests around Amite increased by more than 11 million m3. This is despite a substantial increase in harvesting demand for pulpwood.

Timber inventory by major timber product (2010-2017); projected values (2018)

Timber inventory by major timber product (2010-2017); projected values (2018)

The economic argument for sustainability

The timberland of the Amite BioEnergy catchment area is 85% privately owned. Among the tens of thousands of smaller private landowners are larger landowners like forestry business Weyerhaeuser; companies that manage forest land on behalf of investors like pension funds; and private families. For these private owners, as long as there are healthy markets for forest products forests have an economic value. Without these markets some owners may choose to convert their forest to other land uses (e.g. for urban development or agriculture).

More than a billion tree saplings have been grown at Weyerhaeuser’s Pearl River Nursery in Mississippi. The facility supplies these young trees to be planted in the Amite catchment area and across the US South.

Strong markets lead to increased investment in better management (e.g. improved seedlings, more weeding or fertilisation, thinning and selecting the best trees for future saw-timber production).

“Thinning pulpwood is part of the forest management process,” explains Dr Harrison Hood, Forest Economist and Principal at Hood Consulting. “Typically, with pine you plant 500 to 700 trees per acre. That density helps the trees grow straight up rather than outwards.”

But once the trees begin to grow beyond a certain point, they can crowd one another, and some trees will be starved of water, nutrients and sunlight. It is therefore essential to fell some trees to allow the others to grow to full maturity – a process known as thinning.

“At final harvest, you’ve got about 100 trees per acre,” continues Dr Hood. “You remove the pulpwood or the poor-quality trees to allow the higher-quality trees to continue to grow.”

These thinnings have typically been used as pulpwood to make things like paper, but with the slight decline of this industry over the last few decades there’s been a need to find new markets for it. Paper production in the Amite catchment area has declined since 2010 (as shown on the chart on the right), whilst demand for saw-timber (lumber) has been increasing following the economic recovery after the recession of 2008.

Producing saw-timber, without a market for thinnings and low-grade wood is a challenge. The arrival of a biomass market in the area has created a renewed demand – something that is even more important at the current time, when there is an abundance of forest, but wood prices are flat or declining slightly.

“Saw-timber prices haven’t moved much over the last six to eight years,” explains Dr Hood. “They’ve been flat because there’s so much wood out there that there’s not enough demand to eat away at the supply.”

Pulpwood consumers such as Amite BioEnergy create demand for pulpwood from thinning, allowing landowners to continue managing their forests while waiting for the higher value markets to recover. Revenue from pulpwood helps to support forest owners, particularly when saw-timber prices are weak.

Amite BioEnergy catchment area mill map (2019)

Amite BioEnergy catchment area mill map (2019)

“There’s so much pulpwood out there,” says Dr Hood. “You need a buyer for pulpwood to allow forests to grow and mature into a higher product class and to keep growing healthy forests.”

The picture of the overall forest in the catchment area is of healthy growth and, crucially, a sustainable environment from which Drax can responsibly source biomass pellets for the foreseeable future.

Read the full report: Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy (UK metric version). A short summary of its analysis and conclusions, written by our forestry team, can be read hereThis is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: Morehouse BioEnergy.

Amite Bioenergy catchment area analysis

Foresters in working forest, Mississippi

The first of our planned Catchment Area Analysis reports is complete, looking at Amite BioEnergy, our compressed wood pellet manufacturing plant in Mississippi.

The aim of this analysis is to evaluate the trends occurring in the forestry sector around the plant and to determine what impact the pellet mill may have had in influencing those trends, positively or negatively. This includes the impact of increased harvesting levels, changes in carbon stock and sequestration rate, wood prices and the production of all wood products.

Analysis shows a maturing forest resource with a substantial surplus of annual growth; increasing in age and growing stock; increasing production of sawtimber and higher value wood products; stable wood prices and no market displacement.

Key report data

Since 2010 the total growing stock (the amount of wood stored in the forest) around Amite BioEnergy has increased by 11.1 million cubic metres (m3). This is partly due to an increase in the area of Timberland (which increased by more than 5,200 hectares (ha)), but predominantly due to the forest ageing and increasing the average size class (the average tree gets bigger, moving from a small diameter pulpwood tree to a larger sawtimber grade tree).

The chart below shows that the increase in volume is entirely within the private sector, where forests are more actively managed. The public sector has declined in growing stock by 1.5 million m3 whilst the private sector has increased by 12.6 million m3. The continual cycle of thinning, harvesting and replanting in the private forests, helps to keep the growing stock increasing.

Total growing stock volume on timberland, in cubic meters, by ownership group. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Total growing stock volume on timberland, in cubic meters, by ownership group. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Harvesting in the catchment area has increased, due to the increased demand from the pellet mill, but this is still substantially lower than average annual growth. The average annual surplus of growth compared to harvesting between 2010 and 2017 has been 3.5 million m3 p.a. with a surplus of 2.7 million m3 in 2017.

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Average annual growth and harvest removals of total growing stock timber, in cubic meters, on timberland – Amite Catchment Area. Source: US Forest Service – FIA

Amite BioEnergy, Mississippi (2017)

The Catchment Area Analysis also looks at stumpage prices, the revenue paid to forest owners at the time of harvesting, to see if the demand from the pellet mill is having a negative impact (increasing competition and prices for other markets).

The chart below shows that prices are now lower than when the pellet mill began operating. While this may be good for all markets in the area, it is not good for the forest owner.

When considering if trends are good or bad, we must also consider from which perspective we are making the assessment. Increasing prices can be a positive, encouraging owners to plant more trees or to invest more in the management of their forest. Providing that increasing prices do not result in a loss of production in existing markets.

Amite Bioenergy Catchment Area - average stumpage prices ($/metric tonne). Source: Timber Mart-South

Amite Bioenergy Catchment Area – average stumpage prices ($/metric tonne). Source: Timber Mart-South

An important part of this analysis is to look for evidence to evaluate Drax’s performance against its new forest commitments, some of which relate directly to these trends and data sets.

Hood Consulting – the authors of Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy – has looked at the impact of Amite BioEnergy on its supply basin.

The scope of the analysis had to be objective and impartial, using only credible data sources and references. However, in order to address some of the key issues and draw some conclusions, the consultants used their extensive experience and local knowledge in addition to the data trends.

A summary of their findings is detailed below.

Summary of key questions addressed in the analysis:

Is there any evidence that bioenergy demand has caused …?

Deforestation?

No. US Forest Service data shows that the total timberland area has increased by more than 5,200 ha.

A change in management practices (rotation lengths, thinnings, conversion from hardwood to pine)?

No / inconclusive. Changes in management practices have occurred in the catchment area over the last five to 10 years, but there is little evidence to suggest bioenergy demand has caused these changes. Market research shows thinnings have declined in this catchment area since 2014 (when Amite BioEnergy commenced production). However, local loggers identify poor market conditions for the decrease in thinnings, not increased bioenergy demand.

The primary focus of timber management in this area is the production of sawtimber. Rotation lengths of managed forests have remained unchanged (between 25-35 years of age) despite increases in bioenergy demand. Increased bioenergy demand, however, has benefited landowners in this catchment area, providing additional outlets for pulpwood removed from thinnings – a management activity necessary for sawtimber production.

Diversion from other markets?

No. Since 2014, softwood pulpwood demand not attributed to bioEnergy has increased 8% while demand for softwood sawtimber and hardwood pulpwood has increased 53% and 5%, respectively.

An abnormal increase in wood prices?

No. Prices for delivered pine pulpwood (the primary raw material consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have decreased 12% since the pellet mill commenced production in 2014.

A reduction in growing stock timber?

No / inconclusive. Total growing stock inventory in the catchment area increased 5% from 2014 through 2017 (the latest available data). Specifically, pine sawtimber inventory increased 13%, pine chip-n-saw inventory increased 24%, and pine pulpwood inventory decreased 12% over this period. This is indicative of an aging forest.

A reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon?

No. US Forest Service data shows the average annual growth rate of growing stock timber has decreased slightly since 2014, and a slower timber growth rate essentially represents a reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon. However, the reduced growth rate and subsequent reduction in the sequestration rate of carbon is due to the aging of the forest (changes in timber age class distribution), not to increases in bioenergy demand. As trees get older the growth rate slows down.

An increase in harvesting above the sustainable yield capacity of the forest area?

No. Growth-to-removals ratios, which compare annual timber growth to annual harvests, provides a measure of market demand relative to supply as well as a gauge of market sustainability. In 2017, the latest available, the growth-to-removals ratio for pine pulpwood equalled 1.80 (a value greater than 1.0 indicates sustainable harvest levels). Even with the increased harvesting required to satisfy bioenergy demand, harvest levels remain well below the sustainable yield capacity of the catchment forest area.

Evaluate the impact of bioenergy demand (positive, neutral, negative) on …

Timber growing stock inventory

Neutral. Total wood demand (from biomass and other solid wood products) is up more than 35% compared to 2014 levels. Intuitively, increased demand means more timber is harvested, which reduces total growing stock inventory. However, in this catchment area, inventories are so substantial

that increases in demand from bioenergy, as well as from other sources, have not been great enough to offset annual timber growth, and, as such, total growing stock inventory has continued to increase – an average of 2% per year since 2014 (when Amite BioEnergy commenced production).

Timber growth rates

Neutral. Timber growth rates have declined since 2014; however, evidence suggests the reduction in growth rates is more a product of an aging forest and not due to changes in bioenergy demand.

Additionally, young planted pine stands are actually growing at a faster rate than ever before – due to the continued improvement of seedling genetics. And, as timber is harvested and these stands are replanted in pine (as has historically occurred in the catchment area), over the long term, the average timber growth rate is likely to increase.

Weyerhaeuser Nursery Hazlehurst Mississippi

Forest area

Positive / neutral. Total forest (timberland) area in the catchment area increased more than 5,200 ha from 2014 through 2017, the latest available. And while our analysis of biomass demand and forest area found a moderately strong relationship between the two, findings are inconclusive as to whether the increase in timberland acreage can be attributed to increases in biomass demand.

Wood Prices

Neutral. Despite the additional wood demand placed on this market by Amite BioEnergy, since 2014, prices for delivered pine pulpwood (the primary raw material consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have decreased 12% in the catchment area. Prices for pine sawmill residuals and in-woods chips (the other two raw materials consumed by Amite BioEnergy) have also declined over the last several years – down 3% since 2016 for pine sawmill residuals and down 3% since 2015 for in-woods chips.

Markets for solid wood products

Positive / neutral. In the Amite BioEnergy catchment area, demand for softwood sawtimber to produce lumber has increased more than 50% since 2014. A biproduct of the sawmilling process is sawmill residuals – a material utilized by Amite BioEnergy to produce wood pellets. Not only has Amite BioEnergy benefited from the greater availability of this biproduct, but lumber producers have also benefited, as Amite BioEnergy has provided an additional outlet for these biproducts.

Read the full report: Catchment Area Analysis of Forest Management and Market Trends: Amite BioEnergy (UK metric version). An interview with the author, Dr Harrison Hood, Forest Economist and Principal at Hood Consulting, can be read here. Explore every delivery of wood to Amite BioEnergy using our ForestScope data transparency tool. This is part of a series of catchment area analyses around the forest biomass pellet plants supplying Drax Power Station with renewable fuel. Others in the series include: Georgia MillEstonia, Latvia, LaSalle BioenergyMorehouse Bioenergy and Chesapeake.

Trusting in trees – How four countries transformed their forests

Minimalist tree top with light blue sky background

From arctic-circle, snow-laden pines to damp equatorial rainforests, to dry Australian scrublands, the planet is home to an incredibly diverse range of forested environments.

And while each region is very different, almost all have been impacted by humans. The effects of this have not always been positive, and despite decades spent raising awareness of the importance of forests for the health of the world, some regions’ forests remain in decline. Africa and Asia in particular have seen a decline in forest cover (although each year sees less lost) over the past few decades.

But there are areas where the impact of humans is in fact having a positive effect. This is largely thanks to the introduction of modern sustainable forestry practices, which have incentivised growth and helped bringing a variety of environmental and economic benefits to different regions around the world.

A recent report by Pöyry Management Consulting for Drax has looked in depth at these benefits and in particular, four regions where different approaches to sustainable forestry have brought a positive impact to people, industry and the environment alike.

More than a testament to the beneficial effects sustainable forest management can have, it shows that while the tactics, methods and environments may differ, their positive effects are universal.

US South: Turning around old practices

Weyerhaeuser Nursery, Camden, Alabama

The forests of the US South, from Virginia and Kentucky to Texas and Florida, have a long history of misuse. Both indigenous people and later European settlers used disruptive techniques such as large scale burning and removed valuable, mature hardwood on a mass scale, often leaving areas to naturally regenerate.

That largely changed in the mid-20th century, however, when forestry became more-intensive and the need for sustaining a supply of quality timber grew more apparent. The introduction of processes such as thinning and managed regeneration helped usher in a more responsible approach that has led to growth in both the forestry industry and forest coverage.

Between 2010 and 2015 there was 50% more growth in the volume of forests than was removed from harvesting. More than just growing forest area, this means an increase in the amount of carbon being absorbed and stored from the atmosphere.

Charts: US South historical increment to removal and US South above ground carbon 1957-1997.

In the US South, around 86% of forest land is privately owned by either corporations or individuals, but the economics of sustainable forestry practices has encouraged the overall growth in forests, even with limited regulations on land use in the area.

In addition to the native birds and mammals that depend on sustainably managed forests in the region, more than 200,000 people were employed by the industry in 2016, making it a vital part of local rural economies.

Finland: A century-long history of sustainable practices

Asikkala, Finland by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash

Wood and wood products play an important role in Finnish culture, from its famous saunas to the world’s largest wooden church – multinational phone brand Nokia even started life in in 1865 as a wood pulp mill.

A high demand for wood as a commercial product meant that a few centuries ago Finland’s forests where in a state of heavy degradation. But starting as far back as 100 years ago sustainable practices such as planned harvesting and regeneration legislation were introduced. The results are significant: there is now more wood in Finnish forests today than at the turn of the century.

The majority (61%) of Finland’s forests are privately owned, with the state owning 25%, companies only owning 8%, and 5% held by other owners. Many large companies, however, offer services such as forestry work, wood sales, drainage and tax services to private owners. This collaboration between sectors allows for best practices to be easily shared and quickly become widespread.

As a result, forest stocks have increased from 1,500 million m3 in 1970 to 2,500 million m3 in 2015, even while overall forest area has remained largely the same. It highlights the effectiveness of legislation, guidelines and certification in regenerating forests.

Chart: Forest growing stock in Finland

UK: Incentivising growth and diversity

The UK was once thought to be 30% covered by forestland, but by the turn of the last century forests made up less than 5%. Today, however, this has grown to as much as 13%, owing largely to regulation and incentives.

Chart: Forest area in UK by country and type over previous 10 years.  

As far back as the 1700s the UK had become dependent on wood imports from New England in the US and the Baltics in Europe. Following the First World War the Forestry Commission was established, primarily to try prevent timber shortages during times of war, but it went on to drive a boom in new plantations across the country and introduce grant schemes for private plantations.

Chart: Top 10 Net Importers of Wood Products. In 2017 the UK was the world’s second largest net importer of wood products.

A problem with this afforestation, however, was that it mostly consisted of monocultures of exotic species that were well suited to the climate, rather than regenerating native species. The modern UK Forestry Standard is countering this practice by putting in place requirements for afforestation and replanting that protect biodiversity, landscape and climate change, as well as soil and water.

Forest in Argyll and Bute

Some 73% of the UK’s forests are privately owned, which includes historic estates and charitable trusts, as well as investment funds. Despite the increasing forest area in the UK over the past century, imports of both wood and wood products still make up almost 80% of the UK’s wood needs. The upside for the region is increased recreational and preserved historic forests.

Uruguay: Sustainably managing rapid expansion

Uruguay’s forestry industry is much younger than the likes of the US South or Finland, but offers an example of a how to rapidly expand the sector while preserving its ‘old growth’, or primary, forests.

Eucalyptus trees in Uruguayan working forest

In 1975 the country introduced incentives such as tax waivers on forest operations and later subsidies for new plantations, as well as tax duties for timber exports. The result was a surge in eucalyptus plantations, which grew from 25,000 hectares in 1987 to more than 1 million hectares in 2015, largely driven by interest from international companies and investors. These plantations are currently managed sustainably, with growth still exceeding removals.

Eucalyptus is not a native species to Uruguay, but by allowing international investors to plant on land deemed of no agricultural or environmental value, the country has seen enormous afforestation while 800,000 hectares of native forests remain.

The economic impact is similarly impressive. Today forestry directly employees 15,000 people in Uruguay – 55% in forestry and logging and 45% in wood processing. The skills required to work in newly constructed mills has led to several courses in forestry and wood science at Uruguayan Universities.

Chart: Total forest area development in Uruguay

These four countries take different approaches to forestry but what they have in common is forest growth exceeding that removed through harvesting. It points to sustainable forest management as a means of growing forests and, in turn, carbon extracted and stored.

Read the full report by Dr. Hannes Lechner and Dr. Jack Lonsdale: Assessment of the benefits of sustainable forest management [PDF]

The everyday and future ways you use forest products

Think of the products that come from forests and you might think of the centuries of shipbuilding, construction and cooking made possible by civilisations utilising this plentiful natural resource.

What you might not think of is the complex construction of chemicals and matter that make up the trees of a forest – nor of the countless ways these can be broken down and used. Yet this is the reality of forests. From essential oils to sturdy packaging to powerful adhesives, trees are used to create a range of products that make daily life possible.

And as awareness of the need to reduce plastic consumption grows, research into forest products and how they can replace the less-environmentally friendly objects is growing.

Here we look at five of the most common products used today, and maybe in the future, that owe something to forests.

Adhesives from tall oil

Anyone who has encountered tree sap can attest: trees are made up of some pretty sticky stuff. And it’s because of this that they have long been a source for adhesives production – from glue to cement.

The substance that makes this possible is known as tall oil. Named after the Swedish word Tallolja, meaning pine oil, it is a by-product of pulping coniferous trees.

Tall oil has been produced commercially since the 1930s when the invention of the recovery boiler made it possible to extract it from the Kraft pulping process. However, the resins and waxes tall oil is made up of have a longer history. These are also known as ‘Naval Products’ due to their historic use in ship building and can be tapped directly from living trees.

Today, tall oil is also used in asphalt roofing, as well as medical and cosmetic applications. One of tall oil’s most exciting uses is as BioVerno – a renewable alternative to diesel made in the world’s first commercial-scale biorefinery in Finland.

Disinfectants and detergents from turpentine

Tapping trees has historically been a means of extracting multiple useful substances and one of the most versatile of these is turpentine. This yellowish liquid is produced from distilled tree resin and has a long history of uses.

Turpentine has been used since Roman times as torch or lamp fuel, but its antiseptic properties also means it was often used as medicine. While doctors today would advise against drinking turpentine (as was prescribed in the past), it is still used today in disinfectants, detergents and cleaning products, giving off a fresh, pine-like odour.

Fuels to replace fossils

Biomass pellets from working forests are just one of the ways trees are providing renewable energy. One other form is cellulosic ethanol, a new, second generation of liquid biofuel. Rather than competing with food supply (often a concern in the creation of biodiesels), cellulosic ethanol is made from non-food based materials such as forest and agricultural residues left behind after harvest – wheat straw, – and timber processing wastes including sawdust. It is now being produced at a commercial scale in Europe, the US and Brazil.

Woody biomass can also be converted into a petroleum substitute known as pyrolysis oil or bio-oil. Biomass is transformed into this dark brown liquid by heating it to 500oC in an oxygen-deprived environment and then allowing it to cool. Bio-oil has a much higher energy density than biomass in chip or pellet form and after upgrading can be used as jet fuel or as a petroleum alternative in chemical manufacturing.

Vanilla ice cream and carbon fibre from lignin

Lignin is what gives trees their tough, woody quality, and after cellulose is the world’s second most abundant natural polymer. Polymers are very long molecules made up of many smaller molecules joined end-to-end most often associated with plastic, (which is a synthetic polymer).

Lignin is generally a waste product from the paper pulping process and is often burnt as fuel. However, it can also serve as a vanilla flavouring – a property that may make lignin an important resource in the face of an impending vanilla pod shortage.

Future-looking research, however, aims to unlock much more from the 50 million tonnes of lignin produced every year globally. One of the most promising of these is as an alternative source of a family of organic compound known as phenylpropanoids. These are normally extracted from petroleum and are hugely useful in producing plastics and carbon fibre, as well as drugs and paint. 

Nanocellulose and the future of forest products

Cellulose is already one of the most important products to come from forests thanks to its role in paper production. However, this abundant substance – which is also the primary material in the cell walls of all green plants – holds even more potential.

By shrinking cellulose down to a nano level it can be configured to be very strong while remaining very light. This opens it up as a product with many possibilities, including using it as a source of bioplastics. Some bioplastics – polylactic acid, PHA, PBS and starch blends – are biodegradable alternatives to fossil fuel-based plastics and could potentially help solve some of the world’s most-pressing waste issues.

Not all bio-based plastics are biodegradable, however. The property of biodegradation doesn’t depend on the resource basis of a material – it is linked to its chemical structure. In other words, 100% bio-based plastics may be non-biodegradable, and 100% fossil-based plastics can biodegrade.

Bio-based plastics that are not biodegradable include polyethylene terephthalate, polyurethanes, polyamide, polyethylene. Polyethylenefuranoate or PEF is recyclable, can be manufactured without fossil fuels and while not biodegradable, has the potential to become a more sustainable alternative to the oil-based plastic used to make water bottles.

Cellulose’s combination of strength and light weight has also attracted interest from the auto industry in the ability to help cars become much lighter and therefore more fuel efficient. Its flexible, strong, transparent nature can also make Nanocellulose – an important material in helping bring bendable screens, batteries, cosmetics, paper, pharmaceuticals, optical sensors and devices to market.

The idea of using trees as a source of goods and products in everyday life might sound archaic, but, in reality, we’ve only just tapped the surface of what the chemicals and materials they’re made of can do. Markus Mannström from Finnish renewables company Stora Enso said recently that: “We believe that everything made from fossil-based materials today, can be made from a tree tomorrow.” As research advances, trees and forests will only play a bigger role in a more sustainable future.

Better forest management 

One of the most interesting outcomes of the recent analysis from the UK’s Forest Research (FR) agency on the Carbon Impact of Biomass (CIB) is the call for regulation to ensure better forest management and appropriate utilisation of materials.

The research was commissioned by the European Climate Foundation (ECF) to follow up FR’s mighty tome from 2015 of the same name.

This new piece of work essentially aims to clarify the findings of the initial research with supplementary analysis to address 3 key areas:

  1. A comparison of scenarios that may give relatively higher or lower GHG reductions — in simple terms, providing examples of both good and bad biomass.
  2. Based on the above, the report “provides a statement of the risks associated with EU bioenergy policy, both with and without specific measures to ensure sustainable supply.”
  3. It then goes on to “provide a practical set of sustainability criteria to ensure that those bio feedstocks used to meet EU bioenergy goals deliver GHG reductions”.

Not surprisingly, the report finds that unconstrained and unregulated use of biomass could lead to poor GHG emission results, even net emissions rather than removals. This, again, is a no-brainer. No reasonably minded person, even the most ardent bio-energy advocate, would suggest that biomass use should be unconstrained and unregulated.

There are plenty of obvious scenarios where biomass use would be bad, but that doesn’t mean that ANY use of biomass is bad. Thankfully this analysis takes a balanced view and identifies a number of scenarios where the use of biomass delivers substantial GHG emission reductions.

The report identifies the use of forest and industrial residues and small/early thinnings as delivering a significant decrease in GHG emissions, this is characterised as “good biomass” — around 75% of Drax’s 2017 feedstock falls into these feedstock categories (including some waste materials).

The remainder of Drax’s 2017 feedstock was made up of low grade roundwood produced as a bi-product of harvesting for saw-timber production. This feedstock was not specifically modelled in the analysis, but the report concludes that biomass users should: Strongly favour the supply of forest bioenergy as a by-product of wood harvesting for the supply of long-lived material wood products. The low grade roundwood used by Drax falls into this category.

Among the more obvious suggested requirements are that biomass should not cause deforestation and that biomass associated with ‘appropriate’ afforestation should be favoured. Agreed.

Another interesting recommendation is that biomass should be associated with supply regions where the forest growing stock is being preserved or increased, improving growth rates and productivity. Drax absolutely supports this view and we have talked for some time about the importance of healthy market demand to generate investment in forest management, encourage thinning and tree improvement.

Timber markets in the US South have lead to a doubling of the forest inventory over the last 70 years. These markets also provide jobs and help communities and ensure that forests stay as forest rather than being converted to other land uses.

The importance of thinning, as a silvicultural tool to improve the quality of the final crop and increase saw-timber production, is recognised by Forest Research. This is an import step in accepting that some biomass in the form of small whole trees can be very beneficial for the forest and carbon stock but also in displacing fossil fuel emissions.

The forest resource of the US South is massive, it stretches for more than a thousand miles from the coast of the Carolinas to the edge of West Texas, a forest area of 83 million ha (that’s more than 3 times the size of the UK). Given that a wood processing mill typically has a catchment area of around a 40–50-mile radius, imagine the number of markets required for low grade material to service that entire forest resource!

So, what happens when there isn’t a market near your forest, or the markets close? Over the last 20 years more than 30 million tonnes of annual demand for low grade timber — thinnings and pulpwood — has been lost from the market in the US South as the paper and board mills struggled after the recession. What happens to the forest owner? They stop harvesting, stop thinning, stop managing their forest. And that reduces the rate of growth, reduces carbon sequestration and reduces the quantity of saw-timber that can be produced in the future. Recognising that biomass has provided essential markets for forest owners of the US South, and directly contributed to better forest management is a really important step.

The CIB report talks about different types of biomass feedstock like stumps, which Drax does not use. Conversely the report also identifies good sources of biomass which should be used such as post-consumer waste, which Drax agrees would be better utilised for energy where possible, rather than land fill. It also shows that industrial processing residues that would otherwise be wasted and forest residues that would be burnt on site or left to rot would deliver carbon savings when used by facilities like Drax.

All of these criteria are similar to those outlined in the 7 principles of sustainable biomass that Drax has suggested should be followed.

Among the other recommendations which echo Drax’s thinking are that biomass should not use saw-timber or displace material wood markets, the scale should be appropriate to the long term sustainable yield potential of the forest — it should be noted that harvesting levels in the US South are currently only at around 57% of the total annual growth.

Counterfactual modelling, like that used in this report, cannot take account of all real-world variables and must be based on generic assumptions so should not be used in isolation, but this report makes a very useful contribution to a complex debate.

It is possible to broadly define good and bad biomass and to look at fibre baskets like the US south and see a substantial surplus of sustainable wood fibre being harvested a rate far below the sustainable yield potential.

Drax is currently working with the authors of this report, and others in the academic world, to develop the thinking on forest carbon issues and to ensure that all biomass use is sustainable and achieves genuine GHG emission reductions.

Discover the steps we take to ensure our wood pellet supply chain is better for our forests, our planet and our future — visit ForestScope

Collaborating for biodiversity protection and enhancement

Drax Biomass conducts regional risk assessments with extensive reviews of existing public and private datasets to identify high conservation value forests. This regional information is then augmented by county-level Natural Heritage data.

In 2017, Drax Biomass contracted with Nature Serve to package this regional- and county-level data into a format that would facilitate a rapid risk assessment for all in-woods fibre. This operational risk assessment procedure, combined with formal conservation commitments such as the Atchafalaya Basin Keeper agreement, reflect a comprehensive strategy to protect biodiversity.

Drax Biomass is looking forward to actively contributing to regional conservation enhancement efforts in 2018 and beyond.

A partnership formed with the American Forest Foundation (AFF) in 2017 is paving the way. The AFF is a publicly supported not-for-profit organization established to conduct charitable, educational, research and scientific programmes aimed at the responsible use and conservation of renewable resources. Our partnership with the AFF is aimed at improving habitat for at-risk southern wildlife species through active forest management. With open-canopy pine habitat identified as a conservation need, the market that Drax Biomass provides for small-diameter forest thinning material can directly benefit the regional biodiversity.

In addition to efforts around our own facilities, Drax Biomass employees have been contributing to a collaborative effort run by the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) to provide better information on how to assess whether or not there are forests with high conservation values in a catchment, and what to do about them. SBP expects to publish the guidance from this workgroup in early 2018.

The Sustainable Biomass Program

In 2013, Drax co-founded the SBP together with six other energy companies.

SBP builds upon existing forest certification programmes, such as the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). These evidence sustainable forest management practices but do not yet encompass regulatory requirements for reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is a critical gap for biomass generators, who are obligated to report GHG emissions to European regulators.

There is also limited uptake of forest-level certification schemes in some key forest source areas. SBP is working to address these challenges.

SBP certification provides assurance that woody biomass is supplied from legal and sustainable sources and that all regulatory requirements for the users of biomass for energy production are met. The tool is a unique certification scheme designed for woody biomass, mostly in the form of wood pellets and wood chips, used in industrial, large-scale energy production.

SBP certification is achieved via a rigorous assessment of wood pellet and wood chip producers and biomass traders, carried out by independent, third party certification bodies and scrutinised by an independent technical committee.