Wood Energy in the Southeastern United States: A Strategy for Sustainable Growth
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Economic and environmental concerns over fossil fuels are placing the Southeast United States in a position to expand its use of wood biomass for energy. The region’s productive forestland, growing population, and wood products industry can help provide a sustainable, diverse and abundant supply of woody biomass much of which is currently unutilized. While federal and state policies are steering the use of wood toward large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol and electricity in the Southeast, the generation of thermal energy, the most efficient use of wood, appears to be undervalued. Three market segments that can benefit economically from biomass thermal energy are highlighted: institutions, agriculture, and industry. These segments are selected based on sustainability criteria that include a rapid payback period, high demand for thermal energy, efficient use of woody biomass, proximity to fuel source, and potential for repeatability across the region. Sensitivity analyses and case studies are used to support these findings. Critical factors for implementation of biomass thermal energy in the Southeast are also identified, revealing key economic, political and social barriers and drivers. Central barriers include the lack of a formal biomass market, competition with conventional fossil fuels, and poor public perception of wood energy. Drivers that favor the expansion of wood energy systems are renewable energy tax credits, an established forestry infrastructure, and the mutual relationship between biomass removal for energy and forest management practices. The findings can be used to support government, business, and agricultural clients that are looking to invest in affordable and renewable energy projects.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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