New approach promotes pathways to wood biomass sustainability

U.S. wood pellet production rises to meet E.U. demand

July 12, 2012
Contact: 
Brian Kittler, 202-797-6585, bkittler@pinchot.org
Will McDow, 919-881-2926, wmcdow@edf.org

(RALEIGH, NC) Producers of wood pellets in the United States will need to meet or exceed sustainability standards set by the European Union and individual European countries to protect the health of forests, while accessing expanding export markets, according to studies released today by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation (Pinchot Institute). The growing European demand for U.S. wood biomass requires buyers to demonstrate enhanced sustainability of North America's forest resources.

Some European utilities depend on trees grown in the United States to make electricity. Processed wood is shaped into small wood pellets that are shipped to the E.U., mainly the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark and Belgium. The pellets are burned with coal or in biomass boilers to produce energy. This video explains the journey from forestlands to power plants.

The new reports examine economic, environmental and policy implications of the expanding wood pellet market. European Power from U.S. Forests [PDF] documents how the E.U. policy is shaping the transatlantic trade in wood biomass. Pathways to Sustainability [PDF] evaluates the programs and practices available to U.S. pellet producers to meet European buyers' sustainability expectations and policy requirements, concluding that few of the pathways completely meet the standards.

"The E.U. has a strong renewable energy policy, but countries don't have enough forest or agricultural land to meet the increasing demand for wood biomass," said Will McDow, EDF forestry conservation manager. "The U.S. has the biomass resources and sustainable forest management programs. The two must be linked. Landowners and biomass producers on both sides of the Atlantic can encourage market development and meet environmental objectives."

"Expanding wood pellet export markets present new opportunities for landowners, but meeting the expectations of buyers overseas can be a significant hurdle," said Brian Kittler, project director with the Pinchot Institute. "While there appears to be a call for sustainability from Europe, it's not necessarily a straight line between policy level guidance in the E.U., and the supply chain decisions of U.S. biomass producers. As markets grow, investments are made, and terms of delivery negotiated. Dialogue on what the many approaches to sustainability offer is essential."

A webinar will be held July 17, 2012 at 12 pm EST. Please join Will McDow (EDF), Brian Kittler (Pinchot Institute) and Jamie Joudrey (University of Toronto) for a discussion of E.U. policies, the growing demand for wood pellet exports and options to meet Europe's sustainability requirements.

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EDFEnergyEX; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund; and http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange.

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation (pinchot.org), advances conservation and sustainable natural resource management by developing innovative, practical, and broadly supported solutions to conservation challenges and opportunities. The Pinchot Institute accomplishes this through non-partisan research, education, and technical assistance on key issues influencing the future of conservation and sustainable natural resource management.