• Open Access

The role of forest residues in the accounting for the global warming potential of bioenergy


Correspondence: Geoffrey Guest, Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Department of Energy and Process Engineering, Industrial Ecology Programme, Høgskoleringen 5 (E1), 7491 Trondheim, Norway, tel. + 47 735 93988, fax + 47 735 98943, e-mail: geoffrey.guest@ntnu.no


Bioenergy makes up a significant portion of the global primary energy pie, and its production from modernized technology is foreseen to substantially increase. The climate neutrality of biogenic CO2 emissions from bioenergy grown from sustainably managed biomass resource pools has recently been questioned. The temporary change caused in atmospheric CO2 concentration from biogenic carbon fluxes was found to be largely dependent on the length of biomass rotation period. In this work, we also show the importance of accounting for the unutilized biomass that is left to decompose in the resource pool and how the characterization factor for the climate impact of biogenic CO2 emissions changes whether residues are removed for bioenergy or not. With the case of Norwegian Spruce biomass grown in Norway, we found that significantly more biogenic CO2 emissions should be accounted towards contributing to global warming potential when residues are left in the forest. For a 100-year time horizon, the global warming potential bio factors suggest that between 44 and 62% of carbon-flux, neutral biogenic CO2 emissions at the energy conversion plant should be attributed to causing equivalent climate change potential as fossil-based CO2 emissions. For a given forest residue extraction scenario, the same factor should be applied to the combustion of any combination of stem and forest residues. Life cycle analysis practitioners should take these impacts into account and similar region/species specific factors should be developed.