Monday, April 14, 2008

Bioenergy Opportunities from Pennsylvania Forests

Pennsylvania’s forests cover 60 percent of its land area and forestry is one of the Commonwealth’s most important economic sectors contributing over $5 billion to the economy annually. Most of the revenue from Pennsylvania’s forests comes from its high-quality hardwoods. However, there is potential for bioenergy production from small-diameter trees that are often left in the forest. Furthermore, underutilization and overcrowding of small-diameter trees hinders regeneration and future forest values. The Pennsylvania Hardwoods Small Diameter Task Force established by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources estimates that approximately 469 million tons of "low-use" wood across 16 million acres of forestland in the Commonwealth might be available for harvest as a bioenergy feedstock. In addition to this already standing volume of unused wood, there are thousands of acres of abandoned mine lands and old agricultural fields that could be planted in fast growing bioenergy species such as hydrid polar and American chestnut.

The looming energy crisis and the US effort to become more self-sufficient in energy use provide unique economic and environmental opportunities for Pennsylvania’s forest community. The forest products industry will benefit by diversifying markets for forest products. Experts agree that pulpwood and chip markets that have historically supplied wood to paper mills and engineered wood operations such as particleboard and medium density fiberboard plants are likely to continue to decline in Pennsylvania.

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