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Environmental Benefits of Woody Biomass Utilization

When organic material such as woody biomass decomposes, the complex carbohydrates that make up its structure break down into more simple forms of matter. In the process, water, heat, mehtane, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide are all released into the atmosphere.

Trees that live, grow, die, and decay do not increase the net amout of carbon and water vapor in the atmosphere, inasmuch as they absorb that matter from the atmosphere during life. However, they do increase atmospheric methane concentrations, and methane is 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than is carbon dioxide. And, unlike with carbon dioxide, new trees do not re-absorb that methane.

Woody biomass utilization boasts multiple environmental benefits. First, when woody biomass is burned to generate heat or energy, approximately five times less methane is released into the atmosphere. As woody biomass use increases, this will have a direct impact on atmospheric methan concentrations, and may contribute to the short-term mitigation of anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming.

Second, woody biomass utilization is clean, in that it does not result in a net gain of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels, on the other hand, which accounts for 85.5% of U.S. energy consumptionfn, does increase atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is because the biomass (and its carbon content) from which those fuels are derived has been out of atmospheric circulation for ages. Therefore, burning woody biomass, as opposed to fossil fuels, reduces athropogenic carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 90%. Other airborne pollutants are also reduced through woody biomass utilization in place of fossil fuels (e.g. sulfur dioxide, nitorgen oxid).fn

Another way woody biomass utilization aids the environment is through the promotion of proper forest management. Dead woody matter builds up over time, inasmuch as its rate of decay is slower than trees' average mortality rate. As dead trees collect, the risk of catasrophic fire increases. Woody biomass processes use the residues of forest thinning and timber harvesting, clearing the forests of debris and reducing the risk of large, destructive fires.