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What is Woody Biomass?

There are many by-products of forest management and timber harvesting—limbs, tops, etc.—that are not usually put to any use. This residual woody material, known as woody biomass, will likely be heaped up as "slash" piles and burned, or may simply left to clutter the forest floor. In either case, but more particularly in the latter, this unused wood mass represents a hazard to our forests, in that it can become the fuel for catastrophic forest fires.

The utilization of woody biomass is an efficient way to maintain the health of our national and private forests. In addition, it generates jobs, provides clean energy, and produces a multitude of other useful products. In fact, wood is the most commonly used biomass resource in the world. Read more about woody biomass utilization.

Woody Biomass and Energy

Woody biomass represents a significant source of clean thermal energy that is often overlooked as an alternative to fossil fuels. Not only does woody biomass utilization create heat energy, it is used to generate electricity as well. For example, in 2006 28GW of electricity was generated through woody biomass consumption in the U.S.fn That is 640% more electricity than was generated in that same year by wind and solar combined. Read more about woody biomass and energy.

Other uses of Woody Biomass

Woody biomass is not only used to generate energy, it can also be used to create a variety of other useful products, including paper and pulp, furniture, housing components, roundwood, and ethanol and other liquids.

Woody Biomass and Forest Health

As trees age and die, the floors of our national and private forests become cluttered with woody biomass debris. While wood matter will decay and be removed from the forest floors naturally over time, often the rate of buildup exceeds the rate of natural removal.

This leaves tens of millions of tons of woody material sitting in our forests as fuel for forest fires. Forest managers in both public and private forests routinely gather this dead wood and heap it up in "slash" piles.

More often than not, the wood that comprises slash piles is small-diameter, low-quailty wood that has little or no commercial value. Removing this material is costly, and has little promise of economic return, if any at all.

Woody biomass utilization affords forest managers and owners with increased return for proper forest management by creating demand for the woody biomass resources. This in return encourages processes that keep our forests healthy, and free of excessive woody ground clutter. Read more about the environmental benefits of woody biomass utilization.

How does woody biomass utilization fit into the carbon cycle?