Schatz Energy Research Center

California biopower impacts project

Logging residuals are piled in a field.

California’s Forest Carbon Plan identifies insufficient forest management activity rates, limited biomass processing and utilization infrastructure, and unprecedented deterioration of forest health as a few of the critical barriers to managing forests for resilience and net carbon sequestration. In his October 2015 proclamation of a State of Emergency, Governor Brown emphasized that California utilities and state agencies should cooperate to address this emergency. In May 2018, Brown issued an executive order aiming to “combat dangerous tree mortality, increase the ability of our forests to capture carbon and systematically improve forest management.”

Forest residuals piled in a truck.

If managed properly, bioenergy from harvest residues can support sustainable forest management activities while also advancing California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard goals. However, there are legitimate concerns surrounding climate, air quality, and ecosystem health implications of improperly managed bioenergy systems.

Our California Biopower Impacts (CBI) project seeks to firmly and transparently establish the environmental performance of bioenergy generated from forest and agricultural wastes. Supported by a grant from the California Energy Commission, this three-year project is investigating many of the greenhouse gas and other environmental considerations associated with utilizing forest-derived woody biomass and agricultural residues for electricity and heat generation.

Major project elements

  • Assess and map technically recoverable forest and agricultural biomass residue in California that could be utilized for electricity and heat generation.
  • Conduct a landscape-level assessment of the fire emission implications of forest residue removal.
  • Develop and implement the California Biomass Residue Emissions Characterization (C-BREC) model. The C-BREC model will enable robust, transparent accounting for the life cycle greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions associated with residual biomass energy systems across the state.
  • Characterize and report on key positive and negative environmental impacts of residual biomass mobilization, such as changes to soil nutrient balance and carbon stock, and air quality effects from altered black carbon and criteria air pollutant emission profiles.
  • Assess the potential to offset residue mobilization costs for forest management activities through value-added supply chains, post-harvest processing, payments for ecosystem services, and similar schemes.
  • Consolidate project results into actionable policy recommendations, and disseminate these recommendations to California stakeholder groups.


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