Forest-based bioenergy


David Paré: My name is David Paré. I’m a research scientist at the Canadian Forest Service. My research work focuses on the sustainability of forest ecosystems.

Forest biomass offers real environmental advantages, but we also have to ensure that using this biomass does not compromise ecosystem functions. So our research work focuses on specifying the quantities of biomass that can be harvested without harming the forest.

Bioenergy is any form of energy produced from biomass. And biomass can be defined as any material derived from living organisms. For example, all the parts of a tree are considered biomass.

Forest biomass comes from three sources: mill residues, forest harvest residues and plantations deliberately grown for energy production.

We can burn this biomass through direct combustion to produce heat; we can also use it to produce electricity or biofuels.

Bioenergy from a forest is a source of energy that is carbon lean and if it comes from a sustainably managed forest, it is a source of energy that will be perpetually renewable. It is also a source of locally produced energy and so, for communities located close to forests, it is an energy source that is accessible and reliable.

The forest industry has been using bioenergy in mills for several decades. Pulp and paper mills, and sawmills, use waste in the form of sawdust and bark to produce energy. This energy is already available right where it is needed; there is no need to transport it. It reduces costs, but it also saves large amounts of greenhouse gases.

Forest biomass is plentiful in Canada, but when it comes to our requirements, the quantities cannot cover all our needs. So we will have to use this biomass as efficiently as possible.

There is a growing interest in using biomass from logging sites. This is what we call the forest residues that consist of branches and non-commercial species—in other words, biomass that is not used by other industries.

Our research at the Canadian Forest Service is attempting to specify the quantities of biomass that can be removed from a forest without harming it.

Important questions that need to be answered include: how much biomass can be harvested? And in what type of ecosystem can we harvest biomass? While at the same time ensuring the functions of that ecosystem are maintained—that the forest continues to grow at a normal rate and that it continues its functions of maintaining biodiversity, air and water quality, and so forth.

For example, we have experimental sites where we harvest different quantities of biomass and we measure the effect on the soil and on forest growth.

Canadians are very attached to their forests. Forests produce a range of goods, but at the same time, everyone wants a healthy forest, a productive forest and a beautiful forest. The focus of our work therefore, is to ensure, that using the forest does not undermine its qualities.