Biomass – wood for energy

Click the image above to watch the first video about woody biomass.

Biomass is the oldest form of energy. It has been used for cooking and heating for thousands of years. Today biomass is sourced from organic material such as crops, agricultural waste and trees that can be efficiently processed to produce energy and heat.

Biomass energy has been embraced globally and is increasingly forming part of the energy mix to meet the demands of a low-carbon future by providing an alternative to fossil fuel.

When biomass is sourced from sustainably managed sources, the energy produced is renewable and carbon neutral. This is because new trees are planted after harvesting and these trees continue to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Unlike non-renewable fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil which are carbon positive, biomass can provide an ongoing contribution to climate change mitigation.

 

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Source of woody biomass 

 

Click the image above to watch video two – Where will woody biomass be sourced from?

The Forest Products Commission will source woody biomass from sustainably managed sources such as Western Australia’s State forests, the softwood estate and from farm forestry operations. Managing these produces woody biomass which is a byproduct of forestry operations and includes branches and other parts of the tree that are not suitable for high-grade products such as saw logs and furniture. Previously, this woody biomass was viewed as a waste product and it was often burnt on the forest floor. Now prescribed amounts of woody biomass will be retained as habitat for biodiversity, and the remaining material can be salvaged.

Biomass will also be sourced from thinnings. Forest thinning is a silvicultural technique that involves the selective removal of trees to create more space in the forest and reduce the demand for resources such as water and sunlight. This technique increases the growth in remaining trees and improves forest health by reducing stress.

 

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Benefits to the forest

 

Click the image above to watch video three – Benefits to the forest 

 

Climate change has put Western Australia’s forests under pressure. In the last 20 years, scientists studying the impact of a warming and drying climate have found that these climatic changes have contributed to a stressed forest ecosystem.

In 2010-2011, Western Australia recorded the driest and second hottest year on record. As a result, along the Swan Coastal Plain, some areas of banksia woodland suffered losses as high as 70 to 80 per cent; and 500 hectares (ha) of tuart woodland, 15 000 ha of pine plantations and 16 000 ha of northern jarrah forests died because of the drought or associated fires.

Changes to Western Australia’s climate and historic regeneration techniques, particularly the regeneration of mine sites, has meant that our forests are stressed from overstocking and are at risk of devastating uncontrolled fire.

 

FireCombined

The Northcliffe fire scorched more than 80,000 ha of National Park and State forest. It burnt for 14 days and the intensity of the fire destroyed 6,000 ha of 30-year-old karri regrowth.

 

This risk can be mitigated through the careful thinning of the forest resource, reducing overstocking and competition for scarce resources such as water and sunlight, and by removing woody biomass from the forest. Salvaging woody biomass reduces the amount of combustible material on the forest floor and this can help minimise the impact of wildfire by reducing fuel loads and fire intensity.

 

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Benefits to the environment

 

Click the image above to watch video four – Environmental benefits of biomass

 

Climate change is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant global threats of the 21st century, with the scientific community warning against the continual increases of greenhouse gases. Improvements in technology and science has enabled woody biomass to become a viable alternate energy source that allows us to reduce our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions. It can achieve this because woody biomass is carbon neutral.

Atmosphere

There is a fixed amount of carbon on the earth and it cycles between the biosphere, ocean and atmosphere in a process of either being stored or released.

 

The natural balance, or carbon cycle, has been disrupted and today more carbon is being released than stored. It is a key cause of climate change and well managed forests are part of the solution. Western Australia’s renewable forests and wood products store and sequester carbon. The harvest and regeneration cycle of our forests allows us to mitigate rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. In comparison, fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, are non-renewable and release carbon into the atmosphere.

 

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Benefits to Community

 

Click the image above to watch video five – Benefits to community

The Western Australian community expects the Forest Products Commission (FPC) to continue to invest in the long-term economic health of the timber industry by ensuring it is vibrant and economically diverse. The development of a stable biomass market will allow the FPC to deliver on this expectation.

The native forest sector contributes $220 million to the Western Australian economy, including the additional value generated by businesses that support the timber industry.  Most forest industry jobs are based in regional areas, highlighting the importance of domestic processing and forest resource availability across Western Australia.

The establishment of a domestic biomass market will create jobs. While the industry may not always be the sole or largest provider of jobs in every community, it will power local businesses and communities and contribute to their economic diversity, particularly in regional areas. This economic diversity is key to ensuring regional communities remain resilient when other industries are experiencing challenges.

Some communities already benefit from biomass, the pool at Albany’s Leisure and Aquatic Centre is heated by woodchips from local plantations.

 

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