Overview: Woody Biomass Utilization and the WBUG
What is Woody Biomass Utilization?
- Woody biomass utilization (WBU) is defined as the harvest, sale, offer, trade, and/or use of woody biomass. This utilization results in the production of a full range of wood products, including timber, engineered lumber, paper and pulp, furniture and value-added commodities, as well as bio-energy and/or bio-based products such as plastics, ethanol and diesel.
- Woody biomass is defined as the by-product of management, restoration, and hazardous fuel reduction treatments, as well as the product of natural disasters, including trees and woody plants (limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment).
Significant volumes of woody biomass are removed annually by private, state and federal land managers in the process of thinning forests to prevent wildfire (fuels treatments) and removing diseased trees and invasive species to improve forest and rangeland health. Woody biomass is also the product of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornados, as well as urban cleanup activities, including power line clearing and residential brush and tree removal. Most of this material is left to decay, burned in place or hauled to landfills.
This woody biomass represents a potential source of raw material to produce small wood products, energy in the forms of heat, fuel or electricity and other useful products such as mulch or erosion control products. Using woody biomass, instead of wasting or burning it, has numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits.
The National Energy Policy, published in May 2001, recognized the importance of a diverse portfolio of domestic energy. The Policy outlined thirteen recommendations designed to increase America’s use of renewable and alternative energy. One of these recommendations directed the Secretaries of the Interior and Energy to re-evaluate access limitations to federal lands in order to increase renewable energy production, such as biomass, wind, geothermal, and solar.
In response to the National Energy Policy Recommendations, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Gale Norton, and Secretary of the Department of Energy, Spencer Abraham, co-sponsored a national renewable energy conference in November 2001. More than 200 representatives from renewable energy industries and state and tribal governments provided recommendations to expand the use of renewable energy, including biomass.
A second renewables conference chaired by Secretary Norton and Department of Energy Assistant Secretary, Dave Garman, was held in February 2002. Many of the recommendations from these conferences were included in an interagency report prepared jointly by the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy, titled “White House Report in Response to the National Energy Policy Recommendations to Increase Renewable Energy Production on Federal Lands, August 20, 2002”. This interagency report recommended that the Department of Interior take five actions to promote the production of renewable energy, including the establishment of a biomass initiative (Proposed action 3.3).
The Departments of Agriculture and Interior are also implementing the National Fire Plan, the President’s Healthy Forest Initiative, the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, and the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 to address the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve forest and rangeland health on federal lands by thinning biomass density.
The three Departments, in coordination with the Western Governors Association, held a Bioenergy and Wood Products Conference January 20-22, 2004, in Denver, Colorado, to discuss opportunities for biomass utilization. As a result of the conference, the Departments established an interagency biomass working group, called the Woody Biomass Utilization Group.
Memorandum of Understanding
On June 18, 2003, The Departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture announced an initiative to encourage the use of woody biomass from forest and rangeland restoration and hazardous fuels treatment projects. The three Departments signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Policy Principles for Woody Biomass Utilization for Restoration and Fuel Treatment on Forests, Woodlands, and Rangelands (PDF, 184 KB), supporting woody biomass utilization as a recommended option to use to reduce hazardous fuels rather than burning or employing other on-site disposal methods.
The Woody Biomass Utilization Group Vision Statement (PDF, 24 KB) is articulated in a statement developed collaboratively by the Group and interested partners at a meeting in Charlottesville, Virginia, January 10-12, 2006. The vision statement does not represent the vision of any one member, but seeks to include all foreseeable beneficial outcomes and goals of current and potential members supporting biomass utilization. For instance, consistent with agency mission, land management agencies may envision the costs savings of utilizing woody biomass as beneficial to fire prevention, while another agency may view utilizing woody biomass as a way to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases or reduce the need for additional landfill space.
The Woody Biomass Utilization Group's Charter (PDF, 40 KB) that articulates the organization and functions of the Group. The charter has been approved by the Biomass Research and Development Board.
The Woody Biomass Utilization Group has developed an Annual Work Plan of the Federal Woody Biomass Working Group (WBUG) (PDF, 37 KB). These tasks represent joint efforts informally agreed to by one or more federal members to encourage woody biomass utilization. Some of the tasks of the work plan may include actions agreed to be done outside the federal forum, through partnership agreements, or collectively agreed as needed to facilitate biomass utilization.
Chairperson: Daniel Cassidy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (202)-401-6444.