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Woody Biomass BioEnergy

Bioenergy refers broadly to any conversion of biomass materials into an energy source, such as power, heat, or liquid biofuels. This page focuses on resources and tools related to the use of woody biomass as a feedstock for renewable energy.

Concerns about energy security and climate change are driving the federal government to focus on biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel as a key solution for the nation’s oil dependence.


Wind, solar and biomass are experiencing strong market growth, but of these renewable energy sources, only biomass can be used to efficiently produce both power, heat and liquid fuels simultaneously. Heat-only applications in boilers and combined heat and power (CHP) applications using boilers or gasifiers and turbines or engines are common today.

As of November 2006, biomass was the second most widely used renewable fuel for electricity production in the United States; hydro was the first widely used. Approximately 60% of the current biomass powered electricity generation in the United States is in the form of highly efficient CHP.

Liquid Fuels

Today’s biorefineries convert crops such as corn, soy, and sugar into biofuels and are not yet capable of cost-effectively utilizing woody biomass as a feedstock. However, most of the federal research and development effort is on developing the next generation of biofuels, which will be produced from multiple cellulose feedstocks including woody biomass, energy crops, and residuals including agricultural and other wastes. Major breakthroughs in cellulosic conversion and commercialization of these new biorefineries are expected within the next 5-10 years.

The use of renewable fuels for power generation is on the rise, an increase that can be attributed to the price surge and volatility of traditional fuels, as well as a general desire to use more environmentally friendly and socially acceptable sources for power generation.

Considerations for a Successful Bioenergy Renewable Heat and/or Power Project

Proximity to fuel source

Biomass is most economical as a fuel source when the CHP system is located at or close to the woody biomass fuel stock. In some cases, the availability of biomass in a location may prompt the search for an appropriate thermal host for a CHP or heat application. In other circumstances, a site may be driven by a need for energy savings to search for biomass fuel within a reasonable radius of the facility.

Best practice design and operation

Matching the conversion technology to the fuel source and to the products needed (i.e., electricity, steam, hot water, and mechanical energy) is essential to achieve the maximum economic returns and long-term performance from a bioenergy system.

Enabling policies that support Bioenergy

These include utility and environmental policies such as emissions reductions credits and offsets, standardized interconnection and State renewable portfolio standards. As of November 2006, 23 states and the District of Columbia had renewable portfolio standards, and in each of these states, woody biomass-fueled CHP represents a permissible renewable energy resource. In some states, renewable energy credits (RECs) can be generated from the use of biomass fuels to power a CHP system, which can provide projects with an additional revenue stream.

Grants, loans, or tax credits

Bioenergy projects often qualify for additional state incentives that traditional energy sources are ineligible for. Financing may be available for bioenergy projects through federal, state, and local grants, loans, or tax credits.

Air Quality Considerations

School systems, municipalities, and some commercial facilities increasingly are attracted by the idea of converting their small heating systems (roughly 10 million Btu/hour or less) from burning coal and oil to wood-fired boilers. Burning wood can raise concerns about local air quality. It is important for communities to ensure that smoke from these wood-fired boilers is minimized.

Health Impacts from Wood Smoke

Fine particles found in wood smoke have been linked to serious concerns, especially to the health of children, older adults, and people with heart or lung conditions. Woody biomass boilers have been built at facilities such as schools and hospitals, which are frequented by especially sensitive populations that may experience more severe health impacts from fine particles. For further information, visit EPA's BurnWise website.

Minimizing Smoke from Wood-fired Boilers

There are ways to burn biomass more cleanly. By choosing the cleanest design and adding pollution controls, wood smoke can be minimized. For further information about cleaner burning technologies and effective emission controls, visit the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM): Wood / Biomass Combustion web page.

Tools and Resources

Cellulosic Biofuels

  • The National Biofuels Action Plan Workshop Summary Report Final (5-30-07) (PDF, 1.79 MB) is being prepared for the existing interagency Biomass Research and Development Board, established by the Research and Development Act of 2000 and revised by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The document is the result of a Federal agency workshop held November 28-29, 2006, in Washington, DC, to initiate the interagency coordination process. The main objectives of the workshop were to define current and future Federal agency and program roles and activities, identify gaps and opportunities to collaborate, and assess budgets related to biofuels production and use to meet the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative and the DOE’s “30x30” goals. (Note: at the time of this workshop, the President’s 2007 State of the Union “20 in 10” goal was not announced.) The goal of the Workshop Summary Report is to identify the overall administrative and management needs to meet the President’s goals that should be addressed by the Board, as expressed by the interagency teams. The Workshop Summary Report will also provide a focus for the interagency coordination teams in their future work, and will provide a framework for a more detailed National Biofuels Action Plan to be developed through the interagency teams’ future efforts.
  • Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the nited States (PDF, 1.4 MB)

Biomass Power and/or Heat

  • Fiscal Year 2015 Biomass Crop Assistance Program - The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), created by the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized with modifications by the 2014 Farm Bill, is part of the national strategy to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, improve domestic energy security, and reduce carbon pollution, by developing more agricultural products made in rural America. BCAP provides funds to assist farmers and forester landowners with growing, maintaining, and harvesting biomass that can be used for energy or bio-based products.
  • A Strategy for Increasing the Use of Woody Biomass for Energy (September 2008) - Prepared for the National Association of State Foresters, Forest Markets Committee by Innovative Natural Resource Solutions LLC, September 2008. The purpose of this report is to review the status of woody biomass as an energy resource, the tatus of the technologies for using it (particularly the new ones under development which could broaden the use of biomass), and to suggest a strategy to NASF for actions it and its members could take to increase the use of woody biomass for energy.
  • Fuels for Schools and Beyond - a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service State and Private Forestry and the Bitterroot Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Area, Inc. There are currently six state forestry departments participating in this program providing technical and financial assistance to interested parties in Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Fuels for Schools mission is to promote and encourage the use of woody biomass as a renewable, natural resource to provide a clean, readily available energy source suitable for heat and power generation in public and private buildings; and, to facilitate the removal of hazardous fuels from our forests by assisting in the development of viable commercial uses of removed material.
  • EPA Combined Heat and Power Partnership - Provides technical assistance to candidate sites for Bioenergy CHP projects and maintains a number of tools and resources to assist those considering or implementing projects including a funding and regulatory/ rates opportunities database, an emissions calculator, information on strategic markets for biomass CHP, a project development guidebook and a biomass catalogue of technologies.
  • EPA’s Risk Management Research - Best practices for bioenergy production include effective control of emissions from the process. Modern industrial systems employ technologies that extract as much energy from the biomass as possible, which in turn minimizes the amount of unburned material that could be emitted into the air. These processes then use air pollution control technologies to reduce emissions as needed to meet applicable emission limits. Further information on control technologies and emission measurements can be found at EPA’s Risk Management Research web page.
  • EPA Sector-Based Information and Resources - Provides information, resource links, and analyses relating to manufacturing and business sectors in the United States.
  • Primer on Wood Biomass for Energy, January 2008 (PDF) - A paper by the U.S. Forest Service State & Private Forestry Technology Marketing Unit explaining and describing the concepts of wood energy on a residential, commercial, and industrial scale in the United States so that the Forest Service can help meet the demands of communities involved in the forest-products industry.
  • Small Modular Biopower Systems - The DOE Small Modular Biopower Systems Project worked with industry to develop small modular biopower systems that are efficient and clean. A fact sheet about this past initiative is available: Small Modular Biopower Systems (PDF, 0.3 MB).
  • State Energy Program (SEP) Grants for Woody Biomass
  • The Southern Bioenergy Roadmap - Publication by The Southeast Agriculture and Forestry Energy Resources Alliance (SAFER).
  • USDA Forest Service Research & Development: Priority Areas: Biomass & Bioenergy
    Forest Service Research and Development has a long history of providing results in the area of bioenergy and biobased products.