Finding the Path Forward for Biomass Sustainability


As demands for affordable, renewable energy rise, the world is faced with a conundrum: how can we provide enough energy for agriculture and industry for a growing worldwide population while doing so sustainably – especially using biomass?

Biomass is widely viewed as being a key part of the formula that, moving forward, will largely provide for the intense demand on resources our global population will have. Managing this growth, however, is something the world has yet to figure out and is a problem the biomass industry is now preoccupied with fixing.

Currently, there is no consensus definition of sustainable. What is sustainable in biomass development in one area is different for another. What is one man’s productivity is another man’s inefficiency. Because there are no overarching standards for biomass sustainability, development of this alternative fuel source is more of a patchwork effort instead of a concerted effort to sustainably develop biomass.

One example of how the need for sustainability conflicts with the need to do so in a way that is fair and efficient for business and industry is in how we use wood to generate electricity or heat. One concern is greenhouse gases, which is one reason why biomass is appealing compared to coal or other traditional sources. But while biomass could decrease greenhouse emissions, it uses wood from forests that also work to sequester carbon – which also protects the environment.

Finding that delicate balance is crucial if biomass is to become a staple resource provider for the shifting energy landscape.

So far, nations have agreed on only one criteria of sustainability for biomass: minimizing greenhouse-gas emissions. This is arguably a worthy goal to pursue, but it’s not the be-all end-all for discussions about how to effectively manage biomass production. More consensus is needed on the national and global level on best practices for sustainable biomass development. A framework for biomass exporters – which includes the United States and will increasingly do so as the biomass industry develops – is needed in order to make sure that we harvest biomass in a sustainable way that doesn’t overtly conflict with industry and business.

As it stands now, biomass is proceeding at a stunning but haphazard rate of growth. It’s up to governments and industry bodies to work together to figure out methods to make sure biomass is sustainable and a suitable substitute for conventional energy production, so that the industry can grow responsibly and in a healthy, long-term way.