, Volume 112, Issue 2, pp 415-428

Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt

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Abstract

Owing to the extensive critique of food-crop-based biofuels, attention has turned toward second-generation wood-based biofuels. A question is therefore whether timber taken from the vast boreal forests on an increasing scale should serve as a source of wood-based biofuels and whether this will be effective climate policy. In a typical boreal forest, it takes 70–120 years before a stand of trees is mature. When this time lag and the dynamics of boreal forests more generally are taken into account, it follows that a high level of harvest means that the carbon stock in the forest stabilizes at a lower level. Therefore, wood harvesting is not a carbon-neutral activity. Through model simulations, it is estimated that an increased harvest of a boreal forest will create a biofuel carbon debt that takes 190–340 years to repay. The length of the payback time is sensitive to the type of fossil fuels that wood energy replaces