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Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt


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

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Ketil Flugsrud, Hans Goksøyr, Henrik Lindgaard, Olav Norem, Hans Henrik Ramm, and Trygve Refsdal provided important assistance and ideas at an early stage of this work. I also wish to thank four anonymous referees as well as Iulie Aslaksen, Rasmus Astrup, Lise Dalsgaard, Per Arild Garnåsjordet, Cathrine Hagem, Per Kr. Rørstad, Hanne K. Sjølie, and participants at a seminar held at the University for Life Sciences in October 2010 for comments and suggestions that improved the manuscript significantly. The Norwegian Research Council provided funding as part of the project Environmentally friendly transport: How to design policies for sustainable introduction of biofuels.

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Correspondence to Bjart Holtsmark.

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Holtsmark, B. Harvesting in boreal forests and the biofuel carbon debt. Climatic Change 112, 415–428 (2012).

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  • Carbon Stock
  • Boreal Forest
  • Wood Fuel
  • Supplemental Online Material
  • Rotation Cycle