Global warming potential factors and warming payback time as climate indicators of forest biomass use

  • Kim PingoudEmail author
  • Tommi Ekholm
  • Ilkka Savolainen
Original Article


A method is presented for estimating the global warming impact of forest biomass life cycles with respect to their functionally equivalent alternatives based on fossil fuels and non-renewable material sources. In the method, absolute global warming potentials (AGWP) of both the temporary carbon (C) debt of forest biomass stock and the C credit of the biomass use cycle displacing the fossil and non-renewable alternative are estimated as a function of the time frame of climate change mitigation. Dimensionless global warming potential (GWP) factors, GWPbio and GWPbiouse, are derived. As numerical examples, 1) bioenergy from boreal forest harvest residues to displace fossil fuels and 2) the use of wood for material substitution are considered. The GWP-based indicator leads to longer payback times, i.e. the time frame needed for the biomass option to be superior to its fossil-based alternative, than when just the cumulative balance of biogenic and fossil C stocks is considered. The warming payback time increases substantially with the residue diameter and low displacement factor (DF) of fossil C emissions. For the 35-cm stumps, the payback time appears to be more than 100 years in the climate conditions of Southern Finland when DF is lower than 0.5 in instant use and lower than 0.6 in continuous stump use. Wood use for construction appears to be more beneficial because, in addition to displaced emissions due to by-product bioenergy and material substitution, a significant part of round wood is sequestered into wood products for a long period, and even a zero payback time would be attainable with reasonable DFs.


Forest biomass Bioenergy Wood products Climate impacts GWP factors Biogenic C debt Displacement of fossil GHG emissions Material substitution Pulse response model 



The authors wish to thank Dr Jari Hynynen from the Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla) and Professor Lauri Valsta from the University of Helsinki for their assistance with the simulations with the MOTTI model. Funding from the Sustainable Energy Programme (SusEn) of the Academy of Finland is also gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VTT Technical Research Centre of FinlandEspooFinland

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