New Technologies in the Production of Woody Crops for Energy in the United States

  • J. Warren Ranney


The search for economical renewable wood energy has led to new technologies in forest utilization and harvesting and in the cultivation and improvement of tree crops for energy use. The cost of short-rotation intensive culture (SRIC) wood for fuel is currently estimated to be $2.79 to $4.06 per GJ (inclusive of profit and taxes) in 1983 dollars, which is competitive with the cost of natural gas and perhaps eventually with coal outside coal-producing regions. Harvesting costs are the predominant-production expense in all systems. Innovative harvesting equipment is reducing these costs significantly, especially for fuel plantations. Productivity increases in short-rotation plantations are the most important new contribution to wood energy resources, with research plot yields of 4 to 12 dry Mg ha−1 year−1 on average agricultural land and in excess of 30 dry Mg ha−1 year−1 on the best sites. Lower costs and higher productivity together could reduce plantation production costs to perhaps $1.50 to $2.50 per GJ (1983 estimated dollars) by the year 2000. The various major aspects of short-rotation intensive culture (silviculture, genetics, physiology, economics, harvesting, environment) indicate that the necessary productivity rates (18 to 20 dry Mg ha−1 year−1) and harvest costs ($14 per dry Mg) required to make short-rotation intensive culture economically attractive are achievable on a limited basis. The extent of this limitation is being revealed and reduced by genetic, physiological, harvest, and economic research coupled to economic evaluation. The potential energy contribution from alternative wood sources is large (at least several exajoules) but is too elusive to predict accurately because of its dependency on local conditions.


Black Locust Hybrid Poplar Rotation Length Total Production Cost Coppice Productivity 
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  • J. Warren Ranney

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