In 2008 Thomas spent part of his study leave as a Senior Policy Analyst for the US Forest Service in Washington DC. During this time he developed a strong interest in the use of forests for energy and climate change mitigation. An extensive review of literature has led him to believe that the life cycle effects of using forests for these purposes is poorly understood, and sometimes government policies have been implemented prematurely -- particularly with regard to large scale subsidies aimed at promoting cellulosic ethanol.

Presently our research group is developing life cycle analysis techniques that can be used to study the impacts of large scale forest plantations for producing energy and chemicals. Our multi-criteria techniques will permit us to also look at the impacts on carbon balancing and water use, as well as other ecosystems services.

Using forestry products for bioenergy to replace fossil fuel use is considered a significant climate change mitigation strategy, as biomass is generally considered carbon neutral. The Pacific Northwest region has a competitive advantage in the production of renewable energy from woody biomass, which lies in its vast resources of waste wood and salvage wood from forestry operations, as well as the significant potential for establishing fast growing tree plantations for bioenergy. This creates a unique opportunity for the region to establish the lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks and set up the respective energy conversion facilities. However, policy and industrial decisions are hampered by a lack of knowledge about the economic and environmental costs and benefits associated with such large scale bioenergy projects.

Our research aims to address this issue and gauge the economic viability of large scale bioenergy production systems from ligno-cellulosic biomass, while assessing their effectiveness as environmentally sustainable climate mitigation strategies.

wood energy
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