Expanding Forest Bioenergy

Photo of leaf-covered path in a forest.

Earth and Environmental Studies Professor Pankaj Lal is in the fourth and final year of a $350,000 research project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that assesses the socioeconomic impacts of forest biomass-based biofuel development in the rural South, increasingly known as "the wood basket of the world." Together with colleagues from Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and Tuskegee University, Lal has found that forestland owners in the southern United States look favorably upon forest bioenergy production and consider it a viable option. "People favoring forest plantations on their land for bioenergy were interested in learning about the broader contexts — such as tax implications, relevant rules and regulations and the availability of extension services — of selling biomass for bioenergy," Lal notes. "Our data also suggests that landowners are interested in maintaining a diverse portfolio of land uses and forest species on their properties."

"We are suggesting a change in existing policies." –Pankaj Lal

Lal says that the team has identified a need for a placebased research approach to forest bioenergy expansion in the future. "We are suggesting a change in existing policies," he explains. "Instead of focusing on a single forest product and single incentive program or policy, future policies can focus on a more comprehensive assessment of how wood bioenergy affects the forestbased industry." Lal predicts that the 13 Southern states will have a wood supply that could easily be diverted toward producing cleaner sources of energy. Lal is also currently working with an international team that received a Science for Nature and People grant to study the forest and wetlands of Rwanda.

"I'm excited about this project as implementing it will directly inform the natural resource management policy agency in Rwanda," Lal says.