Expansion of US wood pellet industry points to positive trends but the need for continued monitoring

Francisco Aguilar, Ashkan Mirzaee, Ronald McGarvey, Stephen Shifley & Dallas Burtraw


Implementation of the European Union Renewable Energy Directive has triggered exponential growth in trading of pelletized wood fibers. Over 18 million tons of wood pellets were traded by EU member countries in 2018 of which a third were imported from the US. Concerns exist about negative impacts on US forests but systematic assessments are currently lacking. We assessed variability in fundamental attributes for timberland structure and carbon stocks within 123 procurement landscapes of wood pellet mills derived from over 38 thousand forest inventory plots in the eastern US from 2005 to 2017. We found more carbon stocks in live trees, but a fewer number of standing-dead trees, associated with the annual operation of large-scale wood pellet mills. In the US coastal southeast — where US pellet exports to the EU originate — there were fewer live and growing-stock trees and less carbon in soils with every year of milling operation than in the rest of the eastern US — which supplies the domestic market. Greater overlap of mills’ procurement areas exhibited discernible increments across selected carbon stocks. These trends likely reflect more intensive land management practices. Localized forest impacts associated with the wood pellet industry should continue to be monitored.


Read the open-access article in the journal Nature: Scientific Reports:

Code availability

The source code for our statistical learning analysis is available for download from an open source software repository located at https://gitlab.com/ashki23/rc-biomass. All data generated during this study can be reconstructed by running the source code.

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