Impact of biopower generation on eastern US forests

Ashkan Mirzaee, Ronald McGarvey, Francisco Aguilar & Erin M. Schliep


Biopower, electricity generated from biomass, is a major source of renewable energy in the US. About ten percent of US non-hydro renewable electricity in 2020 was generated from biomass. Despite significant growth in woody biomass use for electricity in recent decades, a systematic assessment of associated impacts on forest resources is lacking. This study assessed associations between biopower generation, and selected timberland structure indicators and carbon stocks across 438 areas surrounding wood-using and coal-burning power plants in the Eastern US from 2005 to 2017. Timberland areas around plants generating biopower were associated with more live and standing-dead trees, and carbon in their respective stocks, than comparable areas of neighboring plants only burning coal. We also detected an inverse association between the number of biopower plants and number of live and dead trees, and respective carbon stocks. We discerned an upward temporal trajectory in carbon stocks within live trees with continued biopower generation. We found no significant differences related to the amount of MWh biopower generation within the analysis areas. Net impacts of biopower descriptors on timberland attributes point to a positive trend in selected ecological conditions and carbon balances. The upward temporal trend in carbon stocks with longer generation of wood-based biopower may point to a plausibly sustainable contribution to the decarbonization of the US electricity sector.


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Code availability

The source code for our statistical learning analysis is available for download from an open source software repository located at All data generated during this study can be reconstructed by running the source code.