Welcome to the California Energy Commission

Biomass To Energy:
Forest Management For Wildfire
Reduction, Energy Production, And Other Benefits

Publication Number: CEC-500-2009-080
Date Published: January 2010

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The Biomass to Energy project models the costs and benefits of generating electricity from forest thinnings1 over a 40-year period beginning in 2006. The study demonstrates that economic valuation is possible for many, but not all, valued assets2 on the landscape, and that the impacts and costs of forest disturbance (including thinning operations) can be accurately modeled. The study includes a life cycle assessment3 of forest operations4 and energy conversion, measuring three biomass conversion technologies. A test of the model structure was developed on a Northern California forest landscape comprising approximately 2.7 million acres spanning the crest of the Sierra Nevada range and encompassing the Feather River basin. A Reference Case and Test Scenario were developed to test the structure and accuracy of the model using real-life data from Mt. Lassen Power (an existing biomass conversion plant), public and private forestry operations, and historic wildfire ignition patterns. Wildlife habitat impacts and cumulative watershed effects were also modeled. Results of the Test Scenario show that thinning reduces wildfire size and severity - therefore reducing fire-generated greenhouse gas emissions - while producing renewable energy. With appropriate caveats about data resolution and model sensitivity, impacts to wildlife habitat and watershed appeared minimal. The Biomass to Energy project benefits California by contributing to the state's capacity to analyze forest biomass utilization opportunities at the landscape scale.

Keywords: Biomass, renewable energy, forest biomass, forest thinnings, biomass energy conversion, wildfire, greenhouse gas, life cycle assessment, Northern California, Mt. Lassen Power


General note on appendices: key terminology evolved throughout the course of this project. Most importantly, what became the Reference Case and the Test Scenario had early iterations that were based on separating Industrial Private Forest (IPF) from Public Multiple Use (PMU), creating a "third" interim scenario in order to analyze the impacts of IPF management apart from the broader landscape. Thus, the following notice has been inserted at the beginning of each Appendix.

Notice of Change in Scenario Naming Conventions

Key assumptions, modeling structures and terminology were altered and refined to accommodate new thinking during the course of this study. The reader will observe in the appendices that the scenarios are referred to as "Scenarios 1, 2 and 3" or "S1, S2 and S3."

In both the main text of the Final Report and in the Life Cycle Assessment appendix (Appendix 4), the former Scenario 1 (S1) was renamed to the "Reference Case." Scenario 3 (S3) has been renamed the "Test Scenario." Scenario 2 (S2), focused on the relative contributions and impact of Industrial Private Forestry (IPF) has been eliminated from most of the analyses that make up the entire study. These changes better reflect the focus of the study, which is fundamentally about the landscape level changes in wildfire, habitat, and other dynamics. The modification of terminology do not substantively affect the findings or recommendations of the study.

Appendices Cover

Appendix 1: Landscape Vegetation Changes (Barber, Perrot, et al.). (PDF file, 75 pages, 2.7 mb)

Appendix 2: B2E Fire Behavior Domain (Ganz, Saah, Barber, et al.). (PDF file, 11 pages, 345 kb)

Appendix 3: Forest Operations and Equipment Configuration (Mason, Hartsough, et al.). (PDF file, 12 pages, 168 kb)

Appendix 4: Life Cycle Assessment of Producing Electricity from California Forest Wildfire Fuels Treatments (Cooper). (PDF file, 84 pages, 2.7 mb)

Appendix 5: Wildlife Habitat Evaluation (Manley, et al.). (PDF file, 66 pages, 1.1 mb)

Appendix 6: Cumulative Watershed Effects Analysis (Wright, Perrot, et al.). (PDF file, 22 pages, 1.7 mb)

Appendix 7: Counting Ecosystem Services: Ecological Endpoints and their Application (Boyd). (PDF file, 54 pages, 340 kb)

Appendix 8: Project Economic Analysis (Wegge, Trott and Barnett). (PDF file, 40 pages, 450 kb)

Appendix 9: Landscape Carbon Model (Morris). (PDF file, 24 pages, 290 kb)

Appendix 10: Power Plant Analysis for Conversion of Forest Remediation Biomass to Renewable Fuels and Electricity (Schuetzle, Tamblyn, Tornatore, et al.). (PDF file, 7 pages, 152 kb)

Appendix 11: Synthesis of Economic Valuation Studies of Forest Landscape Disturbances (Berkenklau). (PDF file, 14 pages, 240 kb)

Appendix 12: Biomass to Energy Project Team, Committee Members, and Project Advisors. (PDF file, 9 pages, 90 kb)