Carbon balances of bioenergy systems using biomass from forests managed with long rotations: bridging the gap between stand and landscape assessments
Journal article, 2017
Studies report different findings concerning the climate benefits of bioenergy, in part due to varying scope and use of different approaches to define spatial and temporal system boundaries. We quantify carbon balances for bioenergy systems that use biomass from forests managed with long rotations, employing different approaches and boundary conditions. Two approaches to represent landscapes and quantify their carbon balances - expanding vs. constant spatial boundaries - are compared. We show that for a conceptual forest landscape, constructed by combining a series of time-shifted forest stands, the two approaches sometimes yield different results. We argue that the approach that uses constant spatial boundaries is preferable because it captures all carbon flows in the landscape throughout the accounting period. The approach that uses expanding system boundaries fails to accurately describe the carbon fluxes in the landscape due to incomplete coverage of carbon flows and influence of the stand-level dynamics, which in turn arise from the way temporal system boundaries are defined on the stand level. Modelling of profit-driven forest management using location-specific forest data shows that the implications for carbon balance of management changes across the landscape ( which are partly neglected when expanding system boundaries are used) depend on many factors such as forest structure and forest owners' expectations of market development for bioenergy and other wood products. Assessments should not consider forest-based bioenergy in isolation but should ideally consider all forest products and how forest management planning as a whole is affected by bioenergy incentives - and how this in turn affects carbon balances in forest landscapes and forest product pools. Due to uncertainties, we modelled several alternative scenarios for forest products markets. We recommend that future work consider alternative scenarios for other critical factors, such as policy options and energy technology pathways.