California Biopower Impact Project
NRSIG Budget: $42,598
Project Budget: $1,131,575
Sponsors: CEC
Timeline: July 2017 through December 2019
Partners: HSU


The Schatz Center at Humboldt State Unversity recently began work on the California Biopower Impact (CBI) Project, supported by a three-year $1,000,000 grant from the California Energy Commission. Our project will investigate the impacts associated with utilization of forest-derived woody biomass and agricultural residues for electricity generation. If managed properly, bioenergy could support sustainable forest management activities while also advancing California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard goals. However, there are also legitimate concerns surrounding the climate, air quality, soil fertility, and ecosystem health implications of improperly managed bioenergy systems. Before biomass energy can be responsibly pursued as a means to achieve forest management and renewable energy goals, additional research is needed to firmly establish the climate impact and broader environmental performance of forest and agricultural bioenergy.

Our central effort under the CBI Project will be the creation of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) greenhouse gas emissions accounting tool that will allow stakeholders in California to evaluate the impacts of different bioenergy policy and technology pathways in the state. Along with greenhouse gas balances, the project team will address additional critical environmental impacts that can be associated with bioenergy – including altered risk or severity of wildfire, soil fertility and carbon stock reduction, changes to air quality, and potential impact on habitats and biodiversity.

Key study areas and outputs:

  • Assessment and mapping of net recoverable biomass that could be utilized for electricity generation. This analysis will focus on agricultural residues as well as forestry residues and fire reduction thinning material per the California Governor’s state of emergency brought on by the record numbers of drought and beetle- killed trees in the Sierra Nevada range.
  • Conduct a landscape-level probabilistic assessment of the fire risk implications of sustainable forest harvesting. Fire behavior under future climate scenarios will be simulated using the Pacific Northwest variant of the USDA Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) in combination with the Fires and Fuels Extension and Climate Extension modules.
  • Develop and demonstrate the California Residual Biomass-to-electricity Carbon Accounting Tool (CaRBCAT). This tool will improve on existing frameworks representing California’s unique bioeconomy context, offering improved spatial resolution, rigorously characterizing uncertainty, and offering a high degree of specification regarding supply chain characteristics. Users will be able to specify harvest practices, feedstock collection and handling methods, post-harvest treatments, feedstock management pathways, conversion technologies, and other characteristics.
  • Characterize and report on key environmental impacts of residual biomass mobilization such as changes to soil nutrient balance and carbon stock, air quality effects from altered black carbon and criteria air pollutant emission profiles, and impacts to biodiversity.
  • Assess potential to offset some harvest and supply chain costs through payments for ecosystem services and similar environmental market schemes.
  • Identify best management practices to improve bioelectricity system net GHG balance as well as to optimize performance with respect to fire risk, soil health, air quality, and habitat conservation. Develop and disseminate science-based policy recommendations that support implementation of these practices in bioelectricity supply chains.


Our Work

We are leading an analysis to determine the net potential recoverable energy across California.

We are leveraging model and database methodology and tools developed for the Washington Forest Biomass Supply Assessment Project to run 5-year harvest scenarios for a variety of forest health scenarios. Modeling results will yield the following information:

  • Forest acres by Ownership Class, Management Class (Upland/Riparian, Managed/Reserved), and Forest Type;
  • Forest attributes, including million board feet (MBF), material quadratic mean diameter (QMD), trees per acre (TPA), basal area (BA), and bone-dry tons (BDT) of biomass;
  • Harvest location, and harvested acres and MBF by County, Ownership Class, Treatment Type, and Logging Type;
  • Acres by treatment type (such as conservative, light, and heavy, which are to be defined during the project) and logging type (ground or cable);
  • BDT of biomass by roadside piled, by ground or cable logged; and
  • BDT of biomass in tops or branches, left scattered in the woods, and still standing in forest post-treatment.
  • Develop a Database of Spatially Explicit Net Recoverable Energy from forestlands that makes accessible the modeling results identified above and will be available via an online web service and associated web mapping application and optionally, at the California Energy Commission’s request, in any common spatial (i.e. ESRI Geodatabase, shape-file) or non-spatial tabular (Access, Excel, CSV) format.
  • Conduct an agricultural network analysis that provides information needed for an emissions analysis (to be completed by SERC) of the harvest and conveyance of agricultural residues.
  • Geospatial mapping of resource availability.

UW will also assist SERC and the project team with Tasks 4 and 5. Assistance will include:

  • Provide insight and guidance regarding integration of Task 2 results into the LCA framework and tool, and
  • Provide consultation on LCA methodological challenges inherent in utilizing biomass for energy.


Methods Report

Methods to develop the Forestland Database for the California Biopower Impacts Project.pdf