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


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.

Major project elements:

  • Assess and map technically recoverable forest and agricultural biomass residue in California that could be utilized for electricity and heat generation.
  • Conduct a landscape-level assessment of the fire emission implications of forest residue removal.
  • Develop and implement the California Biomass Residue Emissions Characterization (C-BREC) model. The C-BREC model will enable robust, transparent accounting for the life cycle greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions associated with residual biomass energy systems across the state.
  • Characterize and report on key positive and negative environmental impacts of residual biomass mobilization, such as changes to soil nutrient balance and carbon stock, and air quality effects from altered black carbon and criteria air pollutant emission profiles.
  • Assess the potential to offset residue mobilization costs for forest management activities through value-added supply chains, post-harvest processing, payments for ecosystem services, and similar schemes.
  • Consolidate project results into actionable policy recommendations, and disseminate these recommendations to California stakeholder groups.


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