Charlotte, NC - As U.S. policy officials look for ways to reduce the nation's dependency on foreign oil and Europe strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Southern forests are emerging as a renewable and clean energy alternative, according to experts in the forest products industry.
Pine trees throughout the South are increasingly being viewed as a major alternative energy source, said Scott Twillmann, senior analyst for Charlotte, N.C.- based Forest2Market. Also, the forest products industry is well-suited to become a major supplier to the growing ethanol market as advancements in technology are made and the United States looks for a substitute for petroleum.
Meanwhile, oil and natural gas prices continue to rise. And more people are becoming aware of the environmental consequences of greenhouse gases, sparking a move by individual states and private companies to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions.
"A perfect storm is developing for the future of wood fuels," Twillmann said. "The world's quest for cleaner and renewable energy is going to have a substantial impact on Southern forest markets."
Already, European utilities are looking to the southern United States as a major source of renewable energy. Wood fuels are carbon neutral, whereas other fossil fuels, such as coal, add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Most European countries ratified the Kyoto protocol, which mandates a reduction of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The United States has not ratified Kyoto.
Also, cellulosic ethanol could hold the key to weaning the United States off of its addiction to foreign oil. The technology for large-scale production is still being developed, but experts say cellulosic ethanol can yield more energy than ethanol derived from grain or corn, and the feedstock is abundant enough to meet the country's long-term energy needs.
Cellulosic ethanol can be made from logging waste such as tree limbs, leaves and bark, and it does not compete with food production like corn ethanol.
"As the United States devotes more funding to research and development, bio-fuel could find itself at gas stations throughout the country," Twillmann said.
SOURCE: U.S. policy officials