Carbon costs and benefits of France's biomass energy production targets

Aude Valade*, Sebastiaan Luyssaert, Patrick Vallet, Sylvestre Njakou Djomo, Ingride Jesus Van Der Kellen, Valentin Bellassen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Background: Concern about climate change has motivated France to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel by setting targets for increased biomass-based renewable energy production. This study quantifies the carbon costs and benefits for the French forestry sector in meeting these targets. A forest growth and harvest simulator was developed for French forests using recent forest inventory data, and the wood-use chain was reconstructed from national wood product statistics. We then projected wood production, bioenergy production, and carbon balance for three realistic intensification scenarios and a business-as-usual scenario. These intensification scenarios targeted either overstocked, harvest-delayed or currently actively managed stands. Results: All three intensification strategies produced 11.6-12.4 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year of wood-based energy by 2026, which corresponds to the target assigned to French wood-energy to meet the EU 2020 renewable energy target. Sustaining this level past 2026 will be challenging, let alone further increasing it. Although energy production targets can be reached, the management intensification required will degrade the near-term carbon balance of the forestry sector, compared to continuing present-day management. Even for the best-performing intensification strategy, i.e., reducing the harvest diameter of actively managed stands, the carbon benefits would only become apparent after 2040. The carbon balance of a strategy putting abandoned forests back into production would only break even by 2055; the carbon balance from increasing thinning in managed but untended stands would not break even within the studied time periods, i.e. 2015-2045 and 2046-2100. Owing to the temporal dynamics in the components of the carbon balance, i.e., the biomass stock in the forest, the carbon stock in wood products, and substitution benefits, the merit order of the examined strategies varies over time. Conclusions: No single solution was found to improve the carbon balance of the forestry sector by 2040 in a way that also met energy targets. We therefore searched for the intensification scenario that produces energy at the lowest carbon cost. Reducing rotation time of actively managed stands is slightly more efficient than targeting harvest-delayed stands, but in both cases, each unit of energy produced has a carbon cost that only turns into a benefit between 2060 and 2080.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-22
    Number of pages22
    JournalCarbon Balance and Management
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2018


    • Carbon balance
    • Energy substitution
    • Forest growth
    • Forest management
    • Forest modelling
    • Forest stands
    • Product substitution
    • Renewable energy
    • Wood harvest
    • Wood-use


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