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Researchers in the Sustainability Measurement Team are evaluating the environmental, social, and economic viability of a supply chain that uses forest residuals to generate biojet fuel and co-products.

To do this, they are developing tools, study sites, and analyses that provide information to the NARA team, industry, government agencies, policy makers and the general public about the sustainability of this potential industry.

“The responsibility of the metrics analysis is to ensure that we come up with a bio-based jet fuel industry where the production throughout the entire supply chain remains sustainable,’’ says Ivan Eastin, professor at University of Washington and director for the Center for International Trade in Forest Products. “The last thing we want to do is to go from a reliance on non-sustainable fossil fuels to developing biofuels that aren’t sustainable.’’

Environmental Sustainability

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA):

The LCA looks at the “cradle to grave” impacts of creating biofuels and co-products from woody biomass. The developing LCA compares petroleum and forest residuals-based fuels along a variety of environmental attributes, including energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and other environmental measures. It includes a variety of harvesting options, the bio-jet fuel conversion process, and the impact from integrating biojet fuel manufacturing into the existing forest product industry infrastructure.

An LCA will determine whether the forest residual-based biojet fuel meets the greenhouse gas reduction target specified in the US Energy Independence Act and is a necessary step to qualify for renewable identification numbers (RINs) and for public procurement eligibility.

Long-term soil productivity site

NARA researchers have established long-term soil productivity experiments at numerous sites in the Pacific Northwest. At one experimental site located on Weyerhaeuser land near Springfield Oregon, seeding growth and soil nutrient content is being measured over time from multiple plots subjected to various levels of forest residual harvest. Over time, these results will provide a clearer picture to how forest residual removal affect soil nutrient levels.

Additional sustainability research at the LTSP site include:

  • Hydrological impacts of forest residual harvesting, including changes in stream flow, aquatic habitat, and sediments.
  • Changes in animal and microorganism populations as a result of forest residual use.

Social Sustainability

Understanding the market needs and consumer preferences is an important way to help a future biofuels industry succeed and gain public acceptance. The researchers in the multi-institutional Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP) Team (Washington State University, University of Washington, Penn State University, and University of Minnesota) are identifying the important attitudes, perceptions, and current understanding of biofuel-based products by the public and policymakers. This knowledge can then be used to develop a better understanding of how perceived societal benefits might play into customers’ decisions in accepting and buying a bio-based product.

Economic Sustainability

Feedstock Availability

Predicting how much sustainable woody biomass is available is necessary for developing a sustainable regional system to produce and distribute aviation bio-fuels and chemicals. As part of the NARA project, researchers will analyze a variety of sources for woody biomass feedstocks for biofuels. These include forest residues that come from timber harvest and thinning, forest restoration, or fire hazard reductions and from construction and demolition wood deposited at municipal solid waste sites. NARA researchers are developing tools and models used to estimate the amount of forest residuals available from harvesting operations that can be sustainably utilized.

Economic Considerations

In addition, economic models are being developed that help estimate the costs associated with developing and operating wood-based biorefineries and depots in the Pacific Northwest and project the economic benefits and jobs affiliated with a forest residuals to biojet and co-product supply chain.

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