Exports of pellets from the United States (US) are growing significantly to meet the demand for renewable energy in the European Union. This transatlantic trade in pellets has raised questions about the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of these pellets and their effects on conventional forest product markets in the US. This paper examines the GHG intensity of pellets exported from the US using either forest biomass only or forest and agricultural biomass combined. We develop an integrated dynamic, price-endogenous, partial equilibrium model of the forestry, agricultural, and transportation sectors in the US to investigate not only the direct life-cycle GHG intensity of pellets but also the accompanying indirect market and land use effects induced by changes in prices of forest and agricultural products over the 2007-2032 period. Across different scenarios of high and low pellet demand that can be met with either forest biomass only or with forest and agricultural biomass, we find that the GHG intensity of pellet based electricity is 74% to 85% lower than that of coal-based electricity. We also find that the GHG intensity of pellets produced using agricultural and forest biomass is 28% to 34% lower than that of pellets produced using forest biomass only. GHG effects due to induced direct and indirect changes in forest carbon stock caused by changes in harvest rotations, changes in land use and in conventional wood production account for 11% to 26% of the overall GHG intensity of pellets produced from forest biomass only; these effects are negative with the use of forest and agricultural biomass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114019
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 16 2015


  • agricultural biomass
  • dynamic optimization
  • forest biomass
  • land use change
  • market induced

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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