Wood, used for heat, was the main source of U.S. energy until the early part of the 20th century. In recent decades, concerns with energy security, energy costs, rural economies, and environmental matters have increased interest in the use of forest biomass for energy. Forest biomass can be obtained directly from the forest in the form of trees or portions of trees. It can also be obtained from forest product manufacturing facilities in the form of by-products, such as bark, sawdust, shavings, and other residues.
Probably the greatest barrier to bioenergy lies in the logistics and costs of cutting, handling, and transporting small-diameter wood. Early studies indicate that damage to the ecosystem may not be an issue; however, the economics of harvesting biomass are not encouraging. The cost of labor, equipment, and transport is more than the price paid for the wood chips sold for energy. Renewable energy sources such as wood provide an advantage over finite fossil fuels only when the benefits of reducing pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases, improving forest health, and decreasing the risk of wildfire are added in.
Although there was almost 1.2 million tons of residue left in the woods following traditional logging operations in Western North Carolina in 2007, there is, to date, little evidence of a viable infrastructure to facilitate the use of this wood for bioenergy.