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Konstantinavičienė, J.; Vitunskienė, V. Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 April 2024).
Konstantinavičienė J, Vitunskienė V. Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 20, 2024.
Konstantinavičienė, Julija, Vlada Vitunskienė. "Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 20, 2024).
Konstantinavičienė, J., & Vitunskienė, V. (2023, June 13). Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development. In Encyclopedia.
Konstantinavičienė, Julija and Vlada Vitunskienė. "Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development." Encyclopedia. Web. 13 June, 2023.
Potential of Forest Wood Biomass in Sustainable Development

The role of sustainable biomass, including wood biomass, is becoming increasingly important due to the European Green Deal. In the context of developing a sustainable bioeconomy, the use of wood depends on many physical, biological, technological, environmental, economic, social and political constraints. 

biomass definition constraints forest sustainable

1. Forest Sustainable Development Definition

Science has been developing sustainability concepts for a long time, and the vision of sustainable development has changed over time. The primary understanding of the global forest resource only began in the 1920s [1]. The theory of sustainable development has gone through three phases: the embryonic period (before 1972), which saw the pursual of the sustainable use of natural resources; the molding period (1972–1987), during which sustainable development was defined, although this definition was vague and lacked reliability; and the developing period (1987–present), which contains more practical ideas [2]. The development of the concept of forest sustainability began in 1664, when, for the first time, the practice of using forest resources showed a possible negative impact on future generations [3]. However, the term “sustainability” was only first used after 50 years in 1713, in Carlowitz’s monograph about the issue of sustainable forestry [2].
Sustainable development contains the concept of need and the idea of limitation [4]. The essence of the concept of sustainability was formulated for the first time in this way in 1987, regarding the need to meet the needs of current generations without depriving future generations of the opportunity to meet theirs [5][6]. However, this definition is difficult to understand [7]. The report “Our Common Future” is taken as a starting point for the concept of sustainable development, but it is not a finished process [8]. The concept of the sustainable use of forests was defined in this way in 1993 at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE); the sustainable use of forests is the use of forests while maintaining their biological diversity, productivity, vitality, ability to recover, and capacity now and in the future to satisfy ecological, economic and social functions at the regional, national and global levels, without harming other ecosystems. The new EU forest strategy [9] emphasises sustainable forest management and the role of forests in implementing the EU’s climate change goals (protecting accumulated CO2 in trees, forest floor and soil).
Sometimes, sustainability is classified in these three ways: strong sustainability (nature-centred view), weak sustainability (economic value-centred view) [2][10] and absurdly strong sustainability [2], which believes that the exploitation and utilisation of ecosystems should be eliminated. Territorial levels of cohesion are also distinguished: national [11], regional [12], provincial and local [13][14]. Although the term “sustainability” is frequently used in forestry science, there is much confusion as it is not clearly defined due to differences in approaches to sustainability [15]. The term “sustainability” is seldom defined unequivocally [16][17]. The concept of sustainability lacks materiality and clarity. Thus, it is necessary to include all three aspects of sustainability, i.e., economic, environmental and social, in the definition of wood biomass potential.

2. Definition of Biomass

The first biomass research started in 1940 with marine areas [18]. After the 1950s, the onset of the oil crisis led to biomass research. Many studies with the term “biomass” come from the fields of ecology, environment and biotechnology [18]. Most scientific research on biomass has been conducted in the USA, England and Germany [19]. “Biomass is the total mass of living organisms in a given area or of a given species, usually expressed as dry weight, including above- and below-ground living biomass” [20]. The definition of biomass is explained as material of biological origin [21][22]. Biomass is considered to be the biodegradable parts of biological products, residues and wastes from agriculture, forestry and other industries, and as biodegradable parts of industrial wastes [23]. Biomass is a definition for all organic material and includes terrestrial and aquatic vegetation, as well as all organic waste [19][24]. Biomass is also a biological residue and waste [25]. Biomass is defined as biological material from the material flow account of the national economy.
Biomass is a broad, heterogeneous and interdisciplinary concept, as biomass can be classified primarily by the sector in which it is produced, i.e., agriculture, forestry, industrial manufacturing and municipal waste [21][25][26][27]. McKendry [24] defines four main types of biomass, namely woody plants, herbaceous plants, aquatic plants and manure. In addition, the individual biomass types are classified according to the use of the biomass [28], i.e., food for humans, market fodder, other uses of agricultural biomass, industrial wood and fuelwood. It is worth noting that the definition of biomass is often analysed from the perspective of technologists [22] when the main focus is on biomass as an energy source. For this reason, the term “wood biomass” is most often used to refer to organic material used for energy production [29]. The scientific literature discourse focuses exclusively on the potential of wood biomass for bioenergy purposes [30][31][32], but there is no general context for all wood biomasses.
It is also important to understand the differences between the terms “woody or wood biomass” and “forest or forestry wood biomass”. Hetsch [33] describes wood biomass as stem wood, forest harvesting residues, biomass from short rotation plantations and outside the forest, and also industry co-products and recovered wood. Lewandowski [22] describes wood biomass as biomass from trees and shrubs. FAO defines wood biomass as the mass of the wood part of alive and dead trees, including above and below-ground woody biomass. Burg et al. [31] describe wood biomass as wood from forest and landscape maintenance, wood residues and waste. Smeets and Faaij [34] (p. 353) provide the following definition for wood biomass: “all of the aboveground woody biomass of trees, including all products made from woody biomass”. Wood biomass can originate not only from forest land [35]. The term “forestry biomass” is described as including the biological accumulation of different above- and below-ground biomass in forests.
The term “forest biomass” is often treated as the total biomass from the forest, including non-wood forest products [36][37][38]. However, sometimes the term “forest biomass” is used only to mean wood biomass from the forest [9][39][40]. It is the above- and below-ground wood biomass and dead wood in the forest. Forest wood biomass is described as the total tree biomass growth [41] and as the wood biomass from forests. It is important not to forget that forest wood biomass consists not only of “primary biomass from forests” (all roundwood harvested and removed), but also “secondary biomass from forests”. This includes residues from forest-based industry, and waste (post-consumer wood) [9][39][42]. According to other classifications [43], forest biomass primary includes forest products, primary forest residues (logging residues), secondary forest residues (wood processing industry by-products and residues) and wood waste (post-consumer wood). According to Syrbe et al. [40], a sustainable supply of woody biomass is possible if residues mainly from the wood processing industry are used.
Scientific research does not have a deep awareness of the wood biomass that is actually sustainable available for implementing a bioeconomic strategy concept [26], nor does it have an awareness of the total wood biomass required for all needs. 

3. Definition of Wood Biomass Potential

3.1. Theoretical Potential of Wood Biomass

Bentsen and Felby [44] claim that the theoretical potential of biomass builds on methodology from the natural sciences. The theoretical potential of wood biomass can be defined as the maximum amount of wood biomass available during a certain period in a certain geographic area. This potential is defined as the maximum yield of all utilisable wood per year [30], or as the maximum annual biophysical availability of the biomass [30][31][42]. It is the overall, maximum amount of forest biomass that could be harvested annually within fundamental bio-physical limits [45][46], and the maximum sustained yield of all utilisable wood throughout each region [32]. The theoretical potential of wood biomass is the upper limit of available wood biomass at a certain point in time [43]. It is emphasised that the overall biomass depends on the land available for the biomass allocated to producing biomass [47] on the forest area that is available for wood supply [44].
The theoretical potential of forest wood biomass for energy purposes is considered as wood logging residues [48][49]. The analysis showed that the theoretical potential of wood biomass is usually analysed with certain technical and ecological constraints, and often eliminates protected areas [34][45][46][50]. However, environmental legislation and established obligations are not always followed. For example [51], deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon is at the highest level for 15 years, and 94% of this deforestation is illegal.
This potential depends on biophysical constraints, e.g., on climatic conditions, soil fertility, ecosystem health, forest management strategies [43], and also on the forest area. In addition, the theoretical potential of forest wood shows forest wood resources’ contribution to Global Carbon Cycles. As the forest grows [20], the carbon stock increases due to an increase in the above-ground and below-ground biomass. Carbon is transferred from above-ground biomass to harvested wood products. Due to logging residues and natural disturbance, carbon is transferred to the atmosphere and to soil organic matter.
The theoretical potential of forest wood biomass can be defined as the maximum amount of total wood biomass in a country’s forests that could theoretically be extracted for the wood industry and energy production. This potential includes above-ground and below-ground forest wood biomass and deadwood in a forest. The theoretical potential of forest wood biomass does not have external constraints.
The theoretical potential of forest wood biomass can be determined based on the country’s annual wood increment and total wood biomass in the forest. Statistical data and calculation coefficients of underground forest wood biomass can be used for assessment. Additionally, Smeets et al. [52] describe the geographical potential of wood biomass as a fraction of the theoretical wood biomass potential in bioenergy. According to the authors, a geographical wood biomass potential is limited by the land area.

3.2. Technical Potential of Wood Biomass

The technical potential of wood biomass usually is defined as biomass that is available technically. Most studies in the literature [30][32][50][53][54][55] define the technical potential of wood biomass as the total biomass theoretically available during a year, assuming that it is available technically. Bentsen and Felby [44] (p. 14) describe the technical biomass potential as “what is achievable with current applied or best available technology and practices”. However, these studies analyse the technical potential of wood biomass only in the context of energy. These and other studies [33][34][45][46][56], which include wood not only for energy purposes, lack clarity on what specific constraints determine the technical potential. The technical potential is not necessarily equal to an economic or sustainable potential [44]. Given the different constraints, Hennig et al. [26], Steubing et al. [57], Burg et al. [31] and Thees et al. [32] suggest that the sustainable biomass potential should be differentiated from the technical potential. However, the main problem in these studies is that the difference between the technical and sustainable potential of wood biomass remains not very clear. For Parzych [55], the technical potential depends on the quality of available logging equipment and technology. Different studies in the literature also consider topographic constraints [58][59].
Some studies analyse the technical biomass potential of wood with other constraints and add ecological constraints, e.g., nature reserves [42][56], economic constraints, e.g., production costs [29], and other non-technical constraints, although they do not specify which ones [42][50]. It is concluded that in the literature, the technical potential of wood biomass does not have a specific and detailed structure, the definitions are not consistent, and it is not clear which constraints must be considered. A review of studies on the potential of wood biomass reveals a lack of clear differences between the technical and sustainable wood biomass potentials.
Therefore, the technical potential of forest wood biomass should not include non-technical constraints, in order to separate the technical biomass potential from the ecological, economic and socio-political constraints (which can be evaluated in analyses of sustainable biomass potential). Logical constraints of the technical biomass potential can be considered only those constraints that occur when forest harvesting and extraction techniques cannot perform their functions due to the physical inaccessibility of forest land, the terrain of the land and the capacity of the technology. Technical costs are not considered constraints (they can be analysed only as economic constraints).
The technical potential of forest wood biomass can be defined as part of the theoretical potential of forest wood biomass, which is achievable using current applied technology and topographic conditions, without considering environmental, socio-political and economic constraints. This potential includes above-ground forest wood biomass and logging residues that can be harvested or collected technically and that are available topographically. Dead wood is considered as a loss in wood production and is not included in this potential. The technical potential of forest wood biomass has two main constraints: topographic and technological. Forest areas are considered inaccessible due to their topographic conditions when the forest part has a complex topography; this includes when (1) the terrain is severely rough, e.g., slopes, mountain slopes, etc., and (2) when there is little road availability. The level of technology in EU countries is advanced enough to harvest the total amount of wood in the country, if the availability of forests, according to their topographical characteristics, is the same everywhere. However, there are always logging residues after harvesting. In order to assess the technical biomass potential, it is necessary to additionally calculate how much the technique can collect from different fractions of logging residues. Statistical data (above-ground, inaccessible forest areas) and calculation coefficients (logging residues) can be used for assessment.

3.3. Economic (Market) Potential of Wood Biomass

Economic biomass potential is part of the technical biomass potential that can be produced at economically profitable levels [52]. This potential includes areas classified as available for supply [29][34]. Lopez et al. [58] and Parzych [55] define the economic wood biomass potential as the amount of wood biomass that can be harvested considering the current economic conditions. Hetsch [33] describes the economic wood biomass potential as the amount of wood biomass that could be cut and given to the market, and this depends on wood prices and harvesting costs. Lee et al. [59] note that the economic wood biomass potential depends on technological costs. Batidzirai et al. [30] equate the market biomass potential to the economic potential, and define it as the share of the technical potential; this depends on both the cost of production and the price of biomass feedstock. Other studies [58][59] argue that the market biomass potential should be evaluated by taking into account policy implementation, investor response and regional competition. Additionally, de Souza et al. [60] describe the techno-economic potential of biomass as a fraction of the technical potential whose value meets the economic profitability criteria.

3.4. Ecological Potential of Wood Biomass

Several studies identify this biomass potential type as part of the economic wood biomass potential with ecological constraints, and determine that it can be used to prevent a decrease in the biodiversity of forests [34]. For this, biodiversity protection and nature conservation should be about 10% of the country’s forest area [61]. The definition of ecological wood biomass potential is associated with CO2 emissions [62] by summing up all emissions related to raw material production, transportation, etc.

3.5. Sustainable Potential of Wood Biomass

The sustainable potential of biomass is a subtraction of the environmental, technical, economic, and social constraints from the theoretical biomass potential [31]. Often, the sustainable biomass potential is subdivided into the already used potential and not used (remaining) biomass potential [30][31][32]. Sometimes, the used potential is described as the implementation of potential. Smeets et al. [52], Batidzirai et al. [50], Levanowski [29], Panoutsou [42], and Vis and Dees [56] define this as part of the potential that can be implemented within a certain period of time, taking into account the economic, institutional, social and political constraints. Deels et al. [45] and Verkerk et al. [46] distinguish between base potential (as a sustainable potential) and high potential (with fewer constraints compared to the base potential, which has a strong focus on the use of wood for producing energy).
Most reviewed studies analyse the sustainable potential of wood biomass but do not describe the constraints of this potential, or describe it only partially, without specifying ways to measure sustainable potential. For example, Thees et al. [32] and Erni et al. [43] describe the sustainable potential of wood biomass as the share of the theoretical biomass potential that can actually be used considering ecological and socio-economic constraints. They note that only ecological and socio-economic constraints determine the difference between the theoretical and sustainable wood biomass potentials, but do not detail these constraints.
A review of the multidisciplinary literature on the potential of wood biomass in terms of sustainable development shows that this definition is treated very differently. These studies used different calculation approaches. Thees et al. [32] calculate the sustainable potential of wood biomass as the theoretical potential of wood biomass minus the previously added deadwood, minus the wood grown in protected and natural forest reserves, and minus the harvest losses (residues) left in the forest. Hetsch [33] analyses the sustainable potential of forest wood biomass as the current use potential and the additional potential (additional bio-technical and socio-economic potential). The additional bio-technical potential is calculated based on the net annual increment in a forest; 12% was deducted for bark and 10% was deducted for harvest losses. The additional socio-economic potential was calculated by assuming that 35% of the additional available bio-technical potential could be mobilised for wood supply.
The sustainable potential of biomass is the amount of biomass that can be removed without damaging its soil quality, ecological integrity and sustainability, as well as its future productivity. The general order of the terms related to sustainable biomass potential is as follows: theoretical potential > geographical potential > technical potential > economic potential > ecological potential > sustainable potential [44]. However, there has been no general agreement on how to identify the wood biomass potential in terms of sustainability development until now.
The concept of sustainable forest management was defined in 1993 [63]. The criteria for sustainable forest management (SFM) have been defined as the standards by which sustainable forest management may be assessed with regard to its essential processes. The system of these criteria has been improved, and now it comprises seven criteria [64]. The sustainable potential of forest wood biomass can be defined as part of the technical potential of forest wood, which can be harvested and collected from the forest within all environmental, socio-political and economic constraints.
It should be noted that the scientific literature deals with various definitions of wood biomass potential and its typologies; however, its research mainly focuses on the potential of wood for bioenergy needs only. The analysis of the literature showed that most of these studies examine the theoretical, technical and sustainable biomass potentials, that some authors describe the economic potential (market), and that only a few studies identify the geographical, ecological and techno-economic potential. The description of these potentials shows that the geographical biomass potential is a fraction of the theoretical biomass potential.
Wood biomass from protected areas should not be included in the sustainable potential of forest wood biomass due to environmental and socio-political constraints. The environmental and socio-political constraints often overlap due to political commitments to environmental protection. In addition, according to the World Conservation Union, 10% is a protection of the most important global ecosystems. The amount of wood biomass that is above the annual increment of a forest should be excluded in the annual sustainable potential of forest wood biomass (environmental and socio-political constraints). Sustainable forestry management is defined as harvest management based on a balance between the forest’s net annual increment and the annual felling of forest wood. The rule of balancing harvesting and the forest’s increment is widely recognised as a concept of sustainability [15][65]. Based on the analysed literature [15][36][65][66][67][68][69], this ratio between the net annual increment and the annual felling determines the current and future availability of wood. Therefore, this indicator can be used to assess the forest wood biomass potential in terms of sustainability.
The other ecological constraint Is the extraction of logging residues. The process of extracting logging residues also significantly decreases nutrients in the soil [68][69]. Therefore, the important question is how much does logging residue extraction need to be forbidden in order to conserve carbon stored in the forest floor and soil, and minimise GHG emissions (environmental constraint). Supposedly, the ecological threshold for the removal of logging residues should be about 50%. It is believed [33] that there are various ecological reasons for not using the below-ground biomass; therefore, this potential source of supply is, and in the future will most likely remain, untapped. At the same time, the extraction of all logging residues from forests is not always economically profitable because of technical costs (economic constraint).
The most economically useful option is when all wood biomass harvested and collected from the forest is used. Proxy indicators, such as domestic wood biomass consumption and self-sufficiency on forest wood biomass, as well as the import dependence indicator, are used to assess this. All of this is the primary sustainable potential of forest wood biomass. In conclusion, it is stated that the sustainable potential of forest wood biomass has ecological and socio-political constraints, such as protected areas, an imbalance between the amount of wood felled and the annual expansion of a forest, the volume of logging residues over the ecological threshold, and economic constraints, such as using all-wood biomass that has been harvested and collected from the forest and all-wood wastes.
Forests have a hugely important role in a country’s economy and society. Therefore, the forest conservation status should be continuously improved. The EU forest area has become bigger in recent decades thanks to natural processes, afforestation, sustainable management and active restoration [9]. The new EU forest strategy [9] also focuses on sustainable re- and afforestation. Using this strategy, a roadmap of at least 3 billion trees should be planted in the EU by 2030 in order to further support a sustainable forest-based bioeconomy for a climate-neutral future. The guidelines on Biodiversity-Friendly Afforestation, Reforestation and Tree Planting [70][71] support a commitment to the European Green Deal, which aims to improve the forested area of the EU both in quantity and quality.


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