Timber Transport Research Results – Using Carbon To Carry Carbon?

Large amounts of carbon are stored in timber products. However, transporting the timber from the forest to the mill involves the combustion of fossil fuels. How much do these emissions reduce the net carbon sequestration value of the timber?

Sean Healy of the US Forest Service, and other researchers (see end of article), addressed these questions in an article titled “Changes in timber haulage emissions in the context of shifting forest management and infrastructure”. The article was published in the Carbon Balance and Management Journal 2009, 4:9.

The research focussed on three main objectives:

  1. Develop a methodology that can be used for these type of calculations in the future.
  2. Determining how transport emissions can reduce the carbon sequestration value of the timber in the study area (Western Montana, USA).
  3. Have the patterns of transport emissions versus sequestration changed over the last two decades.

The study found that in the study area, the percentage of carbon emissions from timber transported had actually increased as a percentage of carbon sequestrated, over the last two decades. This percentage was 0.5% in 1988 and rose to 1.7% in 2004. These might seem like small figures, but it is nearly a fourfold increase in emissions. This might be surprising to some, as new transport technology is meant to have lower fuel consumption and lower emissions. However, the reasons for this increase lay elsewhere:

  • The spatial patterns of where the timber was sourced have changed. Reduced timber volumes were available, mainly due to decreased logging on federal land.
  • The biggest factor was mill closures, which resulted in timber travelling further to the remaining mills. The average road distance increased from 46.3 km (28.8 miles) in 1988, to 82.9 km (51.5 miles) in 1998, to 214 km (133 miles) in 2004.

The research methodology developed proved effective. It can also be used for biomass calculations where these questions are even more important.

The other authors in the article were Blackard, J., Morgan, T., Loeffler, D., Jones, G., Songster, J., Brandt, J., Moisen, G. and DeBlander, L. Please access the journal for a detailed and more complete account of the research.

Source: Logging On