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Biomass explained Wood and wood waste

Biomass—Wood and wood waste

People have used wood for cooking, heating, and lighting for thousands of years. Wood was the main source of energy for the world until the mid-1800s. Wood continues to be an important fuel in many countries, especially for cooking and heating in developing countries.

In 2018, about 2% of total U.S. annual energy consumption was from wood and wood waste—bark, sawdust, wood chips, wood scrap, and paper mill residues.

Hybrid poplar wood chips being unloaded in Crookston, Minnesota

Hybrid poplar wood chips being unloaded in Crookston, Minnesota

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy (public domain)

Using wood and wood waste

Industry accounts for the majority of wood and wood-waste fuel consumption in the United States. The largest industrial users are wood products and paper manufacturers. They use lumber mill and paper mill waste to produce steam and electricity, which saves money because it reduces the amount of other fuels and electricity they purchase to operate their facilities.

The residential sector is the second-largest user of wood for energy in United States. Wood is used in homes throughout the United States for heating as cord wood in fireplaces and wood-burning appliances, and as pellets in pellet stoves. In 2018, wood energy accounted for about 2% of total residential energy consumption. In 2015, about 12.5 million, or 11% of all U.S households, used wood as an energy source, mostly for space heating, and 3.5 million of those households, mainly in rural areas, used wood as the main heating fuel.

In the electric power sector, there are several power plants that burn mostly wood to generate electricity, and some coal-burning power plants burn wood chips with coal to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Most of the commercial sector's use of wood is for heating.

  • The amounts—in trillion British thermal units (TBtu)—of wood and wood waste energy consumption by consuming sectors and their percent shares of total U.S. wood and wood waste energy consumption in 2018 were
  • industrial1,540 TBtu65%
  • residential517 TBtu22%
  • electric power215 TBtu9%
  • commercial84 TBtu4%

Last updated: May 13, 2019