Biomass—Wood and wood waste

People have used wood for cooking, for heat, and for light 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.

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)

In 2017, 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.

Using wood and wood waste

Industry, electric power producers, and commercial businesses use most of the wood and wood waste fuel consumed in the United States. The wood and paper products industry uses wood waste to produce steam and electricity, which saves money because it reduces the amount of other fuels and electricity that must be purchased. Some coal-burning power plants burn wood chips to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

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 2017, wood energy accounted for about 2% of total residential energy consumption. In 2015, about 12.5 million U.S. households, or 11% of all households, used wood as an energy source, mainly for space heating, and 3.5 million of those households used wood as the main heating fuel.

The amounts (in trillion British thermal units) of U.S. wood and wood waste energy consumption by consuming sector and their shares (percent) of total wood and wood waste energy consumption in 2017 were

  • Industrial—1,480—69%
  • Residential—334—16%
  • Electric power—247—12%
  • Commercial—84—4%