A study completed by a team of researchers has shown that forestry, when combined with the long-term storage of the carbon generated during energy production, has the potential to transform timber bioenergy into a "negative emission technology".

The team that carried out the study was comprised of researchers from the University of Limerick, Bangor University in Wales and British Columbia, Canada.

“Our goal was to undertake a really comprehensive life cycle assessment that considers the whole life cycle of carbon taken up by trees in new commercial forests,” lead author of the study Eilidh Forster of Bangor University.

“Because new forests won’t be harvested for another 50 years, the standard assessment approach of applying current technology emission factors to wood value chains is inaccurate.

“Therefore, we decided to apply projections of future technology deployment to better represent the likely long-term climate change mitigation achieved by harvested wood,” she said.

Carbon sink

The study also showed that a large share of the carbon removed from forests during harvesting is locked up for many decades in wood products, such as timber used in construction.

The results of this new study oppose the findings of other recent studies which had suggested that commercial forests act only as a short-term sink of carbon.

The reason for this difference was that the analysis accounted for developing technologies not currently in widespread use, but likely to be rolled out on a wider scale by the time newly planted trees are being harvested.

In areas where forest growth rates are high, commercial conifer forests could deliver up to 269% more climate mitigation than semi-natural broadleaf forests by 2120, the study also projected.