Technological advancements can improve carbon storage in harvested wood products, UMaine study says

New technology can enhance the carbon storage of harvested wood products in Maine by using the materials for innovative, longer-lasting end uses such as building materials, according to a study led by the University of Maine.

Harvested wood products used in buildings, paper, biochar and more all store carbon. Agencies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provide guidance on how to calculate the carbon stored in harvested wood products, but it often does not account for the many advances that the industry has made over the last century. The impact of innovative new products, improved processing efficiency and increased product recycling rates are rarely included in these existing calculation methods. 

“While we had some theories on the levels and magnitude of carbon stored from our forests, it wasn’t until this full assessment was conducted that we gained greater confidence in the data,” says Ling Li, assistant professor of sustainable bioenergy systems at UMaine. 

Li joined Daniel Hayes, associate professor of geospatial analysis and remote sensing, and other researchers in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, as well as Xinyuan Wei at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, to create a new carbon accounting framework that incorporates the influence of technological advancements in wood products. The researchers then used this framework to look at the carbon dynamics associated with wood product pools in Maine from 1901 to 2019.

The researchers found that harvested wood products contain 11% of all the carbon stored in the entire forestry sector of Maine — a significant amount, but a lower level than other places worldwide due to the fact that much of the harvested timber in Maine is pulpwood and used to produce paper with a shorter service life. The study suggests that technological advancement — such as using the harvested wood products for building and home applications, which have a significantly longer life than paper — can increase this storage by as much as 44% and expand the carbon stored across the forestry sector and wood products to 15%. 

The study finds that production of innovative, long-lasting wood products, like mass timber panels and wood fiber insulation for building and home applications, will play the most important role in expanding this carbon storage ability. Higher processing efficiency and recycling rates are less important to achieving carbon storage for harvested wood products in Maine, but still have a role to play.

“Understanding where different forest products and end uses impact and influence the carbon storage lifecycle can assist our policymakers in developing long-term carbon strategies for our state and guide economic development and research areas aligned with those goals,” says Li.

The study was published in the June 2022 issue of the journal Biomass and Bioenergy.

The framework developed by the researchers will help other areas develop a more accurate picture of their harvested wood product carbon accounting, though the algorithm will have to be adjusted slightly for each location. Li and other professors at the School of Forest Resources are also developing innovative wood fiber insulation panel products for building applications using Maine’s forest resources. 

Contact: Sam Schipani,