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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.

Bioenergy and Georgia

Yesterday I saw a great presentation by Jill Stuckey, the director of Georgia's Center of Innovation for Energy. Its mission is to increase the production and use of renewable energy and alternative fuels in Georgia. The fact that state governments are supporting the application of green technologies is not surprising. In fact it would be more surprising if they were not. What I did find most interesting was just how well positioned Georgia is to become a major player in the biomass energy sector.

Jill noted that Georgia is second only to Oregon in forested land: nearly 25 million acres. (Alabama and Mississippi are also in the top five, highlighting the idea that the entire region is ripe for biofuel development.) In terms of privately owned forest land, Georgia ranks first in the nation. Largely because of this, she noted that Forbes ranked Georgia third in the United States for alternative energy potential.

Products that Georgia's Center of Innovation for Energy is supporting include wood pellets, which are burned to generate heat and electricity. There is currently quite a bit of interest in this product from Europeans as they strive to meet their renewable energy mandates. There have been 12 biomass-to-electricity projects announced in Georgia as well.

How sustainable can harvesting woodland for energy be over the long term? After all, nobody wants to lose their forests and it would not be very green to chop down all our trees. Jill pointed out that according to the Georgia Forestry Commission, the state's commercial timberlands grow 19 million tons more wood each year than is harvested, resulting in growth exceeding removals by 38 percent. So the current model does appear to be sustainable.

Another factor that positions Georgia as a potential leader in the biomass/biofuel sector is the partnerships being developed with universities to commercialize research. Any model for long-term development and sustainability needs a research component, and Georgia clearly gets that connection. Institutions such as Georgia Tech's Institute of Paper Science and Technology and the University of Georgia's Bioenergy Systems Research Initiative are contributing to the state's emerging leadership in this sector.

By Michael Chriszt, an assistant vice president in the Atlanta Fed's research department