The main advantage of using "grown fuels", as opposed to fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil, is that while they are growing they absorb the near-equivalent in carbon dioxide (an important greenhouse gas) to that which is later released in their burning. In comparison, burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric carbon unsustainably, by using carbon that was added to the Earth's carbon sink millions of years ago. This is a prime contributor to climate change.
According to the FAO, compared to other energy crops, wood is among the most efficient sources of bioenergy in terms of quantity of energy released by unit of carbon emitted. Other advantages of generating energy from trees, as opposed to agricultural crops, are that trees do not have to be harvested each year, the harvest can be delayed when market prices are down, and the products can fulfil a variety of end-uses.
Yields of some varieties can be as high as 12 oven dry tonnes every year. However, commercial experience on plantations in Scandinavia have shown lower yield rates.
These crops can also be used in bank stabilisation and phytoremediation. In fact, experiments in Sweden with willow plantations have proved to have many beneficial effects on the soil
and water quality
when compared to conventional agricultural crops (such as cereal).
Although in many areas of the world government funding is still required to support large scale development of energy forestry as an industry, it is seen as a valuable component of the renewable energy network and will be increasingly important in the future.
The system of energy forestry has faced criticism over food vs. fuel, whereby it has become financially profitable to replace food crops with energy crops. It has to be noted, however, that such energy forests do not necessarily compete with food crops for highly productive land as they can be grown on slopes, marginal, or degraded land as well - sometimes even with long-term restoration purposes in mind.
^Dimitriou, Ioannis; Mola-Yudego, Blas; Aronsson, Pär; Eriksson, Jan (2012). "Changes in organic carbon and trace elements in the soil of willow short-rotation coppice plantations". Bioenergy Research. 5 (3): 563–572. doi:10.1007/s12155-012-9215-1.
^Dimitriou, Ioannis; Mola-Yudego, Blas; Aronsson, Pär (2012). "Impact of willow Short Rotation Coppice on water quality". Bioenergy Research. 5 (3): 537–545. doi:10.1007/s12155-012-9211-5.