Is Wood a Renewable Resource? Are Wood Fuels Renewable Clean Energy?

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | January 9, 2024

Woman standing in front a of a tree pointing to an acorn and logs nearby wonders is wood a renewable resource and how are wood fuels a renewable clean energy option when used as woody biomass, forestry harvesting and wood energy?

Wood is the largest energy producer worldwide, but some people wonder, is wood a renewable resource?

In the 1800s it was the primary energy source in the US until 1885 when coal surpassed it. In the 1920s petroleum surpassed both wood and coal making wood the third largest energy provider.

With this short history, it’s safe to say that wood has been a primary energy source for a long time. One reason for this longevity is its renewable properties.

But, in order to make sure wood remains a renewable resource, it must be managed correctly.

While coal, petroleum, and other energy sources release harmful chemicals to the atmosphere, wood remains as a natural, renewable energy source.1

The following guide explains why is wood a renewable resource and why is wood fuel considered clean energy even though burning wood releases the carbon emissions stored in it.

What Is a Renewable Resource? Types of Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable resource is an energy source that naturally replenishes but has limited flow.2,6

These energy sources are virtually inexhaustible in duration. However, they produce a limited energy amount per unit time.

So what are the types of renewable energy source?

They include:

  1. Biomass, including:
    Wood and wood waste
    Landfill gas and biogas
    Municipal solid waste
  2. Hydropower
  3. Geothermal power
  4. Wind
  5. Solar

What Is Wood Energy? Is Wood a Natural Resource?

To find out whether wood is a natural resource, you must first know what is wood energy? Trees are made up of solid celluloid material which when combusted produces wood energy.

Wood is an important energy source and contributes about 9% of the primary energy supply worldwide.

Trees and shrubs are found all over the world mostly in wooded areas and forests.

How many trees are in the world? It may not be possible to know the number but it’s enough to give humans a constant energy supply if well maintained.

Trees are often harvested to produce wood, following this process, they grow again making them both natural and renewable energy sources. Besides forests and wooded areas, wood can be obtained from wood farms, residential areas, among others.

Most of it is processed into various products and some go into post-consumer recycling.

Is Wood a Renewable Resource: Wood Fuels

To understand how wood material is used to produce energy, you must first know the different types and forms of wood resources that can be used in fuel wood infrastructure.

Wood fuel comes in several forms; they include:

Woody Biomass

This is the woody parts of wooded shrubs, trees and other plants. These parts include tops, limbs, needles, leaves, branches and stems.

Woody biomass sources include urban tree waste, rangelands, and forests. Biomass is often a by-product of forest management and restoration processes,7 care for urban trees, and treatment of hazardous fuels that decrease the threat of wild fires.

Woody Biomass from different parts of a tree such as branches and stems on the ground with two persons trying to start a fire using it.

(Image: Mike10)

Chopped pieces of firewood in a shed with an ax resting on a firewood.

(Image: Heamna Manzur9)

Cord Wood

This refers to traditional wood fuel. In this case, a piece of wood is cut to length, air dried, and slit.

The wood’s energy content varies depending on the tree species and moisture content. The general rule is that softwood trees have lower energy content per cord than hardwood trees primarily because of their wood density.

Wood Chips

This type of wood fuel is used mainly for large scale heating as an inexpensive fuel choice. It requires special equipment for handling and combustion.

The burning equipment of wood chips can handle wood waste, scrap, limbs or treetops. Wood chips are often stored outside therefore eliminating the cost of purchasing an enclosure.

Wide shot of a wood chip storage facility showing mountains of wood chip, cranes, and tilted truck unloading gathered wood chip.

(Image: Gary Houston11)

However, the piles of chip fuel need some type of equipment that can handle bulk material such as a front end loader. Systems used for wood chip combustion will need routine maintenance.

Closeup of big wood pellets inside a metal storage.

(Image: moses12)

Wood Pellets

These are dried, uniform pellets made from low-grade wood used for heating among other applications. They have a dry and consistent nature making them a biomass fuel that can be metered easily.3

They are also efficient in heat production and require little to no management from the consumer.

What Is Clean Energy?

To know what is clean energy,5 you must first differentiate between clean and green energy.

Green energy is from natural sources while clean energy is derived from sources that do not release atmospheric pollutants.

Even though these two terms sound similar, there is a subtle difference between them.

A renewable resource is an energy source that replenishes constantly. These resources won’t run out unlike petroleum, coal, and gas.

How many trees are in the United States? There are enough trees for wood to be the third largest energy provider currently.

You must note that while most green energy sources are renewable, some renewable sources cannot be considered as green.

One such example is hydropower, though it’s a renewable resource it’s not green because industrialization and deforestation that occur when building dams have an adverse environmental effect.

Wide shot of Douglas Dam showing a part of the water reservoir and the gate with the land forms and sky in the background.

Clean energy resources such as wind power, solar power, and some hydro resources produce power without the risk of negative environmental impacts. Most of these sources are also renewable and are the best future for global energy.

Additionally, these clean energy resources decrease the risks of environmental disasters such as oil spills on oceans or issues from natural gas leaks.

Benefits of Clean Energy

Why is sustainable use of natural resources important? The benefits of clean energy are endless especially with regards to the economy and the environment.

The most important benefit is that it reduces air pollution and dependence on imported exhaustible fuels.

Renewable clean energy comes with various economic benefits.

First there is no need to transport and extract fuels and second, they are an inexhaustible free supply of energy. You cover only the installation and maintenance costs which is much cheaper than buying exhaustible fuels.

The renewable energy reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere as most are clean energy. Lastly, they also boost the economy by creating jobs to install, manufacturer, and develop future clean energy resources.

Is Wood a Renewable Resource: Wood Residues

Besides the five types of wood fuels listed above, there are also wood energy sources called wood residues. These residues are urban wood waste, post-consumer wood products or co-products of manufacturing and processing of wood.

Types of wood residue include:

Yard/Urban Waste Wood

These are wood waste removed after an urban activity, for example clearing of trees from power lines by utility workers or trimming of hedges by land owners. They are also obtained through natural disasters such as heavy storms or land clearing for commercial activities.

Wood Product Residue

This is the wood waste from organizations that use wood to make their products such as furniture companies. Wood product residues can be used as wood fuels.

Forest Operation Residues

These are the woody debris that result from harvesting wood for timber. After a large harvest, you may wonder is wood a natural resource?

Yes, wood is indeed a natural resource because the forest will grow back with time.

Wood Resource Production

Wood resource production takes place in multiple forms to provide a wide range of benefits to the societies around wooded areas. Wood has several applications such as providing energy for home use and industrial applications.

Some examples of wood resource productions include but are not limited to the following:

Energy Plantations

Some wood biomass is grown for energy production purposes by planting fast growing trees species as crops. The trees provide biomass periodically and can be harvested repeatedly before the farmer replants them.

Therefore, it’s safe to infer that the answer to the question is wood a renewable source is yes.

Forest Health and Restoration

This process involves improving forest health and restoring certain ecosystems. Here, naturally occurring forests types are maintained and unwanted trees and other vegetation are removed to reduce crowding and enhance healthy growth of trees.

The biomass eliminated is then used in energy production and in some cases landowners pay for removal costs.

Fuel Wood

This is wood waste, commercial grade timber, wood pulp that can be used as energy sources. It’s feasible to harvest fuel wood from industrial facilities when the forest products industry is not paying or buying competitive market prices for commercial grade wood and pulp as a result of market shifts, mill closures, and other reasons.

Is Wood Renewable or Nonrenewable?

Among other energy sources, wood is the most environmentally friendly source at your disposal. Even so, is wood renewable or nonrenewable?

And if so, why is wood a renewable resource?

First, harvested trees regrow after a certain period.

Second, woodlands and forests naturally regenerate where trees are restocked and grow from seeds that fall on the ground and germinate. Third, trees can be planted in areas where there were previously none and require very little nutrients to grow.

A wood plantation showing heavy equipment moving huge logs to put in piles.

(Image: Matthias Böckel13)

Trees can either regenerate naturally or through the interference by humans. Foresters and tree farmers have created and restocked woodlands by using nursery grown transplants.4

This process happens when restocking by natural regeneration proves ineffective or bring out unwanted tree species.

Is Wood a Renewable Resource? Why Use Wood Energy?

With the soaring human population and increase in deforestation, forests are at risk of getting wiped out. Additionally, besides being great sources of energy, trees have other important purposes such as maintaining ecosystems, and reducing atmospheric carbon therefore, some experts want to focus on preserving trees rather than harvesting them.

As a result, this brings out questions like, is wood a renewable resource? And why use wood energy?

First, many people opt for wood fuel as an alternative source of energy in areas where other energy sources are inaccessible or energy prices are high. Some rural areas have no other energy choice but wood energy.

Second, wood fuel contains very little heavy metals and extremely low sulfur levels. As such, using wood fuel does not cause acid rain pollution brought about by sulfur emissions.

However, burning wood in a forest produces significant amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. A wildfire, or controlled burning of a forest will emit this gas which is hazardous.

Third, particulate emissions derived from burning or protecting wood are manageable and controlled through standard emission control devices like fly-ash injectors, cyclone separators, and bag houses. The ash produced is minimal with wood ash being less than one percent of the weight of wood.

That is to say, the waste produced by processing wood is quite manageable unlike the waste products produced when processing sources such as petroleum. In some cases, the wood acts as a great fertilizer to other plants.

Fourth, expanding and developing the wood biomass use supports the ecosystem health of forests enhancing the economic viability of wood product manufacturing and forest management. Since wood is a renewable resource, manageable use of wood fuel is viable and even beneficial to woodlands and forests.

As a renewable energy resource, wood can continually replenish creating a dependable and sustainable energy supply.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Timber?

Timber reduces carbon dioxide. Therefore, the carbon footprint of timber is calculated as follows:

Each manufactured dry timber ton removes around 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Burning Wood With Electricity

One way of working with wood is burning it with electricity. This process creates beautiful fragmented fractal designs.8

Fractals create a similar appearance to a tree limb that breaks down into smaller branches. In the end, it’s a beautiful design with a tree-like appearance.

These designs are technically known as Lichtenberg figures made by a device called Lichtenberg. Sometimes, these Lichtenberg figures are created naturally by lightning or high-voltage accidents.

Wood Energy Advantages and Disadvantages

Wood fuels can be used for home heating and cooking or commercial applications. The supply can get exhausted if trees are cut at a higher rate than they are being replaced.

Graphics of Wood Energy listing the advantages and disadvantages of Energy on top and below are cartoon images of different sources of wood energy.

With proper management the energy supply can be sustained.

Advantages of Wood FuelsDisadvantages of Wood Fuel
Cheap energy sourceWood burning produces smoke and soot
Available almost worldwideForest burning produces nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas
No maintenance costWood requires a large storage area
The waste product ash can be reused for various purposesOver-exploitation leads to deforestation and soil erosion
Excellent fertilizerContributes to global warming and water shortages

To summarize, wood is the single most natural resource in the world. Its uses are endless, and one such important use is producing energy.

The answer to the question is wood a renewable resource is yes because trees can regenerate after harvesting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Is Wood a Renewable Resource

Is Lumber a Natural Resource? Is Lumber Renewable or NonRenewable?

Lumber is a natural and renewable resource.

Which Is a Renewable Resource: Petroleum, Wood, Iron, Coal?

Wood is the only renewable resource.

What Are the Different Types of Wood Resources?

Wood pellets, wood chips, cord wood, and wood biomass.

What Is the Free Tree Removal in Exchange for Wood Process?

To those wondering, What is the free tree removal in exchange for wood process? This process involves a lumber company removing a tree for free in exchange for wood.

What Is the Wood Hardness Scale?

The wood hardness scale is measured through the Janka Hardness test. This measures how hard the wood is.

What Is the Meranti Wood?

Meranti wood, commonly known as Philippine Mahogany, is a wood structure famous for its high quality red and purplish wood.


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12moses. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>

13Matthias Böckel. Pixabay. Retrieved from <>