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Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences


Methods to assess wood-based bioenergy projects have tended to focus on technological and physical constraints. Less is known about how longer-term environmental, economic, and social systems—the three pillars of sustainable development—have influenced technological development in the context of woody biomass energy. This research offers new methods for assessing the sustainability of wood-based energy projects by combining spatial analysis, semi-structured interviews, and archival data analysis. By integrating quantitative and qualitative methods, this project offers ways to understand how social and environmental dynamics from the past shape technological development in the future. A propensity analysis of biomass energy plants in Michigan, USA was performed using US Census data grouped by social, economic, and environmental categories. This quantitative analysis helped to characterize community and landscape types in which woody biomass plants were developed in Michigan in the late-twentieth century. To help illustrate some of the often-hidden social and political dimensions of energy development, such as access to decision-making and attitudes toward bioenergy projects, transcripts of public hearings, media coverage, and other archival sources were examined, and 30 stakeholder interviews were conducted. By integrating these qualitative and quantitative approaches, this paper aims to provide a more comprehensive approach to assessing the sustainability of wood-based biofuel technologies.