Recent Studies: Taking Advantage of Opportunities to Educate Americans About Biomass

By Bob Cleaves
In case you didn't notice, the biomass power industry has been under scrutiny lately.

The Manomet Center for Conservation Studies and Environmental Working Group both released studies in June that received considerable press attention-attention that resulted in a mischaracterization of our industry and the way we do business. The Biomass Power Association took these potential setbacks as opportunities to educate these groups-and the wider public-about what exactly biomass is, how we work, and ways that we contribute to the American economy and renewable energy sector.

While I understand that the recent attention has caused some to worry about the future of biomass in the U.S., I can assure you that, regardless of any misstatements or unflattering attention, I continue to have high expectations and hope for growth in our industry.

We know that biomass is a carbon-neutral resource that provides clean energy for electricity. And we know that we are not in the business of harvesting mature, merchantable trees to produce energy. The BPA, on behalf of our members and all biomass operators in the country, spoke out numerous times in June against the false claims included in the studies. Our efforts paid off: three co-authors of the report issued clarifying statements, stating that the focus of the study was on the harvesting of forests in Massachusetts, and was not a study of biomass electricity using residues or thinnings. In other words, the study was not about our industry.

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation, which is devoted to conservation efforts and sustainable natural resource management, was among several organizations that participated in the Manomet study and has since publicly clarified the report's findings.

Pinchot recently wrote in a press release, "… the study concluded that carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated can be higher with wood, based on the more concentrated energy content of fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. However, this conclusion is not meant to address the additional significant environmental, economic, and social effects of fossil fuel use, nor does it reflect that electric power generation from forest residuals and waste wood results in minimal if any net carbon emissions."

Following BPA's call for clarification and the Pinchot release, the Manomet Center issued a statement of its own: "First, the study addresses only the carbon cycle implications of biomass harvested from actively managed, natural forests. The study did not analyze woody biomass from other sources, for example biomass plantations, land clearing, tree work and landscaping wastes, or construction waste. These materials can be important potential sources of biomass-ones that likely have very different carbon cycle implications than biomass from natural forests-and merit careful and separate consideration in biomass policy development."

The Biomass Energy Resource Center also weighed in, offering a helpful clarification, pointing out inaccurate statements in a recent Associated Press story.

Biomass is a mature, viable renewable energy source that employs thousands of Americans. It has a pivotal role in renewable energy discussions. And it is gratifying to see the willingness of the studies' authors to make clear that they support our industry as long as we are utilizing wood waste materials as fuel, which is exactly what we do.

Like you, I take biomass's role as a clean biofuel very seriously. We should frequently remind ourselves and those outside our industry that:

We believe in using sustainable biomass fuels that do not contribute to land-use changes and offer lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels.

We do not harvest mature, merchantable trees for the purpose of producing energy. That approach defies economic sense. The residues generated from forest harvesting and thinnings for forest management, however, play an important role in combating climate change and generating renewable energy.

We fully support the use of woody wastes and byproducts derived from sustainable forestry slash, unused residues from mill operations and forest thinnings removed either to reduce forest fire risk or to allow select trees to attain merchantable sizes more quickly.

We also fully support nonforestry waste from the agriculture industry whether that's generated from rice mills, sugarcane debris, orchard and agricultural prunings and other biogenic materials that would otherwise be discarded.
You and I are acutely aware of the abundant possibilities for biomass power in this country. Together, we will continue to build the biomass power industry and earn increasing recognition as a viable, renewable energy source. BIO

Bob Cleaves is president and CEO of the Biomass Power Association. To learn more about biomass power, please visit