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REA responds to anti-biomass power report

By Erin Voegele | November 19, 2012

The Renewable Energy Association has responded to a report published by RSPB, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace that claims biomass power is more polluting than coal-fired power. The report, titled “Dirtier than coal? Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet,” essentially argues that that EU policy is flawed in that it considers biomass to be free of direct carbon emissions. The groups call for an end to biomass subsidies and a comprehensive accounting system that includes what they define as “carbon debt” and indirect emissions from product substitution.

In a response to the report, Paul Thompson, head of policy at the REA, pointed out several flaws in the way it addresses carbon.   

"Even when we factor in the biomass supply chain, which includes shipping and processing, its carbon footprint is dwarfed by coal. This is a key part of the criteria the government uses to regulate the industry,” Thompson said. “It’s also wrong to claim that biomass leads to ‘carbon debt’. This argument ignores a number of realities about how forests are managed and the types of wood and crops that produce biomass feedstock. With sustainable forestry and the use of a mixture of biomass sources, carbon debt can be avoided altogether. Many forests around the world are actually in carbon credit as a result of better management linked to biomass energy use. In fact, biomass goes hand-in-hand with sustainable forestry practices that have contributed to a global rise in forest cover over the past 20 years. It’s a renewable fuel source that outperforms fossil fuels on a host of measurable benefits.”

In a fact sheet accompanying the response, the REA stresses that when biomass is burned, the carbon that is released has only been sequestered for the lifetime of that plant. When biomass cultivation is sustainably managed, the same amount of carbon is reabsorbed by new plant growth, keeping levels stable. Coal, on the other hand, releases emission that would have otherwise stayed locked underground.

The REA also points out that all biomass used for heat and power in the U.K. saves at least 60 percent carbon across the entire supply chain when compared to fossil fuels. In addition, the REA said that the energy industry is able to use a wide range of wood to generate power, and that it does not necessary compete directly with other sectors that use wood, such as furniture makers or the construction industry.

The REA’s complete response is available on its website

 

 

 

5 Responses

  1. William Strauss

    2012-11-19

    1

    For more on the carbon issue, go to www.FutureMetrics.com where you can download a number of free white papers on the topic of carbon emissions from biomass. REA is absolutely correct. Biomass for energy has to start from a sustainable resource (after all if we are going to call it "renewable" it has to renew!). As long as the stock of biomass is not depleting, the carbon cycle is closed. Carbon released in the combustion of biomass is caputured by new growth. As a simple example, imagine a forest plot of 365 acres that grows at a rate of one ton per acre per year. If one ton of wood is taken off of that plot every day, that same day a new ton of wood grows on the same plot. The net tonnage does not diminish and the net carbon sequestered is constant. In Maine there are more than 20 million acres of forest of which most is managed and a majority of those acres are certified by FSC or SFI (or both in some cases) as sustainably managed. I do not think you will find new coal "growing" in 10 to 20 year cycles to replace the mined and burned coal...

  2. William Strauss

    2012-11-19

    2

    For more on the carbon issue, go to www.FutureMetrics.com where you can download a number of free white papers on the topic of carbon emissions from biomass. REA is absolutely correct. Biomass for energy has to start from a sustainable resource (after all if we are going to call it "renewable" it has to renew!). As long as the stock of biomass is not depleting, the carbon cycle is closed. Carbon released in the combustion of biomass is caputured by new growth. As a simple example, imagine a forest plot of 365 acres that grows at a rate of one ton per acre per year. If one ton of wood is taken off of that plot every day, that same day a new ton of wood grows on the same plot. The net tonnage does not diminish and the net carbon sequestered is constant. In Maine there are more than 20 million acres of forest of which most is managed and a majority of those acres are certified by FSC or SFI (or both in some cases) as sustainably managed. I do not think you will find new coal "growing" in 10 to 20 year cycles to replace the mined and burned coal...

  3. Warren Dexter

    2012-11-20

    3

    The battle here is between well-intentioned coal plant stakeholders who are struggling under the weight of the demands for their extinction, and the equally well-intentioned ecofriends who will always strive to develop new forms of non-polluting energy. As usual, mediation is required and incremental change is the rule that will serve us all the best. Biomass is as real a souce of energy as coal, as petroleum, and it presents similar challenges for its most-efficient use. The idea of environmental absolutism is rooted in the two different interpretations of Theodore Geisel's "The Lorax". One that remembers the balance between industry and nature and another that considers it Natural to get all of the rich capitalist Robberbarrons up against the wall to be sacrificed for their sins against the world and exchange the money they have made for the damage they have done. As we all look to improve systems and the public and privately owned portfolios of power generating assets, I suggest that media avoids the controversies and focuses on the engineering genius that will be required to solve our toughest energy challenges. Oh, and check out http://www.nviro.com for a smart solution that takes waste from biosolids (sludgecake and agricultural) and turns it into a replacement fuel for coal co-firing. This type of simple technology is not only as old as the cavemen, it is an excellent first step that will mitigate methane emmissions substantially.

  4. Jerry dycus

    2012-11-23

    4

    Biomass will become CO2 whether it's used for energy or not. Whether it's burned or rots make no difference in CO2 output. As long as biomass is done well and for a lot is a byproduct of other production like crop wastes, forest fire reduction and grown for energy crops that don't take up new land or cut food prioduction it's a great resource. I expect in the near future many will grow it at home, farmsn like hemp which is one of the best fuel, fiber and high quality oil corps for home or industrial energy that one can grow multiple crops/yr with little inputs. Just here in Fla yard, crop, invasive plants and other biomass wastes are huge volumes that could supply probably 25% of our energy needs if managed right.

  5. Andrew Mackrory

    2012-12-04

    5

    Jerry: good comment that biomass becomes CO2 whether burned or not. To add to that, decomposition of biomass can also generate methane which is worse than CO2, so it is probably better to burn biomass in a biomass power plant with modern emissions controls, for a number of reasons: less smoke and carbon monoxide than a forest fire, less methane than decomposition, and less CO2 since it theoretically requires us to burn less coal to generate power. Why don't the environmentalists tell us what they would accept and let us do it, instead of championing whatever we aren't doing (solar, wind, biomass etc.) until we do it, at which point they bring up the environmental cost of those things that they conveniently ignored before (displacing desert tortoises, killing birds, deforestation etc.)? They are almost as bad as politicians.

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