Report: Is Woody Biomass A Carbon Neutral Energy Source?

With climate commitments looming, the European Union has mandated that 20 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020. As such, many electricity producers are fueling their boilers with woody biomass, typically harvested from forests and non-forest sources like mill waste and construction debris, and then compressed into dense pellets for burning. It’s […]

With climate commitments looming, the European Union has mandated that 20 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2020. As such, many electricity producers are fueling their boilers with woody biomass, typically harvested from forests and non-forest sources like mill waste and construction debris, and then compressed into dense pellets for burning. It’s a popular alternative to wind and solar, and one that is billed as both “renewable” and “carbon neutral.” But is it?

A new report sent yesterday to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission argues that those labels are misleading — not just to governments seeking to meet carbon reduction commitments, but to investors in companies that produce woody biomass.

The report, drafted by the non-profit environmental groups Partnership for Policy Integrity and Dogwood Alliance, takes specific aim at biomass giant Enviva Partners, which owns six wood pellet manufacturing facilities in the southern United States and is one of the country’s largest exporters to power plants in Europe. The report claims that Enviva “is misrepresenting actual emissions from burning wood pellets as fuel by widely representing their product as ‘reducing’ carbon emissions compared to burning coal without providing necessary context for understanding the limitations of that claim.”

The report takes issue with two major assumptions on biomass: 1) That burning wood for electricity production reduces planet warming emissions compared to coal, and 2) So long as new trees are planted to replace the biomass that’s being burned, net emissions from biomass power are basically zero. But those claims are too simplistic, some scientists say.

“To say that biomass is carbon neutral is really trying to hide the ball from the public and decision makers,” said Sami Yassa, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council who recently analyzed Enviva’s wood pellets. “My study … flatly disproves that claim. We show that biomass produces emissions that greatly exceed coal and those emissions persist in the atmosphere for decades and decades.”

From UnDark: http://undark.org/2016/03/16/wood-pellets-renewable-energy-source/

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