Most wood energy schemes are a ‘disaster’ for climate change

Feb 23, 2017

By Matt McGrath

Using wood pellets to generate low-carbon electricity is a flawed policy that is speeding up not slowing down climate warming.

That’s according to a new study which says wood is not carbon neutral and emissions from pellets are higher than coal.

Subsidies for biomass should be immediately reviewed, the author says.

Energy from trees has become a critical part of the renewable supply in many countries including the UK.

Critical role

While much of the discussion has focussed on wind and solar power, across Europe the biggest source of green energy is biomass.

It supplies around 65% of renewable power – usually electricity generated from burning wood pellets.

EU Governments, under pressure to meet tough carbon cutting targets, have been encouraging electricity producers to use more of this form of energy by providing substantial subsidies for biomass burning.

However this new assessment from Chatham House suggests that this policy is deeply flawed when it comes to cutting CO2.

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4 comments on “Most wood energy schemes are a ‘disaster’ for climate change

  • @OP – I see this grossly misleading negative information is being circulated by denialists! – and I posted an analysis of it, along with a link to the OP BBC site, here:-

    I also posted an example of a properly managed forest environment for producing wood, rather than the strawman claims in the above article citing deforestation as a source of the wood for biofuel

    The properly managed forest environment on this second link, also provides water supplies, wild-life habitats, and some hydro-electricity.

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  • OHooligan #2
    Feb 23, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Well this particular scheme is absolutely a disaster (unless you’re one of the ones laughing all the way to the bank):

    Yep! – It demonstrates the the ability of ideological politicians (who do not seek expert advice or do not know where to seek expert advice), to mess up even potentially beneficial technologies!

    Home wood burning stoves, are really only suitable for people who have their own, – or at least a ready supply, of locally grown wood nearby!

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  • As I suggested @#1, The Chatham House report, reflects its industrial connections, rather than a scientific basis of investigation.
    The claims are cherry-picked and misleading!

    Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic have become embroiled in a war of words over energy from trees.

    A recent Chatham House report claimed that burning wood for electricity is worse for the climate than using coal.

    It sparked a backlash from a group of 125 academics in the field who said the research was deeply flawed.

    I see that academic reviews have now reached the same conclusion that the study is flawed!

    Now supporters of the original study have hit back, saying that to avoid dangerous warming the world needs to plant more trees, not burn them.

    Which is of course a disingenuous false dichotomy, as while we certainly need to plant more trees, whether some of them should be planted for a regular cycle of harvesting for bio-fuel, is an entirely separate issue!

    Criticism of commercial asset-stripping deforestation for biofuel is quite valid, but a separate issue.

    The idea that burning wood released more CO2 than coal has enraged those who work in the biomass industry and many who carry out research in the field.

    Coal adds fossil carbon to the atmosphere.
    Wood is part of a natural or man induced recycling process which involves absorption of atmospheric CO2!

    A group of 125 academics, from Europe and the US, have attacked the Chatham House study saying it “gives an inaccurate interpretation of the impact of harvesting on forest carbon stock”.

    It presumes that forests would continue to grow if no biomass was used for bio-energy which is “unrealistic”.

    Even in untouched natural forests, old trees die and decompose, releasing CO2!

    The letter also criticises the study for assuming that roundwood is the type of material used for burning when the “on the ground reality is that in the EU, by-products and residues from silviculture [the growing and culture of trees] are the most common types of feedstock”.

    There is no reason to use prime logs of timber for fuel, when waste brashings and short cycle quick-growing plantations can be used.

    “The author failed to appreciate that it is the net cumulative emissions of carbon that are principally responsible for long-term temperature change, so high emissions one year can legitimately be countered by negative emissions (or forest growth) in subsequent years,” said Prof Piers Forster, director of the Priestly International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, who signed the letter.

    The issue of imports of biofuel from deforestation in the USA is a problem which needs to tackled – but deforestation by US timber companies and their attempts to gain access to public lands when they have stripped their own, has been an on-going problem for years! !

    None of these criticisms of the uses of wood, support the denialist claim that the burning of coal has any merits!

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