The inconvenient science of biomass power

New science confirms that burning trees to produce power instead of coal may be a losing strategy for combating climate change.

In my April 2012 Spectrum news article on the questionable carbon benefits of largescale biomass power generation, I identified a boom in exports of wood pellets from the U.S. Southeast to Europe, where they are fast becoming a crucial energy supply for power firms seeking to meet the European Union’s renewable energy and carbon reduction mandates.

Forbes Magazine greentech columnist (and friend) Erica Gies noted my analysis in a May 22 blog post, Massachusetts Addresses “Biomass Loophole” and Limits Subsidies, about recently-issued regulations that set higher standards for biomass power plants seeking state-issued renewable energy certificates. The regulations eliminate the presumption that biomass power is carbon-neutral and, instead, require some proof from power generators that their operations—including fuel harvesting—deliver environmental benefits. Gies describes the state move as “an important course correction to the ‘biomass loophole’ that wood from forests has enjoyed in many policy frameworks around the world.”



  1. Paul Spencer says:

    Read the linked article, plus the associated comments. The headline is a bit mis-leading, when the full range of opinions and facts is examined.

    In any case the Mark Harmon/Bev Laws group at OSU seems definitely to be trying to damn the whole field with an argument based on the idea of harvesting whole forests for use as fuel. If that became the norm, then I would switch sides on the issue; but I think that we all find higher value in lumber (sequestered carbon) than in the modest amount of energy that can be obtained from the wholesale conversion of forests to biofuel.

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