Biomass Energy

Biomass energy is, perhaps, one of the more controversial types of alternative energy that is being used today. Biomass energy is the energy that is derived from organic matter of plants and animals. Biomass in the form of dead plants, trees, grass, leaves, crops, manure, garbage animals waste can be a great source of alternative fuels that can be used to replace fossil fuels. Plants make use of process called photosynthesis that converts energy from the sun into chemical energy. This energy gets transferred to animals when they eat plants. When plants and animals waste are burned, the carbon dioxide and waste stored inside them is released back into the atmosphere. 
See also page on Ethanol
Dogwood Alliance: For over 20 years, North Carolina’s Dogwood Alliance has worked with diverse communities, partner organizations and decision-makers to protect Southern forests across 14 states. link


Europe primarily at fault for biomass expansion.

September 2015:  Biomass accounts for roughly two thirds of renewable energy in the European Union. Although biomass can come from many different sources, wood is by far the most common.  pdf

February 2017: Most wood energy schemes are a ‘disaster’ for climate change. 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. 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. Current EU regulations do not count the emissions from the burning of wood at all, assuming that they are balanced by the planting of new trees. link

June 2018: Wood pellet industry threat to US wetlands. An estimated 50 to 80% of southern wetland forest in the USA is now gone. Logging is considered one of the biggest threats to the 35 million acres of remaining wetland forest in the southern U.S., and conservation organizations are saying this threat is coming largely from the wood pellet biomass industry. Touted as a renewable energy source, research shows wood pellets release more carbon dioxide than coal per megawatt of electricity produced and industry critics worry that incentivizing this energy source could actually be accelerating climate change. Research indicates pellet production plants also have a negative impact on air and water quality. link – link
BiofuelWatch – UK
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Arguments about biomass. While biomass is claimed to be renewable and carbon neutral, in that trees etc. can be replaced, the pollution that is created from burning the wood and other natural materials can be as bad as the pollution that comes from coal and other types of energy resources; it is hard to claim it is a clean or efficient power energy. Wood is a major source of biomass energy. To produce considerable amount of power, large amount of wood and other waste products have to be burned. The desire to produce energy on a large scale can lead to deforestation that would destroy the homes of large number of plants and animals. link

January 2017:  E.U. loophole counts wood energy as “carbon neutral.” It’s not. As American foresters ramp up logging to meet the growing demand for wood pellets by power plants on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a new European wood energy proposal would allow the power plants to continue claiming their operations are green for at least 13 more years, despite releasing more heat-trapping pollution than coal. Most of the wood fueling converted coal plants in England, Denmark, and other European countries is coming from North American forests. Each month, about 1 million tons of tree trunks and branches from southern U.S. pine plantations and natural forests is being turned into pellets and shipped to European power plants, mostly to Drax power station in the U.K. The growing transatlantic trade is being financed with billions of dollars in European climate subsidies because of a regulatory loophole that allows wood energy to count as if it’s as clean as solar or wind energy, when in reality it’s often worse for the climate than burning coal. Only the pollution released when wood pellets are produced and transported is counted on climate ledgers. Actual pollution from the smokestack, by far the greatest source of carbon pollution from wood energy, is overlooked. link

Drax power plant in UK.

April 2017: Drax plant is England UK’s biggest emitter of CO2. In 2016 Drax burnt pellets made from approximately 13 million tons of wood. Just over half of the wood burnt at Drax comes from the United States, and most of this is supplied by the pellet company Enviva. Drax opened in 1974 in Yorkshire as a coal-fired power station, and in 2012 it began the process of converting three of its six generators to run on biomass in the form of imported wood pellets. This conversion is now complete, with 65% of the electricity Drax generated in 2016 coming from biomass. While Drax describes itself as “Europe’s largest decarbonisation project”, its portfolio now covers three forms of dirty energy: coal, biomass, and, since 2016, gas. Drax is now also the world’s largest biomass power station, burning the equivalent of more than the UK’s total annual wood production each year.  link  August 2018 update: Drax has switched on the fourth biomass unit at its power station in Yorkshire after completing its conversion from coal. The latest conversion means two thirds of the plant is now running on biomass. With the two remaining coal units set to be converted into combined-cycle gas turbines. Drax said it is on course to be completely coal-free ahead of the government’s 2025 deadline. link

February 2018: UK pushed to water down EU biomass regulations. The British government pushed to weaken EU controls on biomass energy even though the technology will undermine efforts to contain global warming for up to half a century, according to research released today. A group of high profile climate scientists warned this would accelerate climate change because the proposal tolerated the cutting down and burning of whole trees, a process that releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than replanted trees can absorb for decades, if not centuries. link

Wood pellets from the US

June 2015: The US is cutting down forests to feed Europe’s biomass fuel craze.  Since 2012, the US has held the title of world’s number one wood pellet exporter. What’s the big deal with wood pellets? Well, Europe has very keen on replacing coal with more environmentally friendly wood pellets—except, well, depending on who you ask, wood may not be that great either. Thousands of trees are being chopped down in the U.S. each month, ground into sawdust, pressed into pellets, and shipped to Europe. These wood pellets, which are a type of biomass fuel, can often be burned in existing coal power plants, making them an attractive alternative to countries trying to get off of coal. link
[The USA has 188 biomass plants – link]

Fern is a non-governmental organisation and a Dutch foundation created in 1995 to keep track of the European Union’s involvement in forests and coordinate NGO activities at the European level. Fern’s centres on forests and forest peoples’ rights and the issues that affect them such as trade and investment and climate change. All of our work is done in close collaboration with social and environmental organisations and movements across the world –

March 2016: Burning whole trees is worse than burning coal. Until recently, electricity produced by burning plant material (biomass energy) was widely considered an important “renewable” resource along with technologies like solar, wind, and geothermal. But biomass was never meant to include whole trees much less entire forests. Over the past two years, emerging scientific evidence has discredited biomass from whole trees as a clean, renewable fuel. We now know that burning trees to produce electricity actually increases carbon pollution, meaning it has an even worse impact on climate change than coal and other fossil fuels, destroying ecosystems that can never be replaced – link

Other news:

January 2018: Global demand for biofuels containing palm oil looks set to grow sixfold by 2030, potentially driving the destruction of Southeast Asian rainforests the size of the Netherlands, a new report warns. link