1. Ben Bailey
  2. Energy
  3. Thursday, 14 May 2020
Hi All

According to a report by the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC), 59% of the EU's renewable energy consumption came from "biomass" in 2016 and most of that came from trees.

A letter to the EU Parliament signed by almost 800 scientists says:


To Members of the European Parliament,

As the European Parliament commendably moves to expand the renewable energy
directive, we strongly urge members of Parliament to amend the present directive to avoid
expansive harm to the world’s forests and the acceleration of climate change. The flaw in
the directive lies in provisions that would let countries, power plants and factories claim
credit toward renewable energy targets for deliberately cutting down trees to burn them for
energy. The solution should be to restrict the forest biomass eligible under the directive to
residues and wastes.

For decades, European producers of paper and timber products have generated electricity
and heat as beneficial by-products using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Since
most of these waste materials would decompose and release carbon dioxide within a few
years, using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce net carbon dioxide emissions to the
atmosphere in a few years as well. By contrast, cutting down trees for bioenergy releases
carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests, and diverting wood otherwise used
for wood products will cause more cutting elsewhere to replace them.

Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will
increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries – as many studies
have shown – even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas. The reasons are
fundamental and occur regardless of whether forest management is “sustainable.” Burning
wood is inefficient and therefore emits far more carbon than burning fossil fuels for each
kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Harvesting wood also properly leaves some biomass
behind to protect soils, such as roots and small branches, which decompose and emit
carbon. The result is a large “carbon debt.” Re-growing trees and displacement of fossil fuels
may eventually pay off this “carbon debt’ but only over long periods. Overall, allowing the
harvest and burning of wood under the directive will transform large reductions otherwise
achieved through solar and wind into large increases in carbon in the atmosphere by 2050.
Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means
permanent damages due to more rapid melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, and
more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when
countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to
“selling” the world’s limited time to combat it.

The adverse implications not just for carbon but for global forests and biodiversity are also
large. More than 100% of Europe’s annual harvest of wood would be needed to supply just
one third of the expanded renewable energy directive. Because demand for wood and
paper will remain, the result will be increased degradation of forests around the world. The
example Europe would set for other countries would be even more dangerous. Europe has
been properly encouraging countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to protect their forests,
but the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for
energy.” Once countries invest in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. If
the world moves to supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, it must double
its commercial cuttings of the world’s forests.

By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western
Europe even when Europeans consumed far less energy than they do today. Although coal
helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution to replacing coal is not to go back to
burning forests, but instead to replace fossil fuels with low carbon sources, such as solar and
wind. We urge European legislators to amend the present directive to restrict eligible forest
biomass to appropriately defined residues and wastes because the fates of much of the
world’s forests and the climate are literally at stake.


Also, here's a couple of links talking about the problems associated with biomass:

https://www.nrdc.org/resources/our-forests-arent-fuel

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/4/18216045/renewable-energy-wood-pellets-biomass

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it OK to burn trees for energy?
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
I was already aware of the controversy surrounding the use of biomass energy in the EU. However, I had no idea that it was such a large proportion. That's outrageous! There's nothing sustainable about burning trees for energy.
Adam Thyer, Founder at GreenExecutive
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 1
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
My understanding is (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that biomass is significantly more expensive than the latest solar and wind technologies which are also continuing to rapidly fall in cost. So the big question is, why does the EU Parliament continue to support and subsidise an energy source that's neither sustainable or economically viable?
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 2
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
it all rather depends upon where the trees are coming from, some countries have sustainability standards around biomass (UK created its' own because there weren't existing standards for example) and the new RED II is bringing sustainability standards to the EU on this kind of biomass fuel. it's imperfect but it's moving towards only allowing existing agro forestry, eg Finland, or wastes from agro forestry, so in that sense these changes are already in process.
the EU doesn't subsidise these technologies though individual member states might, which is up to them. the main reason for using this technology is that it allows reduction of carbon intensity of existing coal powered stations prior to them being retired. DRAX in the UK has transitioned almost totally to biomass, but it's a temporary transition to get to a point where it can be retired and replaced not a new build.
Things like lignin combustion (coming from paper production) is far better than any other solution as lignin is toxic in the environment (it's basically tree defence) and when stripped out of paper the concentration is too high for environmental decomposition.
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 3
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
There are numerous problems associate with using trees as fuel.

Some of the key issues are:


  • burning trees releases CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere
  • there is a carbon debt because the CO2 is released NOW, whereas it takes many years for new trees to grow
  • silviculture damages or destroys natural habitats thereby resulting in biodiversity loss
  • additional demand for trees is likely to increase the amount of land required for silviculture
  • additional demand for trees as biomass can increase the price of timber for other purposes.


Burning biowaste is less problematic. However, my understanding is that biowaste is typically only a very small amount of the total biomass being burned for energy production.
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 4
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Hi Gareth Mottram

You said that, "the main reason for using this technology is that it allows reduction of carbon intensity of existing coal powered stations prior to them being retired." However, the letter that Ben posted says, "Burning wood is inefficient and therefore emits far more carbon than burning fossil fuels for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced." If this claim is true, doesn't it mean that biomass is more carbon intensive than coal, not less? I understand that replanting trees can eventually repay this carbon debt, but my question relates to which fuel is emitting the most carbon in the present.

Please note that I am not trying to make a statement here, or engage you in a debate. I have no expertise in this area. It's just that biomass energy seems to be an important issue, so I'm trying to understand it more clearly.
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 5
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
This paper suggest that biomass production is less energy and CO2 efficient than coal mining.
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 6
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Today, I stumbled across a Facebook post linking to this report by Chatham House which says:

Current biomass policy frameworks are not fit for purpose and require substantial changes to ensure they contribute to mitigating climate change rather than exacerbating it.



* The use of wood for electricity generation and heat has grown rapidly in recent years, but its real impact on the climate and on forests is controversial. Like the debate around transport biofuels a few years ago, this has become a highly contested subject with very few areas of consensus. This paper provides an overview of the debate around the impact of wood energy on the global climate, and provides recommendations for policymakers on the appropriate way forward.

* Although most renewable energy policy frameworks treat biomass as though it is carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, in reality this cannot be assumed, as biomass emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. Only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

* One reason for the perception of biomass as carbon-neutral is the fact that, under international greenhouse gas accounting rules, its associated emissions are recorded in the land use rather than the energy sector. However, the different ways in which land use emissions are accounted for means that a proportion of the emissions from biomass may never be accounted for.

* In principle, sustainability criteria can ensure that only biomass with the lowest impact on the climate are used; the current criteria in use in some EU member states and under development in the EU, however, do not achieve this as they do not account for changes in forest carbon stock.
Adam Thyer, Founder at GreenExecutive
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 7
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
Can anyone explain to me the politics behind the EU adopting biomass with such gusto?
  1. more than a month ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 8
Accepted Answer Pending Moderation
These graphs provide an insight insight into the growth of renewable energy in the UK. However, 8% of total energy production is from biomass and the trend is upward.
  1. 3 weeks ago
  2. Energy
  3. # 9
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