March 24

Is Biomass A Friend Or Foe Of The Environment?


When it comes to issues around sustainability and energy, there are few subjects less controversial than biomass.

Often hailed as a lower carbon option for heating or generating electricity, biomass involves the burning of wood pellets, chips or logs.

Its proponents argue that biomass has a key role to play in the road to net zero, using wood that is unsuitable for other products and would otherwise go to waste.

But critics have pointed out that biomass still involves burning natural materials, which can pollute the atmosphere.

The campaigning group Cut Carbon Not Forest recently published a new survey, which shows 73% of respondents are concerned that burning trees in power stations could be making air pollution worse and harming people’s health.

The survey also found almost two thirds of those surveyed (64%) agree that it is misleading to call biomass green.

And only 3.4% believed burning wood from other countries’ forests is likely to increase the U.K’s energy security.

Matt Williams, a senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council and campaigner for Cut Carbon Not Forests said it is “probably not a mischaracterization” to describe biomass as burning trees in power stations.

And he added when it is put to people in those terms and it was for the survey, they are “largely opposed to it”.

Williams said the survey also showed the majority of people in the U.K. are also opposed to the government spending billions of pounds to subsidize biomass plants.

He added while the U.K, has been kind of at the leading edge of the biomass industry over the last 15 years, it is growing in other parts of the world, including in Africa, South America and South East Asia.

Williams said we are now seeing a real growth in biomass power plants, which will lead to a growth in demand for wood pellets “on the doorstep of some of the world’s most important forests”.

Despite such criticisms, a survey undertaken for the U.K. government last year found almost three quarters (72%) of respondents supported the use of biomass.

Frank Gordon, director of policy at the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said in an email the U.K. has world-leading sustainability criteria for biomass across the whole supply chain.

Gordon said these criteria ensure that the biomass sector is contributing to “positive outcomes for forests”, as well as delivering significant emissions savings over fossil fuels.

He added biomass provides a market for residues and low-value material not wanted by other industries.

And a spokesperson for Drax, which operates a large biomass power plant in Yorkshire said in a statement it is committed to ensuring the biomass it sources “delivers positive outcomes for the climate”.

“Drax aims to become leaders in bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – a carbon removal technology that will be a vital part of efforts to reach net zero,” added the spokesperson.

“Over the next decade, we plan to invest billions in critical renewable energy infrastructure projects like BECCS and pumped hydro storage, to help meet climate targets while supporting energy security and creating thousands of jobs.”


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