An article in the Guardian addresses the growing concern and rift in opinionsand positions on the conditions required to ensure that biomass, specifically wood from forests, is a true green source of energy and not a self-deceiving greenwashing scheme.
The UK government has now set the standards, and aggravated both green interests and biomass industry. The green interest groups are very unhappy: “The loopholes in these sustainability standards are big enough to drive a logging truck through”. The biomass industry is unhappy, mainly because they are required to deploy CHP with the plants, which creates planning headaches to find customers for the (low grade) heat. Maybe industrial CHP could make more sense; warming existing houses with (larger) power plants is incredibly tough to deploy.
The discussion in the Netherlands is not going so well. Green interest groups did pick up on it in the regent energy-agreement negotiations, and are attempting to stop the worst flaws: especially adding of some wood chips to coal plants. The UK CHP mandate sets a high standard in that it at least tries to make a durable investment. There is no lack of studies in the space of the CO2 effects, but there is a lack of consensus. Three effects have been underestimated so far:
- some forests also store carbon in their soil and by intensive logging this is reduced,
- there is a large time-lapse (more than 100 years in some cases) between the production of CO2 by burning wood and the recovery of CO2 by new growth, which seriously reduces the mid term impact on the atmospheric CO2 concentration growth (to more than 500ppm),
- the more regular use of wood as construction material and even as paper does store carbon for quite some time, and at the end of its useful life this wood or paper may end up being incinerated for energy later on anyway.
This domain deserves some serious concentrated attention from the sustainable energy community and the affiliated industry parties.
Below picture of a planned (now abandoned) biomass power plant in the UK.