Using pellets of wood for generation of low-carbon electricity is a flawed policy that is speeding up not slowing down climate warming. According to the new study, wood is not carbon neutral and emissions from pellets are higher than coal.
The author says subsidies for biomass should be immediately reviewed. Energy from trees has become a critical part of the renewable supply in many countries including the UK.
Most of the discussion is focused on solar and wind power. Biomass is the biggest source of green energy across Europe. It supplies around 65% of renewable power usually electricity generated from burning wood pellets. Under pressure to meet tough carbon cutting targets, EU governments have been encouraging electricity producers to use more of this form of energy by providing significant subsidies for biomass burning. However, his new assessment from Chatham House suggests that this policy is improper when it comes to CO2 cutting.
Current regulations do not count the emissions from the burning of wood at all, assuming that they are balanced by the planting of new trees, according to the author. “This idea is not credible,” says Duncan Brack, the independent environmental policy analyst who wrote the report. The assumption of carbon neutrality misses out on some crucial issues, including the fact that young trees planted as replacements absorb and store less carbon than the ones that have been burned say Mr. Brack.
Another major issue is that under UN climate rules, emissions from trees are only counted when they are harvested. However the Russia, Canada and US do not use this method of accounting so if wood pellets are imported from these countries into the EU, which doesn’t count emissions from burning, the carbon simply goes “missing”. The author argues, burning wood pellets can give out more carbon than fossil fuels like coal per unit of energy, over their full life cycle.
Often the products have to travel long distances increasing the emissions associated with their transport and production. Within the EU, the UK is the biggest importer of wood pellets for power and heat, with around 7.5 million tonnes shipped from the US and Canada in 2015-16. Most of these imports come from the southeast US, where there are growing concerns about the trade.
The new study also highlights concerns over the use of BECCS bio-energy with carbon capture and storage. Scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have recommended that this system could be used to suck carbon from the atmosphere to keep the world from dangerous levels of warming.