Editorial: Alternative bio-facts?

Biomass experts go on the offensive in response to U.K. report
Andrew Snook
March 21, 2017
Written by
March 21, 2017 - A recent report on the carbon neutrality of biomass has ruffled some feathers in the biomass community.

The Impacts of the Demand for Woody Biomass for Power and Heat on Climate and Forests, a report created by Chatham House, a London, U.K.-based international affairs think tank, questions treating biomass as carbon-neutral at the point of combustion. The U.K.’s Renewable Energy Association (REA) appeared to be less than impressed.

The REA responded by stating that the report had several misleading claims, including that carbon emissions from biomass energy production are generally at higher levels than from fossil fuels. The REA responded to this particular claim by stating the following:

This misses the entire point of the use of biomass. Carbon contained in woody biomass is already part of the atmospheric cycle, whereas burning fossil fuels is adding carbon to the natural carbon cycle. Biomass is low-carbon because the carbon released during combustion is reabsorbed by the growing forests where it was sourced.

Other claims in the report that the REA discounted include that it can take decades or even centuries to reabsorb carbon released by biomass power; that U.K.’s biomass use is resulting in decreased U.S. forest stock; that feedstock derives from harvesting whole trees; that when sawmill residues are diverted from use as wood products to use as energy, net carbon emissions will be higher as a result; and that biomass energy may be more likely to displace other sources of renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.

The REA went on to state that the report “ignores the significant body of peer-reviewed academic studies that verifies the contributions from biomass power in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and in supporting forest growth… The fact is that biomass cuts carbon, supports forests, and delivers reliable energy at a lower cost. This report just makes vague statements without evidence and repeats claims that have been analyzed many times and found wrong, which is disappointing.”

The REA were not the only ones to quickly discount the report.

FutureMetrics’ William Strauss, a well respected consultant in the wood pellet sector, responded by publishing a white paper called, “Alternative Facts” in the Recent Chatham House Paper, which focuses on discussions related to the sourcing of raw materials for industrial wood pellets.

Strauss states that he is unsure if the author is “naïve about how the forest products industry operates or is purposefully presenting ‘alternative’ facts,” going on to call the study one-sided and wrong in its conclusions.

Want to judge for yourself? Read about the Chatham House report, as well as the REA’s detailed response and FutureMetrics’ white paper.

I never thought I would be using the term “alternative facts” in an editorial. How times have changed. 


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