Tag Archives: UK

[NEWS] Questions As U.S. Wood Pellet Makers Expand Production

– by Jacqueline Froelich, January 1, 2017, NPR

wood pellets 600The wood pellet fuel industry is growing in the United States. The largest chip mills across the South are gobbling up hardwood forests to meet demand for overseas customers.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Wood Pellets are big business. U.S. companies send almost a billion dollars worth of wood pellets to the European Union, which uses them to power energy plants. But the appetite overseas for wood pellets has conservationists in the U.S. worried about our forests. Arkansas Public Media’s Jacqueline Froelich reports.

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[NEWS] Report: Biomass Energy Impacts Climate Change

– by Matt McGrath, February 23, 2017, BBC News

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Getty Images

Using wood pellets to generate low-carbon electricity is a flawed policy that is speeding up not slowing down climate warming.

That’s according to a new study which says wood is not carbon neutral and emissions from pellets are higher than coal.

Subsidies for biomass should be immediately reviewed, the author says.

But the industry rejected the report saying that wood energy cuts carbon significantly compared to fossil fuels.

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[OPINION] The High-Flown Fantasy of Aviation Biofuels

[Read the opposing view, “Takeoff for Aviation Biofuels: How, Where, When?” by Jim Lane, editor and publisher of Biofuels Digest.]

– by Almuth Ernsting, Co-Director, Biofuelwatch

On 24th February 2008, pictures of Richard Branson tossing a coconut into the air next to an aircraft at Heathrow were broadcast around the world, as he announced the world’s first biofuel flight. Biofuel, he claimed, would “enable those of us who are serious about reducing our carbon emissions to go on developing the fuels of the future.”

Environmental NGOs denounced his test flight as a publicity stunt, intended to deflect attention from the fact that aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and most carbon intensive form of transport. As far as Branson and his airline, Virgin Atlantic, were concerned, the flight was indeed no more than a stunt: The “biofuel test flight” burned 95% ordinary kerosene and just 5% biofuels, made from coconut and Brazilian babassu nut oil. Virgin Atlantic has not used any biofuels since that day.

Since then, however, at least 24 other airlines have blended biofuels with kerosene. By September 2015, more than 2,050 such flights had taken off, most by commercial airlines, some by the US and Dutch military and US and Canadian research institutes. This year, KLM has launched a series of 80 passenger flights with biofuel blends, and since March, United Airlines has been using such blends for regular flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco. They aim to expand their use to all their flights out of Los Angeles. Across the aviation industry, biofuel use and investments have moved far beyond what could be considered a mere publicity stunt.

Even if biofuels were carbon neutral – which is far from the case – there is no realistic prospect of them making any significant dent in aviation’s contribution to global warming. Between 2002 and 2012, global jet fuel use increased by one-fifth, to 5.42 million barrels a year (around 695,000 tonnes). Apart from a minor dip during the global financial crisis in 2008-2009, it has been growing year after year. Global biofuel production has reached the equivalent of around 70.8 million tonnes of oil a year, accounting for little more than 2% of the world’s transport fuels. However, as we shall see below,only a small fraction of the biofuels which are being produced annually today could conceivably be upgraded for use in aviation. Nearly the world’s entire biofuel infrastructure is for ethanol and biodiesel, which cannot be used in aircraft.

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[NEWS] Booming Wood Pellet Production Inching Toward Watershed Forests

– by Jeff Day, August 25, 2016, Bay Journal

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Enviva logging for biomass energy (Dogwood Aliiance)

A growing industry that’s harvesting “woody biomass” from forests for energy generation could gain a toehold soon in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Like virtually every other form of energy, it’s also generating intense debate about its environmental impact.

Biomass from trees is already used to generate a small amount of power in the United States; wood chips generate electricity at several small plants owned by Dominion, the Virginia-based energy company. (The term “biomass” generally refers to any plant material used for fuel. Woody biomass is made from trees.)

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Biomass Impacts in the Southeastern U.S.

– by Matt Williams, April 2, 2016, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

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Photo: PRI.org

The dogwood trees are in bloom at this time of year in North Carolina. Tiny white flowers single them out from the other foliage that lines the interstates. And turkey vultures are ubiquitous, circling above them in flocks of three or four, tilting as they glide on the hot air.

With other European NGO colleagues I’m visiting my friends from the Dogwood Alliance, one of the American NGOs we work with on bioenergy. This is the first of a few blogs I’ll try to post during the course of my trip.

As we’ve driven past strip malls, diners and wetland forests filled with cypress trees I’ve been spotting birds like great blue heron and rough-winged swallow as well as stunning butterflies suck as the tiger swallowtail.

The southeastern USA is the source every year for millions of tonnes of wood pellets that are shipped to Europe, mostly the UK, to be burned in power stations.

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Forests Could Face Threat from Biomass Power “Gold Rush”

– by Jamie Doward, The Observer

Britain’s new generation of biomass power stations will have to source millions of tonnes of wood from thousands of miles away if they are to operate near to their full capacity, raising questions about the claims made for the sustainability of the new technology.

Ministers believe biomass technology could provide as much as 11% of the UK’s energy by 2020, something that would help it meet its carbon commitments. The Environment Agency estimates that biomass-fired electricity generation, most of which involves burning wood pellets, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% compared with coal-fired power stations. Eight biomass power stations, including one in a unit in the giant Drax power station, are operating in the UK and a further seven are in the pipeline. None operates near capacity.

But now environmental groups are questioning where the new plants will source their wood if the technology takes off. A campaign group, Biofuelwatch, calculates in a new report that the UK could end up burning as much as 82m tonnes of biomass each year – more than eight times the UK’s annual wood production. If Drax were to operate at full capacity, it alone would get through 16m tonnes of wood a year, according to the report, which claims a Europe-wide demand for biomass is triggering a “gold rush” for wood pellets that could have implications for global land use.

The report highlights the example of Portugal, where 10% of the country is now covered by eucalyptus plantations much of which is used for biomass energy production. Two campaign groups, the Dogwood Alliance and the US Natural Resources Defence Council, have issued critical reports about the way that forests in the southern states of the US are being used for biomass production. There are also concerns that tracts of Brazil are being used to supply the wood pellets.

But the concerns have been fiercely rejected by the biomass industry. Enviva, which supplies Drax with wood pellets, said its biomass came mainly from offcuts from poor-quality trees that are left over from those grown for the construction and paper industries. It said it would be uneconomic to cut down forests purely for biomass and that the cost of shipping a tonne of wood pellets from the east coast of the US to the UK was similar to transporting the same amount some 225 miles within the UK. It said that even the most optimistic forecasts for global wood pellet demand suggested it would not exceed 40m tonnes – equivalent to 80m tonnes of wood – a year by 2020.

“Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can replace coal quickly and cost-effectively, providing the same operational benefits while dramatically improving the environmental profile of energy generation,” a company spokesman said.

MGT Power, which is behind a proposed biomass plant on Teesside, potentially the largest of its kind in the world, told the Observer it had dropped plans to source its wood from Brazil, although it denied this was to do with sustainability concerns.

A spokesman said that biomass could be an important green technology for the UK. “We feel very strongly that biomass can provide energy at lower prices than offshore wind,” the spokesman said.

Report: Biomass Dirtier Than Coal

– by Josh Schlossberg, December 21, 2012, The Biomass Monitor 

Friends of the Earth (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland)Greenpeace, and the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds denounce burning trees for electricity as a greater threat to the climate over the coming decades than burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, in a report released in November.

The report, Dirtier Than Coal: Why Government plans to subsidise burning trees are bad news for the planet, criticizes proposals by the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to continue and expand taxpayer subsidies for the biomass power industry. The NGOs accuse the government of ignoring principles set out in the 2012 UK Bioenergy Strategy which called for a biomass energy policy that would “deliver genuine carbon reductions that help meet UK carbon emissions objectives to 2050 and beyond.” According to critics, even the Bioenergy Strategy’s policy conclusions support an expansion of biomass energy and contradict the analysis and cautions about carbon impacts.

Friends of the Earth (FOE)Greenpeace, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) say that the government has “chosen to exclude a number of key sources of emissions” from biomass energy in their carbon calculations, with the findings “based on fundamentally flawed data relating to greenhouse gas implications.” Failure to fix the error and rework biomass policies will come at “considerable cost to the public, and have a damaging impact our climate.”

Dirtier Than Coal alleges that government support for burning trees for electricity “threatens” commitments in the Climate Change Act of 2008 to cut back on greenhouse gases “in terms of actual emissions to the atmosphere in the critical period to 2050, within which we must avert dangerous climate change.” The report authors demand an “immediate review and revision” of the emissions calculations to include those from “carbon debt and indirect substitution,” and to develop a “comprehensive accounting system.” They call for an end to subsidies for burning biomass from saw logs and roundwood because of the compelling evidence for a high carbon debt from burning wood from whole trees.

Carbon debt refers to the increase of carbon in the atmosphere from cutting and burning trees for biomass energy. The report is based on a study by Timothy Searchinger at Princeton University that used DECC data to conclude that burning trees for electricity would emit eighty percent more greenhouse gases than burning coal over a twenty year time frame and forty nine percent more over forty years. Only after one hundred years would burning trees for electricity “perform better than coal,” according to the study.

The environmental groups point out that DECC “ignores the fact that forests are already growing and already storing carbon,” and that when forests are cut and burned for energy, that “carbon storage is reduced” and the CO2 that had been stored in the trees escapes into the atmosphere.

Indirect substitution is what happens when wood is “diverted from existing uses, such as construction and wood panels.” According to DECC data, eighty percent of trees for biomass energy would have to be imported, since the UK has a “limited domestic wood resource that is already in demand from other industries.” The groups claim that ignoring this factor “directly contradicts the UK Bioenergy Strategy.”

Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch says there are many other negative impacts from biomass energy than just carbon dioxide emissions. Since many of the trees that the UK would burn would come from monocrop tree plantations, such as fast-growing eucalyptus in the southeastern US and the global south, “the destruction of biodiversity, the impacts on the livelihoods of local communities, on land and human rights, freshwater, and soil will be very severe.”

Ernsting warns that “if the biomass debate gets reduced to one solely about carbon debt then there is a real danger that energy companies and their consultants will produce enough dubious reports to convince or at least confuse the public and policy makers and thus to ensure that subsidies remain in place.”

Not just environmentalists are condemning the UK government’s biomass boosting. The Wood Panel Industries Federation, an organization representing “industrial manufacturers” of wood chipboard, oriented strand board, and medium density fiberboard in the UK and Ireland launched a campaign—Stop Burning Our Trees—to push back against burning trees for electricity.

The campaign’s goal has been to remove subsidies for tree-fueled biomass due to its impact on the wood panel business, stating that “burning trees will eventually cost hundreds of UK jobs.” Their petition reads that subsidizing tree burning for energy means that “energy companies can afford to pay more for trees than anyone else,” which spikes the price of “timber and hurts businesses that make useful things with wood.”

The Renewable Energy Association (REA), a trade association representing “renewable energy producers” in the UK, issued a statementrebutting Dirtier Than Coal. REA claims that an expansion of logging for biomass power incineration would result in “less neglect of forests,” insisting that forests and the climate benefit more from logging than preservation. The REA also advocates for an increase in old growth logging to fuel biomass power incinerators.

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