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Biomass (Wikipedia) is the oldest form of energy harnessed by humans in the form of wood burning, which still represents the major source of energy for the poorest people in developing countries (with attendant detriment to human health through smoke inhalation, and contribution to global warming through production of Albedo-altering aerosols).

Biological material (usually plant based but also including animal manures) can be burned directly as Biomass or chemically or biologically processed to make Biofuels (such as ethanol or biodiesel).

Solar Biomass David MacKay; SEWTHA Chapter D - more

Relevance to AGW mitigation

According to the IPCC's AR5 synthesis report on Mitigation and Adaptation (Section 4.3): Bioenergy can play a critical role for mitigation, but there are issues to consider, such as the sustainability of practices and the efficiency of bioenergy systems (robust evidence, medium agreement). Evidence suggests that bioenergy options with low lifecycle emissions, some already available, can reduce GHG emissions; outcomes are site‐specific and rely on efficient integrated ‘biomass‐to‐bioenergy systems’, and sustainable land use management and governance. Barriers to large‐scale deployment of bioenergy include concerns about GHG emissions from land, food security, water resources, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods.

Anaerobic Digestion

Anaerobic digestion Wikipedia

Biogas Wikpedia

Farm-Scale Anaerobic Digestion Plant Efficiency Lucy Hopwood; NNFCC; Mar 2011

The Coalition Agreement, published in May 2010, stated ‘We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through AD’ with the focus therefore on maximising the efficient use of available waste.
While on-farm AD plants can theoretically operate using only manures and slurries, stakeholders have informed DECC that, in order to operate efficiently and cost-effectively, a certain amount of ‘energy crop’ is required. This project seeks to determine how much, if any, energy crop is required to ensure that on-farm AD plants using slurry or manure as the primary feedstock are able to operate effectively and the amount required, where necessary, to make the plant cost-effective.
The operations and economics of farm-based AD projects vary dependent on the existing farmingsystem, availability and seasonality of feedstocks, labour and capital, and the output requirements of the operator.
A number of scenarios have been modelled in this project to illustrate the impact on costs and returns of including energy crop material in a dairy slurry-based AD system. Three ‘typical’ farm sizes, combined with a range of slurry to crop ratios and three crop types were modelled.
The crops most appropriate for production in the UK as a supplementary feedstock for AD are maize silage, grass silage and wholecrop cereals. Grass silage is the most productive, with annual yields around 45 fresh tonnes per hectare, compared with 40t/ha for maize and 28t/ha for wholecrop wheat. Production systems are quite different; maize and wheat are annuals that are harvested only once in their lifetime and therefore require more intensive labour input to cultivate and sow the crop each year but minimal input at harvest; grass on the other hand is a perennial with a lifetime of 7 – 10 years, requiring less frequent cultivation and sowing but will be harvested up to three times per year.
Figure 2: Biogas yield data for a range of potential feedstocks
168 m^3 per fresh tonne for grass silage
Table 3: Methane yield ranges for a number of possible crop feedstocks (m^3 per t volatile solids)
Grass 298 - 467
Clover grass 290 - 390
Sudan grass 213 - 303
Reed Canary Grass 340 - 430
Ryegrass 390 - 410
Grass typically yields around 45 tonnes of fresh material per hectare per year. The first cut will be the most productive with subsequent cuts achieving lower yields.
The land areas required for feeding the digester are not insignificant; on an average dairy farm over 70% of the land area is already committed to providing grazing and forage for the cattle, leaving relatively small areas to produce other products and to supply crops for the AD plant. At all scales the likelihood is that supplementary feed, either for the plant or the dairy herd, will have to be bought in from local suppliers or neighbouring farms.

Biogas from Energy Crop Digestion Rudolf BRAUN, Peter WEILAND, Arthur WELLINGER; IEA Bioenergy; Jan 2015?

Currently some 80% of the world‘s overall energy supply of about 400 EJ per year is derived from fossil fuels. Nevertheless roughly 10–15% of this demand is covered by biomass resources, making biomass by far the most important renewable energy source used to date. On average, in the industrialised countries biomass contributes by some 3 –13% to the total energy supplies, but in developing countries this proportion is much higher. In quite a number of countries biomass covers even over 50 to 90% of the total energy demand.
Biomass combustion is responsible for over 90% of the current production of secondary energy carriers from biomass. Liquid biofuels cover only a small part and the most used are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is produced from sugar- or starch crops, while biodiesel is derived from vegetable oils or animal fats.
Currently biogas plays a smaller, but steadily growing role. Traditionally applied for sewage sludge treatmentand stabilisation purposes, energy recovery from biogas was a welcome by-product. However, biogas has become a well established energy resource, especially through the use of renewable biomass i.e. “energy crops”. Since about 1950, biogas production from manure and /or energy crops, continued to develop as an important new farm enterprise.

The Potential for Biogas Production from Grass Jehad K. Abu-Dahrieh, Angela Orozco, Mohammad Ahmad, David Rooney; Jordan International Energy Conference; 2011

Abstract: Grass is generally considered as one of the major agricultural products and covers over 90% of Irish agricultural land. While useful as an animal feedstock it can also be used for energy production. Here batch mesophilic anaerobic digestion of grass silage was studied. The methane concentration in the biogas clearly showed that grass silage has a high affinity to produce a high quality methane steam between 70-80%. Investigation of the effect of inoculum to substrate ratio on methane yield from grass silage using BMP (batch) anaerobic digester under mesophilic conditions, showed that the optimum I/S ratio is approximately 1 with a maximum methane yield of 0.385 m3 kg-1COD

Feedstocks The Official Information Portal on Anaerobic Digestion

m^3 / t
Grass silage 160-200 (28% DM)
Grass 298-467

Power density


  • 168 m^3 per fresh tonne for grass silage
  • Grass typically yields around 45 tonnes of fresh material per hectare per year.
  • 1 hectare = 10,000 m^2

This gives (168 * 45 / 10,000) = 0.756 m^3 gas per m^2 land per year

National Grid gives:

  • Calorific Value of natural gas = 37.5 - 43.0 -- say 40 -- MJ/m^3
  • 3.6MJ = 1 kWh so 1 m^3 gas ~= 40/3.6 = 11.1 kWh

Thus power density of grass silage -> AD -> NG = (0.756 * 11.1 / 365 * 24) = 0.96 kW / m^2 ??? can't be right


Campaign For Green Gas Green Gas: The Opportunity for Britain

We knew that our Green Gas Mills were going to be a revolution in gas, but we wanted to see just how much potential they really had. So we commissioned a study to look into this.
The results were better than we could have imagined. The report found that green gas made from grass could potentially power 97% of Britain’s homes, employ 75,000 people and inject £7.5 billion into the rural economy every year.
Green gas will cut carbon emissions, help Britain to become energy independent, support food production by improving soils, create wildlife habitats, and support farmers who will lose EU subsidies as a result of Brexit.
And these are long term targets – in the short term, green gas can play a key role in helping to meet our 2020 renewable heat target by delivering 12% of heating demand.

Green Gas report pdf Green Gas summary pdf

Ecotricity’s Green Gas Mill at Sparsholt College gets go-ahead 13 Oct 2016

Located at Sparsholt College in Hampshire and fuelled by locally sourced grass, the Green Gas Mill will inject £60 million into the local economy, create new jobs, and produce enough clean gas to heat over 4,000 homes every year. As part of the unique partnership, Ecotricity will finance and build the Green Gas Mill with an investment of £10 million, and also help fund the development of a Renewable Energy Demonstration Centre. The College has agreed funding of £1.2m in grant funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership (M3 LEP) to go towards the development of the College’s Renewable Energy Demonstration Centre. The Renewable Energy Demonstration Centre will also be the first of its kind – a place to train the next generation of green energy engineers in Britain. Ecotricity introduced the concept of making green gas from grass in Britain early last year, and after today’s planning permission from Winchester City Council, it will be full speed ahead to complete the necessary preparation before construction can begin.


University of East Anglia abandons ambitious biomass scheme

Sources say £10.5m plant intended to burn woodchip to power much of the university has never worked
A UEA spokesman said that the unit had provided energy, but using gas rather than woodchip.

Feeding Biogas Reactors at Longer Intervals Produces More Biogas Tek-Think; 18 Mar 2016

Biogas production has long been a valuable technology, as the constant feed of organic raw materials such as energy crops, manure, sewage sludge, catch crops and plant residues helps produce energy around the clock. The ability to produce energy at a constant rate is a clear advantage over other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy, which depend on the wind or sun for production. As a result of this ability, Germany currently has around 8,000 biogas plants installed, with a total electricity output of approximately 4,500 megawatts. Around seven percent of the electricity generated in Germany now comes from biomass. It is hoped that even more electricity will be produced from this source in the future. Scientists from the UFZ, the University of Aarhus (Denmark) and the DBFZ succeeded in increasing the production of methane, the most valuable component of biogas, by up to 14 percent under laboratory conditions when the scientists added the substrate to the fermentation tank at intervals of between one and two days compared to the conventional interval of every two hours feeding.

small scale

Household air pollution and health World Health Organisation Fact sheet N°292; Feb 2016

  • Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.
  • Over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels.
  • More than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the particulate matter (soot) inhaled from household air pollution.
  • 3.8 million premature deaths annually from noncommunicable diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are attributed to exposure to household air pollution.

Woodsmoke health effects: a review Naeher LP, Brauer M, Lipsett M, Zelikoff JT, Simpson CD, Koenig JQ, Smith KR; Inhalation Toxicology; Jan 2007 (T&Fonline)

The sentiment that woodsmoke, being a natural substance, must be benign to humans is still sometimes heard. It is now well established, however, that wood-burning stoves and fireplaces as well as wildland and agricultural fires emit significant quantities of known health-damaging pollutants, including several carcinogenic compounds. Two of the principal gaseous pollutants in woodsmoke, CO and NOx, add to the atmospheric levels of these regulated gases emitted by other combustion sources. Health impacts of exposures to these gases and some of the other woodsmoke constituents (e.g., benzene) are well characterized in thousands of publications. As these gases are indistinguishable no matter where they come from, there is no urgent need to examine their particular health implications in woodsmoke. With this as the backdrop, this review approaches the issue of why woodsmoke may be a special case requiring separate health evaluation through two questions. The first question we address is whether woodsmoke should be regulated and/or managed separately, even though some of its separate constituents are already regulated in many jurisdictions. The second question we address is whether woodsmoke particles pose different levels of risk than other ambient particles of similar size. To address these two key questions, we examine several topics: the chemical and physical nature of woodsmoke; the exposures and epidemiology of smoke from wildland fires and agricultural burning, and related controlled human laboratory exposures to biomass smoke; the epidemiology of outdoor and indoor woodsmoke exposures from residential woodburning in developed countries; and the toxicology of woodsmoke, based on animal exposures and laboratory tests. In addition, a short summary of the exposures and health effects of biomass smoke in developing countries is provided as an additional line of evidence. In the concluding section, we return to the two key issues above to summarize (1) what is currently known about the health effects of inhaled woodsmoke at exposure levels experienced in developed countries, and (2) whether there exists sufficient reason to believe that woodsmoke particles are sufficiently different to warrant separate treatment from other regulated particles. In addition, we provide recommendations for additional woodsmoke research.

Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Sustainability / Emissions

'Carbon-neutrality is a fairy tale': how the race for renewables is burning Europe's forests Hazel Sheffield; The Guardian; 14 Jan 2021

Wood pellets are sold as a clean alternative to coal. But is the subsidised bioenergy boom accelerating the climate crisis? 2015, the Estonian government allowed what is known as clear-cutting in some parts of the Haanja nature reserve. The practice involves stripping entire areas of mature forest and removing whole tree trunks.

This relaxation of the logging rules came as international demand for Estonian wood soared – not just for furniture or construction, but because of an unlikely culprit: Europe’s renewable energy policies.


Forests cover 2m hectares or more than half of Estonia. Around 380,000 hectares (939,000 acres) of that, including the Haanja nature reserve, fall under the EU’s Natura 2000 network, which is designed to protect Europe’s forests and offer a haven to rare and threatened species. Haanja is home to 29 protected species, including the black stork, the lesser-spotted eagle and the corncrake.

Natura-protected zones are managed under the legally binding provisions of the 1979 EU birds directive and the 1992 habitats directive. But logging is governed by domestic laws, and Estonia permits it as long as it does not damage bogs and other special habitats, or fall within bird mating seasons.

Campaigners say that by allowing intensive clear-cutting in Natura 2000 sites, Estonia is in breach of the habitats directive and undermining the EU’s climate goals.

Siim Kuresoo of the non-profit Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) doesn’t just blame the Estonian government. He says there is a direct connection between the subsidised growth in the biomass industry encouraged by EU renewable energy policies and the acceleration of unsustainable Baltic tree-felling.

“There is clear evidence that the intensification of logging is at least partly driven by higher demand for biomass for heat and power,” says a report co-authored by Kuresoo for the ELF and the Latvian Ornithological Society. “Given that over half of Estonia’s and Latvia’s wood pellet exports in 2019 went to Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, ‘green energy’ use in those three countries contributes directly to increased logging in the two Baltic states.”

The Council of Estonian Environmental NGOs (EKO), of which the ELF is a member, has made a complaint to the European commission alleging “systematic” breaches by Estonia of its forest conservation obligations.

To investigate the subsidised European pellet trade and its impact on Baltic forests, we uploaded boundary files for Estonia’s Natura 2000 zones to Global Forest Watch, an online platform for monitoring forests, and found that per-hectare tree cover loss (the removal of the tree canopy rather than outright deforestation) in these areas accelerated after 2015. That was when the government adjusted park conservation rules to allow clear-cutting of up to one hectare at a time in some nature reserves.

Across Estonia, between 2001 and 2019, Natura 2000 areas lost more than 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of forest cover, an area more than twice the size of Manhattan. The last five years account for 80% of that loss. Further alterations to rules in other Estonian national parks are planned.

This acceleration appears to be taking a toll on bird species like the black grouse, woodlark and others. Woodland birds are declining at a rate of 50,000 breeding pairs a year, according to national records.

The clearances are also damaging the ability of Baltic forests to store carbon, and could be undermining climate goals by reducing the chance for Estonia and Latvia to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Role of Bioenergy in Achieving Sustainability Ripu; A Cubic Mile Of Oil blog; 26 June 2020

I was recently invited to give a keynote address at an international conference on Bioenergy and Sustainability. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic the conference was held virtually over Zoom. What follows is an abstract of my presentation; the full lecture can be accessed here.

The word sustainability shares its root with sustenance. In the case of modern society sustenance comes from use of energy, which is derives from many sources: oil, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear, wind, solar, and biomass. Annual consumption of global energy is equivalent to 4 cubic miles of oil (cmo), about 3 of which are obtained from fossil sources: oil, coal, and natural gas.

The dominance of fossil energy in the global mix has been longstanding—ever since the dawn of the industrial revolution in the mid nineteenth century. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from 280 ppm to over 400 ppm and continues to rise. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and it and now threatens life as we know it from the resulting climate change. To avert devastation from climate change or constrained energy supply, the world desperately needs sources of clean, carbon-free energy that together can scale to cmo levels.

Much emphasis has been placed in recent years on resources like wind and solar to provide clean electricity. Technological advances have led to dramatic reductions in their costs and their advocates now propose a future powered entirely by them. However, these costs do not include the cost of storage, currently provided by natural gas, nor do they consider the environmental cost of mining for the materials needed for their installation. Scaling them to a 100%-renewables scenario will strain the global supply of commodities like steel, concrete, glass, and aluminum; clearly not a sustainable scenario.

Burning biomass has been proposed as a fuel source; indeed, prior to the industrial revolution the world once derived 100% of its energy from bio sources. Unlike wind and solar, bioenergy sources are storable and do not suffer from intermittency. However, biomass use also results in emitting CO2. The only reason these emissions are not counted is that the regrowth of the biomass would take an equivalent amount of CO2 out of the air. For this assumption to hold, it is important that we consider harvesting only rapidly growing biomass or annual crops.

Global biomass production is substantial; it is estimated that 75 Gt (gigatons, or 109 tons) of biomass are produced annually. Most of the biomass is in the forests and oceans and not readily recoverable, nor is it desirable to cut down this “sequestered” carbon and burn it. The estimate for recoverable biomass resource is only 3 Gt/y. At a heating value of 15 GJ/t (gigajoules/ton) the energy from these 3 Gt of biomass would correspond to only 0.3 cmo. The low energy density of biomass translates into large areas over which the biomass to be harvested and transported to the power plant: 160 sq. miles of fast growing trees each year to power a single 100 MW plant.

Clearly, we cannot rely on biomass to meet global energy demand for clean energy. Yet, there are some applications where energy from biomass is uniquely suited. Production biofuels is one such example, and many conversion of starch in grains into bioethanol is a thriving business—thanks in large part to the support the industry receives from various state agencies. There are also processes for converting lignocellulosic wastes into biofuels, although there deployment has been hampered by high costs. The main reason for using biofuels is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; however, on a life-cycle basis the biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 20% and 40%!

Co-firing biomass, particularly waste biomass, may provide only a limited amount of energy, but it would help enormously with waste management since many municipalities are running out of landfill space. Likewise, utilizing agricultural waste in an engineered system rather than open-field burning would go a long way in reducing urban pollution in many countries.

True sustainability demands a scalable source of clean and cheap electricity. Nuclear power can deliver that. It has the smallest environmental footprint and the best safety record, but public concerns over plant safety, long-term storage of waste, and cost are considerable obstacles. Getting the public to embrace nuclear power is a Herculean task, but it must be undertaken. We have to (i) educate the public (ii) stop closing functional nuclear power plants; (iii) expand the fleet of nuclear power plants; and (iv) develop and deploy the next generation of walk-away safe plants that can also use the spent fuel as a resource.

Europe’s renewable energy directive poised to harm global forests Timothy D. Searchinger, Tim Beringer, Bjart Holtsmark, Daniel M. Kammen, Eric F. Lambin, Wolfgang Lucht, Peter Raven & Jean-Pascal van Ypersele; Nature Communications; 2018

This comment raises concerns regarding the way in which a new European directive, aimed at reaching higher renewable energy targets, treats wood harvested directly for bioenergy use as a carbon-free fuel. The result could consume quantities of wood equal to all Europe’s wood harvests, greatly increase carbon in the air for decades, and set a dangerous global example.

Europe’s renewable energy strategy will destroy forests and harm climate, scientists warn Josh Gabbatiss; Independent; 13 Sep 2018

Leading climate scientists have denounced the EU’s decision to push wood as a “renewable” energy source. They say the move will likely result in both a boost in greenhouse gas emissions across Europe and devastation of some of the world’s most ancient forests. Not only are forests home to much of the planet’s biodiversity, they absorb climate-damaging CO2 from the atmosphere and are therefore considered a vital buffer against climate change. Despite this, earlier this summer European officials decided – against the advice of hundreds of scientists – that wood could be considered a low-carbon fuel, meaning that trees can be cut down directly to burn.


A documentary about the burning of wood at an industrial scale for energy, "BURNED: Are Trees the New Coal?" tells the little-known story of the accelerating destruction of our forests for fuel, and probes the policy loopholes, huge subsidies, and blatant greenwashing of the burgeoning biomass power industry.

By independent filmmakers Marlboro Films, LLC: Alan Dater, Lisa Merton, and Chris Hardee.

Europe’s green energy policy is a disaster for the environment Michael Le Page; New Scientist; 2 Dec 2016

The European Union’s proposals for revising its renewable energy policies are greenwashing and don’t solve the serious flaws, say environmental groups.

The EU gets 65 per cent of its renewable energy from biofuels – mainly wood – but it is failing to ensure this bioenergy comes from sustainable sources, and results in less emissions than burning fossil fuels. Its policies in some cases are leading to deforestation, biodiversity loss and putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than burning coal.

New EU Wood Energy Rules Threaten Climate, Forests John Upton; Climate Central; 19 Dec 2016

As American foresters ramp up logging to meet the growing demand for wood pellets by power plants on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a new European wood energy proposal would allow the power plants to continue claiming their operations are green for at least 13 more years, despite releasing more heat-trapping pollution than coal.

Most of the wood fueling converted coal plants in England, Denmark and other European countries is coming from North American forests. Each month, about 1 million tons of tree trunks and branches from southern U.S. pine plantations and natural forests is being turned into pellets and shipped to European power plants, mostly to Drax power station in the U.K.

The growing transatlantic trade is being financed with billions of dollars in European climate subsidies because of a regulatory loophole that allows wood energy to count as if it’s as clean as solar or wind energy, when in reality it’s often worse for the climate than burning coal. Only the pollution released when wood pellets are produced and transported is counted on climate ledgers. Actual pollution from the smokestack — by far the greatest source of carbon pollution from wood energy — is overlooked.

UK burning wood from U.S. forests to meet EU renewables targets

Not everyone is delighted over countries using wood pellets to meet "renewable" energy targets, and they are speaking up about the issue. A consortium of NGO's published a paper on September 6, 2015, arguing that the EU should exclude wood from its renewable energy targets.

The group's argument is worth consideration because they claim that hardwood wetland forests are being cut down in the Southeastern U.S., and in effect this is causing a greater lack of biodiversity and adding to the increase in carbon emissions.

When you add to the cutting down of the trees the cost of using transportation to bring the wood to a seaport for shipment across the Atlantic, it is questionable where the sustainability is supposed to be in this practice. You could argue that the forest will regrow, but in the meantime, there is a loss of wildlife habitat, and the soil doesn't store as much biomass as it would if left undisturbed.

It should also be noted that a UK study published in July 2014 showed that energy produced from regenerated forests produced a carbon intensity that was five-times higher than coal.

The EU is emitting way more greenhouse gases than it says

'Wood-pellet fuel emits more carbon than coal': U.S. watchdog to probe shock claims on power giant Drax's 'green' supplier David Rose; This Is Money (Daily Mail?); 12 Mar 2016

How Europe’s climate policies led to more U.S. trees being cut down Joby Warrick; Washington Post; 2 Jun 2015

For the sake of a greener Europe, thousands of American trees are falling each month in the forests outside this cotton-country town. ... Each day, dozens of trucks haul freshly cut oaks and poplars to a nearby factory where the wood is converted into small pellets, to be used as fuel in European power plants. Soaring demand for this woody fuel has led to the construction of more than two dozen pellet factories in the Southeast in the past decade, along with special port facilities in Virginia and Georgia where mountains of pellets are loaded onto Europe-bound freighters. European officials promote the trade as part of the fight against climate change. Burning “biomass” from trees instead of coal, they say, means fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But that claim is increasingly coming under challenge. A number of independent experts and scientific studies ... are casting doubt on a key argument used to justify the cutting of Southern forests to make fuel. In reality, these scientists say, Europe’s appetite for wood pellets could lead to more carbon pollution for decades to come, while also putting some of the East Coast’s most productive wildlife habitats at risk.

Carbon Emission Estimates for Drax biomass powerplants in the UK sourcing from Enviva Pellet Mills in U.S. Southeastern Hardwoods using the BEAC model Dr. Thomas Buchholz, Dr. John Gunn; Spatial Informatics Group; 27 May 2015

Looking for reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, governments across the globe promote biomass as a feedstock to this end. However, GHG emissions from biomass are challenging to calculate based on carbon stock changes on the landscape as well as emissions along the production, transportation, and conversion chain. The UK government has released a model to calculate emissions associated with biomass sourced in the US. This study analyzes emission profiles for the utility company Drax that operates wood pellet-fired power plants in the UK. This feedstock is to a large extent derived from three Enviva operated pellet mills in the Southeastern US, namely Ahoskie and Northampton in North Carolina and Southampton in Virginia. Using publicly available data on biomass consumption and origin for the three Enviva plants, we created customized emission profiles using default model outputs from the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change’s (DECC) BEAC (Biomass Emissions And Counterfactual) Model. According to the BEAC model, electricity derived from biomass sourced through additional hardwood harvests in the southeastern US is associated with emissions exceeding the UK’s emission standard for coal stations converted to biomass of 285 kg CO
e/MWh by over eleven times. Based on BEAC model outputs, customized feedstock mixes for the Enviva plants exceed this standard by at least five to nine times. In order to meet the standard of 285 kg CO
e/MWh, a maximum of 8% of biomass from additional hardwood harvests could be contained in the feedstock mix, assuming i) a minimum analytical timeframe of 40 years and ii) that the remainder of the feedstock mix is derived from low-emission saw mill residues only.

Europe's 'renewable' energy plan is actually destroying US forests Rebecca Harrington; Tech Insider; 23 Dec 2015

Europe imported more than 4 million tons of wood pellets from US forests last year and wrote it all off as renewable energy. A new report from Climate Central exposes how 4.4 million tons of wood pellets were cut from American forests last year, and 98% of it was shipped to Europe to be burnt for energy. Because of a loophole, the European Union classifies this wood-generated electricity as "carbon neutral," though research actually indicates it's more environmentally dangerous in the short term.

UK’s renewable energy targets drive increases in U.S. wood pellet exports US Energy Information Administration; 22 Apr 2015

Enviva Wood Pellets Enviva


Forests in southern states are disappearing to supply Europe with energy Adam Macon; Salon; 18 Oct 2016

In the past 60 years, we’ve lost 33 million acres of natural forests in the southern U.S. Many of them are coastal wetlands forests, which act as life jackets against hurricanes for coastal communities. These forests would have helped to save homes and lives in eastern North Carolina from the ongoing impacts from Hurricane Matthew—if they were still standing. The intense European demand for wood pellets has put at risk 15 million acres of unprotected southern forests (about the size of West Virginia), and more than 600 imperiled, threatened or endangered species. It’s become abundantly clear: Now is the time to act to protect southern forests. In 2009 the European Union, in an admirable and necessary effort to increase renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, passed a new energy policy. This policy considered any and all biomass material as “renewable energy.” It created a major loophole for energy companies, allowing them to now burn forest wood from industrial timber operations in power stations—and receive government incentives to do it. It raised a critical question: Where would Europe get all this wood to feed a growing demand? Energy companies quickly turned to one of the world’s largest wood-producing regions: the southern United States. In just a few years, the southern U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets, the prefered form of biomass for industrial use. Last year alone, over 5 million tons of wood pellets were exported from the South directly to markets in Europe. This arrangement has had serious impacts on the climate, communities and forests of the region.

Burning Wood May Do More Harm Than Good Sami Grover; TreeHugger; 27 Sep 2010

Biomass – a burning issue Nick Grant, Alan Clarke; Association of Environmentally Conscious Builders

In this short discussion paper from September 2010, Nick Grant and Alan Clarke consider whether it is right — or helpful — to define biomass fuel as zero carbon

The use of biomass as a 'low or zero carbon fuel' is increasingly being adopted as the default solution to meet emission targets for new buildings. This approach is fundamentally misguided and is leading to increased UK carbon emissions1. This paper demonstrates that there is a crucial distinction between viewing biomass as a renewable fuel - in that plant matter can be self- renewing - and as a low carbon fuel. This is because the amount of plant matter that can renew itself each year is finite, and plant matter burnt for heat reduces the amount available for other sequestered uses, for example as a building structural material or insulant.

The huge flaw in how Congress is approaching burning wood for energy Chelsea Harvey; Washington Post; 16 Jun 2016

some potential new legislation, which critics claim relies on scientifically questionable assumptions, has scientists and environmentalists worried about taking a step backward when it comes to climate goals. The controversy centers on a specific provision in the House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 regarding the burning of biomass (typically wood and other plant material) for energy. The bill proposes that the Environmental Protection Agency treat biomass energy as carbon neutral —that is, the agency would assume the practice does not contribute any extra greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere — under certain conditions.

Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate Duncan Brack; Chatham House; 23 Feb 2017

Current biomass policy frameworks are not fit for purpose and require substantial changes to ensure they contribute to mitigating climate change rather than exacerbating it.

Most wood energy schemes are a 'disaster' for climate change By Matt McGrath; BBC; 23 Feb 2017

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.

Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy? FRED PEARCE; Yale Environment 360; 19 Dec 2017

A loophole in carbon-accounting rules is spurring a boom in burning wood pellets in European power plants. The result has been a surge in logging, particularly in the U.S. South, and new doubts about whether Europe can meet its commitments under the Paris accord.

Beddinton, Caldeira et al letter

EU must not burn the world’s forests for ‘renewable’ energy

Euractive and The Guardian 14 Dec 2017

Prof John Beddington, Oxford Martin School, former chief scientist to the UK government; Prof Steven Berry, Yale University; Prof Ken Caldeira*, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science; Wolfgang Cramer*, research director (CNRS), Mediterranean Institute of marine and terrestrial biodiversity and ecology; Felix Creutzig*, chair Sustainability Economics of Human Settlement at Berlin Technical University and leader at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change; Prof Dan Kammen*, University of California at Berkeley, director Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory; Prof Eric Lambin Université catholique de Louvain and Stanford University; Prof Simon Levin, Princeton University, recipient US National Medal of Science; Prof Wolfgang Lucht*, Humboldt University and co-chair of Potsdam Institute for Climate Research; Prof Georgina Mace FRS*, University College London; Prof William Moomaw*, Tufts University; Prof Peter Raven, director emeritus Missouri Botanical Society, recipient US National Medal of Science; Tim Searchinger, research scholar, Princeton University and senior fellow, World Resources Institute; Prof Nils Christian Stenseth, University of Oslo, past president of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters; Prof Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Université Catholique de Louvain, former IPCC vice-chair (2008-2015). Those marked * have been lead authors on IPCC reports.

The European Union is moving to enact a directive to double Europe’s current renewable energy by 2030. This is admirable, but a critical flaw in the present version would accelerate climate change, allowing countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees and burning them for energy fully qualifies as renewable energy.

Even a small part of Europe’s energy requires a large quantity of trees and to avoid profound harm to the climate and forests worldwide the European council and parliament must fix this flaw.

European producers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products, using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Most of this material would decompose and release carbon dioxide in a few years anyway, so using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in a few years too.

Unfortunately, the directive moving through parliament would go beyond wastes and residues and credit countries and companies for cutting down additional trees simply to burn them for energy. To do so has fundamentally different consequences because the carbon released into the air would otherwise stay locked up in forests.

The reasoning seems to be that so long as forests re-grow, they will eventually reabsorb the carbon released. Yet even then, the net effect – as many studies have shown – will typically be to increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The reasons begin with the inherent inefficiencies in harvesting wood. Typically, around one third or more of each tree is contained in roots and small branches that are properly left in the forest to protect soils, and most of which decompose, emitting carbon. The wood that is burned releases even more carbon than coal per unit of energy generated, and burns at a lower temperature, producing less electricity – turning wood into compressed pellets increases efficiency but uses energy and creates large additional emissions.

A power plant burning wood chips will typically emit one and a half times the carbon dioxide of a plant burning coal and at least three times the carbon dioxide emitted by a power plant burning natural gas.

Although regrowing trees absorb carbon, trees grow slowly, and for some years a regrowing forest absorbs less carbon than if the forest were left unharvested.

Eventually, the new forest grows faster and the carbon it absorbs, plus the reduction in fossil fuels, can pay back the “carbon debt”, but that takes decades to centuries, depending on the forest type and use. We conservatively estimate that using deliberately harvested wood instead of fossil fuels will release at least twice as much carbon dioxide to the air by 2050 per kilowatt hour. Doing so turns a potential reduction in emissions from solar or wind into a large increase.

Time matters. Placing an additional carbon load in the atmosphere for decades means permanent damage due to more rapid melting of permafrost and glaciers, and more packing of heat and acidity into the world’s oceans. At a critical moment when countries need to be “buying time” against climate change, this approach amounts to selling the world’s limited time to combat climate change under mistaken claims of improvement.

The effect on the world’s forests, carbon and biodiversity is likely to be large because even though Europe is a large producer of wood, its harvest could only supply about 6% of its primary energy. For more than a decade, the increased use of biomass has been supplying roughly half of Europe’s increase in renewable energy. To supply even one third of the additional renewable energy likely required by 2030, Europe would need to burn an amount of wood greater than its total harvest today. This would turn a likely 6% decrease in energy emissions by 2050 under the directive through solar and wind into at least a 6% increase.

Europe’s own demand for wood would degrade forests around the world, but if other countries follow Europe’s example, the impacts would be even more dangerous. Instead of encouraging Indonesia and Brazil to preserve their tropical forests – Europe’s present position – the message of this directive is “cut your forests so long as someone burns them for energy”. Once countries are invested in such efforts, fixing the error may become impossible. To supply just an additional 3% of global energy with wood, the world needs to double its commercial wood harvests at great costs to carbon and wildlife.

Neither a requirement that forests be managed sustainably nor any other “safeguards” in the various working drafts would stop this. For example, the directive would ban wood if harvests undermined “the long-term productivity capacity of the forest”. Although that sounds good, preserving the capacity of trees to grow back still leaves more carbon in the air for at least decades. Restricting wood harvests to countries with net growing forests – another idea – would still take carbon that forests would otherwise add to their storage and instead put it in the air without meaningful global limits.

The solution is to restrict eligible forest biomass to its traditional sources of residues and waste. Legislators will likely be able to vote on such an amendment in the parliament’s plenary.

By 1850, the use of wood for bioenergy helped drive the near deforestation of western Europe even at a time when Europeans consumed relatively little energy. Although coal helped to save the forests of Europe, the solution is not to go back to burning forests. As scientists, we collectively have played key roles in the IPCC, in advising European governments, and in forest and climate research. We encourage European legislators and other policymakers to amend the present directive because the fate of much of the world’s forests is literally at stake.


Slightly differently worded version of letter

Good Energy advertising claims

Good Energy advert banned for 'no carbon dioxide' claim Josie Clarke; Independent; 28 Feb 2018

An advert for one of Britain’s largest renewable energy suppliers has been banned for claiming the electricity it supplies emits no carbon dioxide.

Good Energy’s website said in September: “An average unit of electricity in the UK (a kilowatt hour or kWh) results in 360g of carbon dioxide (CO
) emissions and 0.007g of radioactive waste.

“But the electricity we supply contains 0g of CO
and no radioactive waste. This will never change.”

A reader, who believed that Good Energy used biomass energy, which they understood produced more CO
than coal when burnt, complained that the company’s claim was misleading.

Good Energy, which supplies around 200,000 customers, gave the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) information from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) saying biomass fuels were considered a form of renewable energy, and that renewable energy sources produced 0g/kWh of CO
compared with coal which produced 925g/kWh.

The ASA said consumers would understand Good Energy’s claim to mean that no CO
was emitted in generating the electricity and supplying it to consumers, regardless of whether the source was a form of renewable energy.

It noted that advertising rules required environmental claims to be based on the full life cycle of the product, which in Good Energy’s case included import or export, transport of the raw material to processing plants, crushing and processing to produce biofuel and transport of the biofuel.

The ASA said: “We considered even if those emissions were offset, this did not mean no CO
was emitted.

“Because we considered the claim would be interpreted to relate to the amount of CO
emitted throughout the full life cycle of all sources of Good Energy’s electricity, we concluded the claim that the energy supplied by Good Energy contained 0g of CO
had not been substantiated and therefore was misleading.”

"Katan, NRC 2 Dec 2019: evidence that pellets are made from trees", Prof Dr Martijn B Katan, personal website, 2 Dec 2019

This Tuesday [Dec 3, 2019], the Dutch Senate will discuss the Coal Act.[1]That states that within five to ten years power stations will no longer be allowed to burn coal because of the CO
emissions. Energy company RWE is therefore switching to biomass for its power stations. For this they use compressed wood sticks, so-called pellets. Opponents say that these are made from whole trees. Because wood emits more CO2 during burning than coal, the problem becomes worse. No, the proponents say, pellets are made from waste that is otherwise burned anyway, so that CO2 does not count.[2]What are pellets really made of?


Abrupt increase in harvested forest area over Europe after 2015 Guido Ceccherini, Gregory Duveiller, Giacomo Grassi, Guido Lemoine, Valerio Avitabile, Roberto Pilli & Alessandro Cescatti; Nature; 1 July 2020


Forests provide a series of ecosystem services that are crucial to our society. In the European Union (EU), forests account for approximately 38% of the total land surface1. These forests are important carbon sinks, and their conservation efforts are vital for the EU’s vision of achieving climate neutrality by 20502. However, the increasing demand for forest services and products, driven by the bioeconomy, poses challenges for sustainable forest management. Here we use fine-scale satellite data to observe an increase in the harvested forest area (49 per cent) and an increase in biomass loss (69 per cent) over Europe for the period of 2016–2018 relative to 2011–2015, with large losses occurring on the Iberian Peninsula and in the Nordic and Baltic countries. Satellite imagery further reveals that the average patch size of harvested area increased by 34 per cent across Europe, with potential effects on biodiversity, soil erosion and water regulation. The increase in the rate of forest harvest is the result of the recent expansion of wood markets, as suggested by econometric indicators on forestry, wood-based bioenergy and international trade. If such a high rate of forest harvest continues, the post-2020 EU vision of forest-based climate mitigation may be hampered, and the additional carbon losses from forests would require extra emission reductions in other sectors in order to reach climate neutrality by 20503.

Baltics / Estonia

Drax Wood Pellets Have Devastating Impact On Baltic Forests, Report Shows Caitlin Tilley; deSmog UK; 4 Dec 2020

Drax's “insatiable” demand for wood is harming Baltic forests, campaigners have claimed following the publication of a damning report.

Compiled by NGOs in Estonia and Latvia, the report reveals that together the two countries exported more than three million tonnes of wood pellets last year – equivalent to at least 200 square kilometres of clearcut forest.

The authors argue that the intensification of logging is reinforced by biomass demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Orsted, RWE and Drax.

Kelsey Perlman, a climate campaigner for forests NGO Fern, said the report exposed “a glaring paradox at the heart of the EU’s environmental policies”.

“This report reveals the intolerable pressure facing some of the most valuable habitats in Estonia and Latvia,” she told DeSmog.

“The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which allows Member States to subsidise burning woody biomass under the banner of ‘green energy’, has a clear role in the destruction of forests and wildlife, which are meant to be protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 policy.”

Almuth Ernsting, a campaigner from NGO Biofuelwatch, said the report showed how forests in the Baltic States are being “harmed by Drax’s insatiable demand for wood”.

“Stopping and redirecting subsidies for burning wood in power stations will help protect forests in each of those regions,” he added.


The report reveals that intensive logging, which includes an increasing share of logging for wood pellets, has led to Latvian forests releasing more carbon than they absorb and store.

An Estonian Government report demonstrates that under the current policy, the country’s Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry Sector (LULUCF) would turn into a net source of greenhouse gas emissions by 2034 and that the current forest carbon sink would decrease by almost 50 percent over the next five years.

Estonia and Latvia are vital exporters of wood biomass for energy to European countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. They are heavily forested and in 2016-18, recorded 85 percent more logging than between 2004 and 2015. Clearcutting, extracting every tree from an area, is the main industry procedure for removing wood.

Dr. Viesturs Kerus from the Latvian Ornithological Society, which analysed data for the report, said: “The absurd idea that more intensive logging of forests and burning wood is somehow good for the climate is still widely promoted in Latvia.”

“The hard numbers show the opposite: the increasing logging intensity in Latvia and Estonia is not only reducing the ability of forests to absorb carbon, but also destroying precious habitats and threatening forest-dwelling species.”


This increase in logging intensity has serious consequences for biodiversity in both countries. Over the past decade, 14 percent of Estonia’s old-growth forests have been degraded to the point that they can no longer be considered old-growth. The number of breeding forest birds is also decreasing by 50,000 pairs each year and habitat destruction by logging is a key contributing factor.

Devastating logging, including clearcuts, is also taking place in Natura 2000 network forests, the pan-European conservation network upheld by EU directives. In the past five years, many logging restrictions that previously protected Estonia’s Natura 2000 sites have been eased, meaning clearcuts are now allowed.

The report comes just a week after 75 organisations, including environmental and public health bodies, trade unions and community groups, sent an open letter to the UK government, calling for renewable electricity subsidies to be redirected away from biomass to the cleanest and lowest carbon renewable options such as wind and solar power.

The letter demands the redirection of over £1 billion annual biomass power subsidies as part of the Cut Carbon Not Forest campaign by UK and US NGOs.

Drax previously claimed that 12 percent of UK renewable energy is delivered by its biomass plants. Research by Biofuelwatch] suggests that Drax power plants in the UK are operating on somewhere near £1 billion in subsidies.

In April 2019, campaigners petitioned against Drax's plans to convert the existing coal electricity generation units to gas generation and battery storage at its biomass and coal plant in Yorkshire and asked for further public subsidies to undertake the development.

Drax did not respond to a request for comment.

Why British biomass energy is a burning issue for Estonia Ben Heubl; IET Engineering & Technology; 9 Dec 2020

Increased demand for biomass pellets in the UK means subsidy schemes will continue to help British biomass operators to burn cut wood in sustainable power plants. It drives felling rates in sensitive areas in Estonia. E&T, in collaboration with a team of European investigative journalists, explores where things have gone wrong.

Estonia’s ‘holy forests’ threatened by demand for biofuels Saul Elbein; National Geographic; 1 Sep 2020

A paper published in Nature in July found that Estonia had one of the highest rates of forest loss in Europe—after an abrupt increase from 2016 to 2018 that raised the rate of clearing by 85 percent over what it had been in the previous decade. The surge was largely brought on by demand for wood pellets for bioenergy, the authors of the study found.

Worldwide, as the area covered by forests has decreased by more than 440 million acres since 1990, tree plantations have increased by more than 300 million acres. Forests are being converted into industrial tree fields—and tiny Estonia has become a pointed case study in this global transformation. The loss of natural forests cuts deep into Estonian history and religion.

which have no formal protection, putting them at risk of being logged. Most of the sites are in old-growth forests, which make up about 2 percent of Estonia’s remaining forest cover. Only half of those are set aside as protected areas; a quarter are under limited protection, and another quarter aren’t protected at all.

At the heart of Estonian culture, Sepp says, lies the idea of the forest as an active presence, a thing humans do not create but rather “get out of the way of.” The reverence for nature here is powerful; the nonviolent independence movement that threw out the Soviet occupying force in the 1990s began as an environmental protest.

But in the decades after independence, Scandinavian investment and logistical support poured in, and Estonians driving the country’s highways began to see harvester machines on the edge of the forests, plucking trees like daisies. In their place have come evenly spaced rows of fir and spruce planted for the global market, a replacement of the forest with something far simpler and more profitable, as Estonian ecologist Asko Lõhmus has said.

'Carbon-neutrality is a fairy tale': how the race for renewables is burning Europe's forests Hazel Sheffield; The Guardian; 14 Jab 2021

Wood pellets are sold as a clean alternative to coal. But is the subsidised bioenergy boom accelerating the climate crisis?

... in 2015, the Estonian government allowed what is known as clear-cutting in some parts of the Haanja nature reserve. The practice involves stripping entire areas of mature forest and removing whole tree trunks. This relaxation of the logging rules came as international demand for Estonian wood soared – not just for furniture or construction, but because of an unlikely culprit: Europe’s renewable energy policies.

Forests cover 2m hectares or more than half of Estonia. Around 380,000 hectares (939,000 acres) of that, including the Haanja nature reserve, fall under the EU’s Natura 2000 network, which is designed to protect Europe’s forests and offer a haven to rare and threatened species. Haanja is home to 29 protected species, including the black stork, the lesser-spotted eagle and the corncrake.

Natura-protected zones are managed under the legally binding provisions of the 1979 EU birds directive and the 1992 habitats directive. But logging is governed by domestic laws, and Estonia permits it as long as it does not damage bogs and other special habitats, or fall within bird mating seasons.

Campaigners say that by allowing intensive clear-cutting in Natura 2000 sites, Estonia is in breach of the habitats directive and undermining the EU’s climate goals.

Siim Kuresoo of the non-profit Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF) doesn’t just blame the Estonian government. He says there is a direct connection between the subsidised growth in the biomass industry encouraged by EU renewable energy policies and the acceleration of unsustainable Baltic tree-felling.

“There is clear evidence that the intensification of logging is at least partly driven by higher demand for biomass for heat and power,” says a report co-authored by Kuresoo for the ELF and the Latvian Ornithological Society. “Given that over half of Estonia’s and Latvia’s wood pellet exports in 2019 went to Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, ‘green energy’ use in those three countries contributes directly to increased logging in the two Baltic states.”

The Council of Estonian Environmental NGOs (EKO), of which the ELF is a member, has made a complaint to the European commission alleging “systematic” breaches by Estonia of its forest conservation obligations.

To investigate the subsidised European pellet trade and its impact on Baltic forests, we uploaded boundary files for Estonia’s Natura 2000 zones to Global Forest Watch, an online platform for monitoring forests, and found that per-hectare tree cover loss (the removal of the tree canopy rather than outright deforestation) in these areas accelerated after 2015. That was when the government adjusted park conservation rules to allow clear-cutting of up to one hectare at a time in some nature reserves.

Across Estonia, between 2001 and 2019, Natura 2000 areas lost more than 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of forest cover, an area more than twice the size of Manhattan. The last five years account for 80% of that loss. Further alterations to rules in other Estonian national parks are planned.

Advertisement This acceleration appears to be taking a toll on bird species like the black grouse, woodlark and others. Woodland birds are declining at a rate of 50,000 breeding pairs a year, according to national records.

The clearances are also damaging the ability of Baltic forests to store carbon, and could be undermining climate goals by reducing the chance for Estonia and Latvia to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

In a country where the overwhelming majority of peoplesay they regard nature as sacred, logging has led to protests or what the Estonian media calls the “forest war”. Residents of Saku, a small town 16 miles south of Tallinn, successfully fought to save an area of forest that was scheduled to be cut down this year by RMK, the state forest management company, which manages around half of Estonian forests.

“We convert our trees into pellets and sell them to energy plants in your countries,” says Ivar Raig, one of the Saku campaigners. “This is considered to be sustainable, but we suffer.”

Sustainability goes to the heart of the European renewable energy debate. The drive to replace coal, one of the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions, with cleaner sources of power, is a top priority in the fight against climate change globally.

A switch to burning wood in the form of pellets appears to offer a simple and in theory carbon-neutral alternative to coal-fired power stations because trees take up carbon dioxide from the air as they grow. As long as the burned trees are replaced with new plantings, there is no net addition to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere.

However, that process of carbon take-up can take many decades. And in the furnace, burning wood releases more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than burning gas, oil, or even coal. By accelerating carbon dioxide emissions in the short term, burning wood for electricity could be fatal for states’ ability to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global heating to well below 2C by 2050.

Demand for woody biomass or energy from wood as an alternative to coal in power stations took off from 2009, when the first EU renewable energy directive obliged member states to source 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 and classified biomass energy as carbon-neutral.

A flaw in the legislation meant that woody biomass was fully categorised as renewable, even if it came not just from wood residues or waste, but from whole trees. This meant that companies could directly harvest forests for pellets – rather than making pellets from the by-products of timber cut for other uses – in the name of sustainable forest management.

As the EU moved in 2018 to double the use of renewable energy by 2030, scientists warned the European Parliament that this loophole in the sustainability criteria of the revised EU legislation would accelerate the climate crisis and devastate mature forests. But against the competing interests of the multibillion euro biomass lobby, it went unamended.

Almost all European countries have recorded an increase in logging for energy. Nearly a quarter of the trees harvested in the EU in 2019 were for energy, up from 17% in 2000.

Biomass, of which wood from forests is the main source, now makes up almost 60% of the EU’s renewable energy supply, more than solar and wind combined, and a vast cross-border industry has emerged to meet this demand.

Taxpayer subsidies are driving much of the growth in this trade. Between 2008 and 2018, subsidies for biomass, of which wood is the main source, among 27 European nations increased by 143%. In the UK, government support for biomass projects is expected to total more than £13bn by 2027 – the date at which current subsidy agreements expire, according to the climate thinktank Ember.

When Raul Kirjanen founded Graanul Invest in 2003, it was just him and his computer in a small office. By 2005 the company had opened its first factory in Imavere, Estonia, compressing sawdust and the waste wood from other processes into tiny pellets that could be bagged up and shipped overseas for burning in everything from domestic heaters to vast power plants to generate electricity.

Today the European wood pellet trade is booming. Graanul Invest is the second biggest wood pellet maker in the world and Kirjanen is one of the richest people in the Baltics where the Estonian press call him “the pellet king”. In 2019, the company manufactured 2.5m tonnes of pellets, up from 1.8m tonnes the previous year, across its plants in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the US.

Every month tens of thousands of tonnes of wood pellets leave the port of Riga to cross the North Sea on Graanul Invest’s vessel, the MV Imavere. Much of this cargo is bound for the port of Immingham, where it is transported to UK power stations including Drax, which has converted four of its six units from coal to biomass since 2013 and is now the world’s largest biomass burning plant. The UK accounts for more than a third of Graanul’s annual revenue. Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy are also target markets.

But electricity production from wood pellets would not be financially sustainable without public subsidies: the British government paid Drax the equivalent of €2.4m (£2.1m) a day in 2019. Drax will have received more than €11.2bn (£10bn) from the UK government since its conversion to biomass in 2012 until subsidies run out in 2027, researchers from the Ember have calculated.

The UK is now the biggest subsidiser of bioenergy in Europe, spending more than £1.9bn in 2019 primarily to pay for burning imported wood at Drax, according to new research by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and Cut Carbon Not Forests. Britain is no longer bound by EU renewable energy targets post-Brexit but has set a new target of cutting emissions by 68% by 2030 and is committed to the EU goal of net-zero carbon by 2050.

Other European governments are following suit. In the Netherlands, the government has promised energy companies RWE, Uniper and Onyx (formerly Engie) more than €3.5bn in subsidies to use biomass, making the country one of the biggest importers of wood pellets in Europe. Campaigners are anxiously watching Germany, where Onyx Power, a subsidiary of the US hedge fund Riverstone, is examining the possibility of converting coal plants to biomass.

“Biomass only exists at the scale that it does because of subsidies,” says Duncan Brack, associate fellow at the London-based thinktank Chatham House. “We’re effectively paying to increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which is an absurd use of public money.”

Brack says that the 2009 EU renewable energy directive triggered a raft of subsidies for renewable power generation. “But since then solar and wind have really crashed in price. Now is the time to stop subsidising biomass.”

“There’s huge infrastructure employing people and spending money, all based on subsidies,” says Michael Norton of the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC). “The original simplistic idea of bioenergy from sustainable forestry suddenly blossomed into an industry achieving the opposite of what it was meant to do.”


Since 2016, more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of forest in the Haanja park have been felled on land owned by Graanul Invest Group, a significant increaseon the previous five years, when less than 20 hectares (49.4 acres) was felled, according to Global Forest Watch. We checked their data against our own analysis of high-resolution Google satellite images and corroborated it on the ground.


GE to build world’s largest commercial biomass-fired power plant (GE; Biomass magazine; 25 Feb 2016)

Belgian plant powered by woodchip & agro residues, 215MW, 60% efficiency in cogeneration mode, 110MW district heating, GE Steam Power Systems


Dong is upgrading Denmark's largest power plant to use wood pellets Sun and Wind Energy; 6 Oct 2016

Denmark is making good progress with its efforts to phase out conventional energy. The energy company Dong Energy has now announced that Denmark's largest power plant in Avedøre will be completely transitioned to wood pellets by 2016, making it the largest biomass power plant in the country. All remaining units for district heating at the Avedøreværket power plant, which is located 10 km south of Copenhagen, will be completely converted to firing wood pellets. The power plant has an electrical capacity of 793 MW and a thermal capacity of 918 MW. Avedøreværket supplies approximately 200,000 households with district heating in the Copenhagen area. The power plant consists of two units: Avedøre 1 and Avedøre 2. Together they have a generation capacity of 825 MW. The Avedøre 1 block was built in 1990 and is mainly coal-fired. Avedøre 2 was built in 2001 and already utilises pellets as fuel in addition to both gas and oil. Dong Energy will now upgrade the entire Avedøreværket power plant to biomass fuel by 2016, making it possible to increasingly use wood pellets instead of coal and gas.
Commenting on the increased use of wood pellets, Dong stressed in a press release that only biomass from sustainable forestry will be fired at Avedøreværket. For this purpose, the company has designed a system of certificates and audits together with international partners. In order to ensure uniform sustainability criteria for the procurement of biomass, the company is also participating in the 'Sustainable Biomass Partnership' (SBP) initiative. European energy suppliers, pellet producers and testing organisations have teamed up in the initiative. The suppliers have made a commitment to fulfil the highest EU requirements. The wood for Avedøre comes from by-products of industrial timber processing as well as sustainable forest management, and 60% of it comes from the Baltic States. The second largest supplier is Portugal with 22%, followed by Russia in third place with 11%. Even when the processing and transportation of the wood pellets is taken into consideration, emissions are still reduced by approximately 90% compared to the coal and gas that was used previously, according to Dong Energy. During the past nine years, the company has been able to reduce the use of coal by 65%. CO2 emissions have been reduced by 41% since 2006.

Australia - bagasse

Bagasse and cane trash Biomass Producer (Au)

Australia’s sugar industry has used bagasse to meet its electricity and heat requirements for over 100 years. Today, bagasse is a major contributor in the bioenergy sector – accounting for over 60 per cent of Australia’s dedicated bioenergy capacity (Clean Energy Council). There are projects also working towards using bagasse as a biomass for ethanol production.
Australian sugar mills burn bagasse on site to generate heat and electricity.


Ontario Spent 170 million to Convert a Coal Power Plant to burn Norwegian Wood Pellets Sunshine Hours; 4 Apr 2016

Ontario has shut down its coal power plants. One of those coal power plants was Atikokan. What OPG decided to do (because they needed dispatchable power) was to convert the plant to biomass. And that biomass was wood pellets. Not just any wood pellets. It was “Advanced Biomass”. Advanced biomass has been treated to withstand exposure to rain, and has handling and storage properties similar to those of coal. It is still in the early stages of development, which is why OPG purchases advanced biomass fuel from Norway.



Well-to-wheels energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of ethanol from corn, sugarcane and cellulosic biomass for US use Michael Wang, Jeongwoo Han, Jennifer B Dunn, Hao Cai, Amgad Elgowainy; Environmental Research Letters, Volume 7, Number 4; 13 Dec 2012 pdf

Globally, bioethanol is the largest volume biofuel used in the transportation sector, with corn-based ethanol production occurring mostly in the US and sugarcane-based ethanol production occurring mostly in Brazil. Advances in technology and the resulting improved productivity in corn and sugarcane farming and ethanol conversion, together with biofuel policies, have contributed to the significant expansion of ethanol production in the past 20 years. These improvements have increased the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of using bioethanol as opposed to using petroleum gasoline. This article presents results from our most recently updated simulations of energy use and GHG emissions that result from using bioethanol made from several feedstocks. The results were generated with the GREET (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) model. In particular, based on a consistent and systematic model platform, we estimate life-cycle energy consumption and GHG emissions from using ethanol produced from five feedstocks: corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus. We quantitatively address the impacts of a few critical factors that affect life-cycle GHG emissions from bioethanol. Even when the highly debated land use change GHG emissions are included, changing from corn to sugarcane and then to cellulosic biomass helps to significantly increase the reductions in energy use and GHG emissions from using bioethanol. Relative to petroleum gasoline, ethanol from corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus can reduce life-cycle GHG emissions by 19–48%, 40–62%, 90–103%, 77–97% and 101–115%, respectively. Similar trends have been found with regard to fossil energy benefits for the five bioethanol pathways.


EU green transport target 'may have increased greenhouse gas emissions' Guardian; 14 Mar 2016

Renewable transport goal has encouraged biofuels including those from palm oil and soybean, which are found to be worse than diesel oil for emissions

Biofuels cause four times more carbon emissions Louise Gray; Telegraph; 22 Apr 2010

The European Union, including the UK, has set a goal of obtaining 10 per cent of its road fuels from renewable sources by 2020. But a new report commissioned in Brussels found some biofuels can lead to four times more carbon dioxide polluting the atmosphere than equivalent fossil fuels. Biofuels have already been criticised for causing food shortages in countries where land for rice or wheat has been displaced by fields of soy beans or sugarcane for fuel. Environmental campaigners say the latest report proves the renewable energy source is also bad for climate change, since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. The report for the European Commission, released under Freedom of Information rules, looked into the "indirect emissions" from biofuels caused by land use change. The worse example is soy beans in America. Because the land that used to grow soy beans for animal feed is now being used for biofuels, it means that more soy beans must be grown in the rainforests of Brazil to make up for the loss in the domestic market. Soybeans grown in America therefore have an indirect carbon footprint of 340kg of CO2 per gigajoule, compared to just 85kg for conventional diesel or gasoline. Biodiesel from European rapeseed has an indirect carbon footprint of 150kg of CO2 per gigajoule, while bioethanol from European sugar beet is calculated at 100kg – both much higher than conventional diesel because of indirect use of land in other countries to replace the food crops that are no longer grown in Europe. By contrast, imports of bioethanol from Latin American sugar cane and palm oil from southeast Asia have relatively low indirect emissions at 82kg and 73kg per gigajoule respectively. But these biofuels have high direct emissions because although no land for food is being displaced, rainforest it being cut down to grow the crops in the first place.


Biofuels worse for climate change than gas, U-M study says Keith Matheny; Detroit Free Press; 25 Aug 2016

Despite their purported advantages, biofuels — created from crops such as corn or soybeans — cause more emissions of climate change-causing carbon dioxide than gasoline, according to the study from U-M Energy Institute research professor John DeCicco.

Study: Biofuels increase, rather than decrease, heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions Jim Erickson; U of Michigan News; 25 Aug 2016

A new study from University of Michigan researchers challenges the widely held assumption that biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are inherently carbon neutral. Contrary to popular belief, the heat-trapping carbon dioxide gas emitted when biofuels are burned is not fully balanced by the CO2 uptake that occurs as the plants grow, according to a study by research professor John DeCicco and co-authors at the U-M Energy Institute. The study, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture crop-production data, shows that during the period when U.S. biofuel production rapidly ramped up, the increased carbon dioxide uptake by the crops was only enough to offset 37 percent of the CO2 emissions due to biofuel combustion.

Biofuels increase, rather than decrease, heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions: study; 25 Aug 2016

Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use John M. DeCicco, Danielle Yuqiao Liu, Joonghyeok Heo, Rashmi Krishnan, Angelika Kurthen, Louise Wang; Climatic Change; 25 Aug 2016

The use of liquid biofuels has expanded over the past decade in response to policies such as the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that promote their use for transportation. One rationale is the belief that biofuels are inherently carbon neutral, meaning that only production-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be tallied when comparing them to fossil fuels. This assumption is embedded in the lifecycle analysis (LCA) modeling used to justify and administer such policies. LCA studies have often found that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel offer at least modest net GHG reductions relative to petroleum fuels. Data over the period of RFS expansion enable empirical assessment of net CO2 emission effects. This analysis evaluates the direct carbon exchanges (both emissions and uptake) between the atmosphere and the U.S. vehicle-fuel system (motor vehicles and the physical supply chain for motor fuels) over 2005–2013. While U.S. biofuel use rose from 0.37 to 1.34 EJ/yr over this period, additional carbon uptake on cropland was enough to offset only 37 % of the biofuel-related biogenic CO2 emissions. This result falsifies the assumption of a full offset made by LCA and other GHG accounting methods that assume biofuel carbon neutrality. Once estimates from the literature for process emissions and displacement effects including land-use change are considered, the conclusion is that U.S. biofuel use to date is associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.



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Area of Crops Grown For Bioenergy in England and the UK: 2008 - 2014 DEFRA; 10 Dec 2015

Key Messages
  • 122 thousand hectares of agricultural land was used for bioenergy in the UK in 2014.
  • The area of crops grown for bioenergy equated to 2% of all arable land in the UK in 2014.
  • Just over 68% of land used for bioenergy in 2014 was for biofuel for the UK road transport market.
  • 1.2 million tonnes of UK crops were produced for the UK road transport market in 2014/15.
  • Maize grown for use in anaerobic digestion accounted for 19% of the total maize area in England in 2015 and 0.7% of England’s total arable area.
  • Figures relating to biofuel used for road transport in 2014/15 are provisional based on data currently available. This shows that, of the total volume of renewable fuel supplied in 2014/15, 99.6% (1,665 million litres) has so far been demonstrated to meet the sustainability requirements