DATE: May 2, 2018
SNIP: [Dr. Mary] Booth’s research — Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy, published this February in the journal Environmental Research Letters — helps answer some thorny questions critical to our energy and carbon future.
Her study examines the net CO2 emissions of biomass burned to replace coal at the UK’s massive Drax power stations and other EU power plants. Combined, those energy facilities consume tons of wood each year.
One major finding, right out of the gate: Booth reports that — contrary to a largely accepted view — wood pellets aren’t sourced mainly from fallen limbs and lumber waste called residue, but rather from whole trees. However, she based her study on residue-derived wood pellets anyway because the biomass industry “so often claims residues are a main pellet source.”
Even based on the false assumption that only wood waste, not whole trees, are being burnt, Booth found that “up to 95 percent of cumulative CO2 emitted [by the biomass burning power plants] represent a net addition to the atmosphere over decades.” In other words, biomass is not carbon neutral.
More disturbing: Booth’s research opens up the IPCC to charges that its policymaking decisions regarding emissions accounting have been politicized — crafted by negotiators to include built-in loopholes that allow nations to underreport certain emissions while appearing to achieve their carbon-reduction targets.
In particular, both the UK and EU appear to have slipped through a large loophole in order to “disappear” real emissions from their carbon accounting, as one source told me, thus undermining the Paris Agreement’s critically important carbon-mitigation strategies.
“This is a message that no one has said yet. It’s what I believe to be true: there may not be a pathway to 1.5 [degrees] anymore — at all. Carbon capture and storage is a fantasy,” Booth told me in a series of interviews for Mongabay. “Growing forests may not work fast enough. We’re not reducing emissions fast enough. The sooner that story gets told, the sooner people understand what’s really required to keep the earth from burning up.”