The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.

The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: July 13, 2020 SNIP: In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them. On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia. While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time. The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement. This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States. The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes. “Burning wood puts more carbon dioxide in the air right now, today, with certainty, than the fossil fuels you were burning,”...
B.C. giving millions to transform rainforest into wood pellets for export, new report documents

B.C. giving millions to transform rainforest into wood pellets for export, new report documents

SOURCE: The Narwhal DATE: April 23, 2020 SNIP: “Energy really can grow on trees,” says the website of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. The association touts wood pellets — manufactured from sawdust, slash piles and low-grade timber from forestry harvest sites — as a way to fight climate change by replacing coal as an energy source. “Think firewood,” the website explains to anyone curious about the elongated pellets that resemble pet rabbit food in texture and appearance. But a new investigation claims pellets made by B.C.’s two largest wood pellet companies originate from whole trees as well as sawmill residuals and finds that burning pellets releases more greenhouse gas emissions than coal, blaming faulty carbon accounting for the industry’s climate-friendly veneer. Some trees used for pellets, including mature Western red cedars, likely come from logging operations in the province’s rare inland temperate rainforest which provides critical habitat for endangered caribou and other at-risk species, according to the investigation by Stand.earth, released Thursday. B.C.’s wood pellet industry has grown dramatically over the past decade, fueled by tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from the provincial and federal governments and overseas demand. B.C. is Canada’s leading exporter of wood pellets. Last November, the B.C. government announced more than $27 million in grants “to help increase the use of wood fibre that would otherwise have been burned as slash.” Slash is a general word for waste wood generated at forestry operations. Two grants totalling more than $1.5 million went to Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc. for operations near Burns Lake and Vernon, a company singled out in the Stand.earth investigation. Stand.earth...
Carbon to burn: UK net-zero emissions pledge undermined by biomass energy

Carbon to burn: UK net-zero emissions pledge undermined by biomass energy

SOURCE: Monga Bay DATE: June 19, 2019 SNIP: Last week, the United Kingdom announced plans to pass a national law setting a country-wide target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, to be achieved by 2050. The pronouncement came in response to a directive by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, that all 28 European Union nations set binding 2050 net-zero emissions reduction goals. [NOTE: the target agreement has been blocked by three countries, and so for now, has failed.] However, some scientists and environmentalists are neither impressed nor encouraged; they are expressing deep concern that the binding emissions laws will likely be flawed by a monstrously large carbon-pollution loophole. While the UK has pledged to burn coal for the last time by 2025, it is accelerating plans to replace that source by burning wood pellets, or biomass, in four of its six largest power plants, located in North Yorkshire and operated by Drax Power, the country’s largest utility. While that shift would help meet the terms of the Paris Agreement, say experts, it would still pump vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, speeding and intensifying global warming. Worrying environmentalists further: former coal-fired plants across the EU, especially in Denmark and Belgium, are also fast converting to wood pellets, encouraged by a longstanding loophole in global carbon accounting that was not closed in the writing of the Paris rulebook last December during the 24th United Nations Climate Summit in Poland. In fact, studies show that the burning of wood pellets actually produces more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than coal, because it requires more pellets than coal to produce the same...
Push to Burn Wood for Fuel Threatens Climate Goals, Scientists Warn

Push to Burn Wood for Fuel Threatens Climate Goals, Scientists Warn

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: June 24, 2018 SNIP: The European Union declared this week that it could make deeper greenhouse gas cuts than it has already pledged under the Paris climate agreement. But its scientific advisors warn that the EU’s new renewable energy policy could undermine that goal because it fails to fully account for the climate impacts of burning wood for fuel. By counting forest biomass, such as wood pellets used in power plants, as carbon-neutral, the new rules could make it impossible for Europe to achieve its climate goals, the European Academy of Sciences Advisory Council (EASAC) wrote in a strongly worded statement. The council said the renewable energy policy’s treatment of biomass is “simplistic and misleading” and could actually add to Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 to 30 years. [T]he [EU’s] renewable energy policy includes burning wood for fuel. Over a year ago, the EU’s science advisors published a comprehensive report debunking the logic behind treating all wood fuel as beneficial to the climate. Because burning wood gives off more CO2 than coal per unit of electricity produced, the climate math doesn’t add up, scientists say. Large-scale forest harvests have a climate warming effect for at least 20 to 35 years, said University of Helsinki climate and forest scientist Jaana Bäck, who noted that scores of evidence-based studies all say basically the same...
UN forest accounting loophole allows CO2 underreporting by EU, UK, US

UN forest accounting loophole allows CO2 underreporting by EU, UK, US

SOURCE: Mongabay and Environmental Research Letters 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...