Biomass delivers ‘questionable carbon savings’, says new report

Environmental thinktank Sandbag claims biomass does not allow ‘near-immediate carbon and cost reductions’

The Big Zero report

Governments should focus policy support on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar rather than on biomass, which delivers questionable carbon savings.

That’s the verdict from environmental thinktank Sandbag, which has published a new report calling for policymakers to support energy sources that allow near-immediate carbon and cost savings – it says biomass does not fall into this category.

The organisation claims potential savings from biomass are “perhaps not realised for many decades (if at all)” and “at a cost much higher than that of fossil fuels.”

It warns against coal-to-biomass conversions such as the one seen at the UK’s Drax facility – the report warns proposed EU coal-to-biomass projects could increase biomass consumption by 607 petajoules per year and see the volume of feedstock burner triple compared to current levels.

It says 36 million tonnes of wood pellets would be needed to supply this demand, with approximately 2,700 square kilometres of forest being cut down every year as a result – it suggests these projects would produce just 64TWh of electricity, less than 2% of the EU’s total electricity production.

Sandbag says: “As recommended by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), a coal-to-biomass project should not be regarded as a renewable energy source unless the operators can demonstrate that the project will lead to a net reduction in atmospheric carbon levels within a decade.

“Projects that fail to meet this threshold should be subject to a carbon price and not be eligible for any subsidies.”

Dr Nina Skorupska, Chief Executive of the Renewable Energy Association, said: “The statement ‘biomass risks accelerating climate change’ is disingenuous when existing sustainability practices are not considered within this review.

Sustainable biomass power has a really important part to play in decarbonisation, by using wooden pellets that are a waste product; we can keep fossil fuels in the ground. Sandbag is ignoring a huge amount of evidence and glosses over the world-leading sustainability criteria already in place across the EU and especially in the UK.”

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