Is it whole logs or just branches, twigs and sawdust that can’t be used to make furniture? These are all pretty simple questions. You are welcome to reproduce unadapted material in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article. It says generators like Drax must report compliance, and that their emissions savings must exceed 68 per cent compared to coal, rising to 72 per cent by 2020. Forest management: The key to paying off biomass’ short-term carbon debt is having sustainable forestry practices in place that ensure that more carbon is being “re-sequestered” in forests than is being removed for fuel. If you chop down a tree and burn it, you can’t possibly emit more than was absorbed in the first place, so the whole thing is effectively carbon neutral, or zero kilograms per megawatt hour. “We’ve always said there’s a right and a wrong way to source biomass. The UK is burning nearly four million tonnes of wood a year to generate power, and Drax is the single largest user. It probably is good for the climate to burn biomass at Drax. Whole trees produce a greater carbon debt than only using the tops and limbs of trees harvested for other purposes, but even those forest leftovers affect the carbon equation. When trees grow they absorb carbon dioxide and lock it away in wood. Then we need to ask what type of wood is being burnt. If Drax is burning wood residues like twigs, small branches or sawdust that would otherwise have been burnt as waste, then the emissions will be below 100 kilograms per megawatt hour, or at least ten times lower than burning coal. Let’s try to unpack things a little. Increased demand for wood fuels might motivate a logging company to harvest a few more trees than it would have otherwise. That’s why DECC combined them into a massive biomass calculator. A Drax spokesperson tells Carbon Brief there’s no way to directly compare the two methodologies because the calculator is theoretical and “does not model real situations”. On the other hand, intercepting scrap wood that was bound for a landfill can contribute to a quick carbon benefit, but Gunn said that also depends on a lot of factors. An article in today’s Daily Mail  says it is “lunacy” to run Drax power station on biomass instead of coal. Burning wood residues instead of leaving them in the forest to rot is also generally low carbon. But what about demand for wood? Is burning wood for energy worse for the climate than coal? DECC is giving money to conversions at Drax and other power plants because they are helping the UK meet an EU target to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. University of … While the price of fossil fuels go up and down, “you see wood fuels just sort of happily chugging along with the price of inflation, really predictably and really affordably,” she says. Gunn co-authored a 2010 studythat concluded the amount of carbon released per unit of energy is actually greater for forest biomass than it is for fos… (Photo by PSNH via Creative Commons), After reporting last week on a Midwest biomass group’s proposal to boost wood-fueled heating in the region, reader John Gunn tweeted to tell us “forest biomass GHG emissions are much more complicated than your article indicates.”. Iowa researchers see wasted potential in agricultural biofuels, Wood heat pits ‘environmentalists against environmentalists’ in Vermont, First-of-its kind wood pellet plant leaves North Carolina community wondering, ‘Dark money’ group raises fears in Illinois energy negotiations, Power from the Prairie aims to link West Coast sun with Midwest wind, New Hampshire nears compromise on how to spend $5.2 million clean energy fund, Retroactive energy efficiency loans offer pandemic lifeline for some businesses, Indiana task force report could slow state’s transition from coal, critics fear, As wind energy prices plunge, Xcel refunds customers who paid a premium, Michigan task force makeup suggests the future of transportation is still cars, N.C. elections left ‘status quo’ in power, but some still see hope for clean energy. GHG wise, wood is better than fossils or electricity in places that are still depend on fossils. “You need to look at what was the fate of that material,” says Gunn. The saving is calculated with a less complete method than that used by DECC’s calculator, however. That’s because wood isn’t a very energy-dense material, which means you have to burn a lot more tons of it to match the energy output of gas or coal. Left on the forest floor, those branches might decay over several years, releasing some carbon into the air and depositing some carbon back into the soil. For example, if private land that is sustainably harvested for biomass today were to be sold in the future to a company that didn’t follow the same practices, it could erase the carbon gains. Grow wood for lumber then gasify it into the hydrocarbons we need when it eventually gets thrown away. Wood — unlike oil, coal and natural gas — is not considered a fossil fuel. Please contact us for commercial use. Webinar: Do we need to stop eating meat and dairy to tackle climate change? Does it come from the cold northern forests of Canada or the warm, moist forests of the southern US? Most of its supplies come from north America. It may be on the right track by focusing on sustainably harvested wood for thermal energy in areas not currently served by natural gas, but even so, Gunn says it’s not a given that its vision would be beneficial or even benign in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Jet stream: Is climate change causing more ‘blocking’ weather events? “If that doesn’t hold, then the whole benefit doesn’t hold,” says Gunn. DECC says it has tough standards that mean only good wood is burnt in the UK, and that its biomass calculator confirms this can be good for the climate. Coronavirus: What could lifestyle changes mean for tackling climate change? Factcheck: Is 3-5C of Arctic warming now ‘locked in’? We only source sustainable biomass that is low carbon and does not deplete carbon stocks, in line with a recommendation made by the government’s Committee on Climate Change in July.”. COP25 video: Messages from climate marchers to politicians, Media reaction: Australia’s bushfires and climate change, State of the climate: 2020 set to be first or second warmest year on record, State of the climate: First quarter of 2020 is second warmest on record. A public meeting on the proposed factory was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic and was not rescheduled. The emissions saving from burning wood at Drax might still be as high as 80 per cent using the more complete DECC biomass calculator method. If Drax burns wood from plantations that would otherwise have reverted to natural forest, or from regrowth forest converted to plantations then the carbon benefits are also significant, and emissions will come in at under 100 kg/MWh. To understand whether burning wood at Drax is a smart move for the climate, we need to understand the emissions this will produce. The team hopes to make anaerobic digestion more efficient and profitable for farmers who convert manure to natural gas. Unlike coal or natural gas, they argue, wood is a low-carbon fuel. “Based on what we’ve found, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of emissions,” says Gunn. Others have looked at similar variables and reached different conclusions about biomass’ carbon profile. Arkansas and West Virginia, for example, are big wood burning states. But what does the right kind of biomass look like? Wood should not be grow for fuel. “A lot of the studies are finding that there is often a benefit to the atmosphere,” says Gunn, “but it often takes a while to get there.”. Dovetail Partners, a nonprofit research group based in Minneapolis, for example, concluded in a 2012 study that biomass harvesting gives landowners an incentive to maintain forests rather than converting them to agriculture. Guest post: How declining ice in clouds makes high ‘climate sensitivity’ plausible, Guest post: Why low-end 'climate sensitivity' can now be ruled out, World population facing water stress could ‘double’ by 2050 as climate warms, Guest post: Demand for cooling is blind spot for climate and sustainable development, Guest post: How ‘urban heat islands’ will intensify heatwaves in UK cities, US sees ‘alarming’ increase in combined heatwaves and droughts, Greenland to lose ice far faster this century than in the past 12,000 years, Arctic sea ice shrinks to second-lowest summer minimum on record, Guest post: How the Greenland ice sheet fared in 2020, Guest post: The perils of counter-intuitive design in IPCC graphics, Analysis: How ‘carbon-cycle feedbacks’ could make global warming worse, CMIP6: the next generation of climate models explained, Nitrogen fertiliser use could ‘threaten global climate goals’. 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