As promised, let’s talk about ocean acidification.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Ocean acidification (OA) refers to changes in global ocean carbon chemistry in response to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).” NOAA asserts that the surface absorption of CO2 in our oceans and Great Lakes is causing them to acidify by reducing their pH levels. For instance, since the industrial age, our ocean acidity levels have increased 30%, which is faster than any known ocean pH changes within the past 50 million years. There are other factors that can affect OA, like stormwater runoff, heavy rainfall events and cold water inclusion. But clearly, society’s use of carbon-based fuels is the predominant cause of ocean acidification. If you take a look at the correlation trends below, it’s easy to conclude that ocean acidification will progressively get worse if we don’t stop our CO2 emissions.
Here’s why it’s so important. Small marine invertebrates like zooplankton, copepods, mollusks and crustaceans are the base of an ocean-wide food chain. Ocean acidification, which causes oceanic carbonic acid; can have a deadly dissolving affect that stops the ability of these animals to grow and develop their larval stage shells. The collapse of this important food web endangers other marine and fish species that solely rely on these tiny creatures for food.
The fact is, our oceans absorb 25% of all our atmospheric CO2 emissions, which includes biomass emissions. What’s unbelievable, is the biomass industry claims they’re a “carbon neutral” source of clean energy that’s good for the environment, when in fact, they’re a major contributor to ocean acidification.
There’s no way around it, carbon is carbon. Which brings me to the point; biomass is just another source of CO2 emissions, adding to ocean acidification. Whether we’re burning coal, natural gas, fuel oil, wood pellets, ethanol, biofuel or forest biomass for energy or heat; it doesn’t matter, they’re all carbon emitting fuels.
The biomass industry claims they’re a “carbon neutral” source of clean energy that’s good for the environment, when in fact, they’re a major contributor to ocean acidification.
I’ll give you some simple math again, so you can visualize how bad this is. Using the 50MW McNeil biomass plant as an example; it can generate 3.5 million pounds of CO2 per day. A staggering amount of 875,000 pounds of CO2 (25% of 3.5 million pounds) per day, will end up in our oceans. Remember, that’s just one biomass plant that has the capacity to emit 319 million pounds of CO2 a year, directly absorbed into our oceans as clean, “renewable energy.”
Dr. Mark Green of St. Joseph’s College in Maine, talks about OA
What bothers me most, is knowing that the industry is systematically removing locked-up terrestrial carbon and unnaturally transforming it to atmospheric and oceanic CO2. Look, there are two places we can’t afford to add any more CO2; our atmosphere and our oceans have both reached their carbon tipping points. We can however, safely and naturally sequester gigatons of CO2 within our forests and biosphere.
It’s pretty hard to squirm away from the science, especially knowing that every biomass emission cycle adds to ocean warming and acidification.
Keep in mind, here’s a “green” industry that knowingly emits carbon and publicly eludes any culpability or environmental responsibility for their contribution to global ocean acidification. I’ve personally called out several operators in the biomass industry regarding their ocean acidification donations; every one of them has deflected their misgivings to the weak, “we can grow more trees” argument. It’s pretty hard to squirm away from the science, especially knowing that every biomass emission cycle adds to ocean warming and acidification.
Next week, I’ll talk about deforestation from biomass and America’s role in the global wood pellet market. Cheers.
It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it; chopping down forests and burning them to make clean energy. I remember the first time I read this article, it was all about how America was chopping down its trees to send to the UK as “renewable energy.” I couldn’t believe it; the more I read, the more I was furious. What’s worse, is our governments we’re all in on it; one big happy “carbon neutral” family. I realized I was witnessing biomass energy turn into the un-scientific “poster child” of Obama’s All-of-the-Above Energy policy, which was focused on “developing every source of American-made energy.”
America was chopping down its trees to send to the UK as “renewable energy.” I couldn’t believe it; the more I read, the more I was furious. What’s worse, is our governments we’re all in on it; one big happy “carbon neutral” family.
I don’t know how they did it, but the UK Government and Drax Biomass got a sweet deal on this green scam. Drax takes money (green subsidies) from the UK Government to burn wood pellets felled from American forests, as clean renewable energy; all at the expense of hard-working UK taxpayers. The UK Government (Dept. of Energy & Climate Change), Drax Biomass and the EU Energy Commission, all do their part to spin the truth about deforestation and CO2 emissions.
The frenzied demand for wood pellets to replace coal was fueling a biomass bonanza that would take a toll on North American forests, especially from Southeastern U.S. To meet this demand, in 2014, the U.S. became the largest wood pellet exporter in the world. In the same year, America exclusively exported 3.6 million metric tons of wood pellets to the UK. Just to give you an idea of how fast the American wood pellet industry grew; they doubled their exports from 2012 to 2014.
Our Forests Aren’t Fuel Campaign. Video by: Dogwood Alliance
Trading Coal for Wood Pellets
Let’s talk about the “wood pellet” industry. Enviva, based in Chesapeake Virginia, is now the largest producer of wood pellets in the world. Enviva is one the largest suppliers of wood pellets to Drax Biomass in the UK. Enviva also sells more than 420,000 metric tons per year of wood pellets to Dong Energy. Enviva has a track record of using whole trees, while it claims to use only low-value tree trimmings. We know this is not true because the video by Dogwood Alliance shows whole trees being processed by Enviva. Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) made a report that led to an SEC investigation where Enviva was caught lying about its carbon emissions and illegal wood harvesting practices. To further support the evidence of Enviva’s destruction of native Southern forests, the Southern Environmental Law Center published this scathing report.
Video of Enviva Wood Pellets Controversy. Video by: CCTV
If you look at this CCTV video, there are two blatantly false claims made by Seth Ginther, the executive director of the U.S. Industrial Wood Pellet Association, of which, Enviva is a founding member. First, the UK Dept. of Environment’s quote Ginther asserted, “Using wood pellets actually decreases greenhouse gases footprint of energy between 74% to 90%, as opposed to the use of coal.” This claim is completely untrue, in fact, wood pellets emit more CO2 than coal. The 74% to 90% reduction of GHG claim is scientifically false because the burn rate is exponentially faster than the growth rate, which leads to decades of ongoing carbon debt.
Essentially, they’re using flawed carbon accounting and taking up-front credit for emissions that have barely begun to sequester.
Essentially, they’re using flawed carbon accounting and taking up-front credit for emissions that have barely begun to sequester. Secondly, “biogenic carbon” is not magically carbon neutral because it’s part of the “natural life cycle.” Carbon is carbon, and CO2 is CO2; our atmosphere makes no distinction between the harmful greenhouse gas affects from woody biomass or fossil fuels. This video is another example of an industry-wide campaign to distort the scientific truth about biomass energy.
Ok, I got a little bit off of my subject this week. Next week I’ll write more about forests and how they’re affected by the timber and biomass industries.
Let’s talk about forests. To understand the power of forests to sequester carbon, look no further than the yearly drop in CO2 levels from NOAA’s Mauna Loa station (graph below). Those dramatic seasonal drops are from forests absorbing gigatons of CO2 during their summer growth cycle. Our forests are doing exactly what we need them to do, sequestering CO2 and safely storing it as terrestrial carbon. That’s why maintaining healthy forests are so vital to ensuring the future of humanity’s climate adaptation. (Notice the 5-year CO2 trend below)
Our forests are doing exactly what we need them to do, sequestering CO2 and safely storing it as terrestrial carbon. That’s why maintaining healthy forests are so vital to ensuring the future of humanity’s climate adaptation.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, Burning Trees for Clean Energy, the wood pellet and woody biomass industry is rapidly expanding in America and worldwide. The demand for forest biomass is driving the logging industry to extract more timber. The biomass industry is reaping the benefit of an industry mutualism shared by the timber and biomass industries. What’s good for one is good for the other. Big logging companies love the biomass industry because it means they can harvest more trees as “renewable energy.” Let’s face it; the commercial forestry and timber industries have large lobbying and interest groups that make considerable campaign contributions. For instance, under the pressure to support jobs in the timber and biomass industries, Oregon became the first state to legally declare woody biomass as carbon neutral. This means that Oregonians can burn as much of their forests as they want; and none of the forest loss and CO2 emissions will ever be counted.
The woody biomass industry is considered “low hanging fruit” in the race for renewable energy. In 2014, Drax Biomass was doing so well with its subsidized “America to UK” wood pellet scheme, that they set up shop in Atlanta. Drax Biomass now has wood pellet plants in Mississippi and Louisiana, which give them unabated access to extracting US southern forests. Additionally, Drax was instrumental in organizing the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP), which is a sustainable certification system for woody biomass. There’s only one problem with this, the SBP system is “greenwashing” the egregious harvesting practices of the biomass industry, while the CEO of Drax was writing SBP policy as head of its board. Essentially, Drax became the fox guarding the hen house.
There’s only one problem with this, the SBP system is “greenwashing” the egregious harvesting practices of the biomass industry, while the CEO of Drax was writing SBP policy as head of its board.
Along with Drax Biomass, Enviva wood pellets used this questionable SBP certification scheme to expand their operations and legitimize “waste wood” as their environmental calling card. In less than a decade, Enviva has grown to six wood pellet plants and four major shipping port facilities, to export tons of American forests as clean energy for the heavily subsidized EU market. Additionally, the lure of making money from green energy caught on with the global investment banking industry. Biofuelwatch, a UK based environmental group, calls out Green Investment Bank and its ties to funding big biomass, with this poignant grass-roots video (below).
I only covered a small portion of the forest related issues from biomass. Next week I’ll talk more in depth about forest certifications and introduce you to reports on deforestation and habitat loss from the timber and biomass industries. Cheers.
This week, I’m picking up where I left off talking about deforestation from biomass. There are lots of states that harvest trees for biomass energy and wood pellets, some of these include: Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Oregon and California. By far, America’s southern states are the key battleground forests that suffer the most deforestation from the high demand of the wood pellet and biomass energy industries.
There are a number of factors that drive the demand for forest bioenergy in the south. Some states like Virginia adopted a program to convert coal plants to woody biomass. Georgia and Florida both have utility-scale biomass plants that require copious amounts of local wood to generate baseload energy every day. In addition, Cleco Power’s “Madison 3” now co-fires woody biomass with its massive 641MW “petroleum coke” power plant in Louisiana.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Several states, especially those in the South Census region, have increased their electricity generation from biomass. These states have ample forest resources, generally poor wind resources, and relatively unfavorable solar resources (compared to the Southwest), making biomass among the more readily available renewable energy resources in the region.”
Essentially, under Obama’s “all of the above energy” policy, the EIA has taken the “profitable” position, (siding with big utility companies) that burning forests for “clean energy,” is the most reliable source of renewable energy in the south. That’s not true, I’ll argue EIA’s slanted position all day long. If Germany can produce a boatload of solar, so can the South.
We all know that most of America’s utility power companies are opposed to solar energy because its in direct competition with their business model. For instance, Florida Power & Light (FPL) just recently lobbied and changed the rooftop solar laws to make it illegal to use solar power during power outages like hurricane Irma, which left thousands of solar users miffed. If you sit back and look at the big picture, these utility companies are leveraging forest biomass as another fuel source to keep their current (and future) power plants operational. It’s a business that’s driven by the market, and unfortunately, our precious forests are caught in the middle.
If you sit back and look at the big picture, these utility companies are leveraging forest biomass as another fuel source to keep their current (and future) power plants operational.
I am starting to see some signs of hope that could loosen up some of the demand for woody biomass. Duke Energy, Florida’s second largest utility, just recently proposed $6 billion worth of “renewables,” including solar powered batteries for utility-scale energy. Duke’s president, Harry Sideris proclaimed, “This is the first time we have had environmental groups involved and collaborating with us.” So what brought this on? The home battery; it’s a game-changer. People now have the ability to fall off the grid. The “early adopters” stand to gain the most money, that’s why Duke Energy is betting “all in” with the emerging solar-powered battery industry.
Let’s talk about wood pellets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is a bad idea. As I wrote before, the (subsidized) relationship between Enviva Biomass (North Carolina) and Drax Energy (United Kingdom) is so profitable for both, that neither company can walk away from using wood pellets because of their financial investments. The UK and EU governments, siding with their “cash-cow,” Drax, are handing out the low carbon economy as bits of candy to their (tithing) citizens; all at the expense of felling southern U.S. forests to burn as “green” energy.
Fortunately, when someone from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), like Dr. William Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University, calls out the woody biomass industry as junk science; I’m all ears. The report, by Moomaw and co-author, Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance, transcends the trivial argument of whether biomass is carbon neutral or not. Instead, they convey the holistic science of forests’ ability to respond and mitigate global climate change by naturally sequestering carbon within our biosphere.
The UK and EU governments, siding with their “cash-cow,” Drax, are handing out the low carbon economy as bits of candy to their (tithing) citizens; all at the expense of felling southern forests to burn as “green” energy.
I know I didn’t talk about forest certifications, I’ll cover that next week.
As promised, let’s talk about forest certifications for the woody biomass industry. Keep in mind, when looking at the certification agencies for the woody biomass and wood pellet industries, we have to identify those agencies that are also certifying the timber industry, which supplies the biomass industry with their “certified sustainably harvested” wood.
Why Certify Forests for the Wood Pellet Industry?
The wood pellet industry grew from a strong European demand that sought to reduce its carbon footprint, while phasing out its use of coal. Burning wood pellets was the perfect “carbon neutral” fuel to replace (or co-fire with) Europe’s dirty coal plants. The U.S. recognized this expanding market and began to ship wood pellets to Europe. In order to standardize the wood pellet fuel for the “transatlantic crossing,” in 2010, GDF Suez, the largest world-wide utility company, created the Initiative Wood Pellet Buyers (IWPB), which set supply-chain harvest standards for the industry.
Soon thereafter, six of Europe’s biggest utility companies, which included Drax Energy, joined IWPB to become the governing authority in the expanding global wood pellet market. This was a brilliant strategic move by the IWPB. Before our sleeping governments knew what had happened, the IWPB had set their own harvest guidelines, freely traded amongst themselves, and became the wood pellet industry experts, which bought them big seats at the table of the EU’s “low-carbon” future.
Before our sleeping governments knew what had happened, the IWPB had set their own harvest guidelines, freely traded amongst themselves, and became the wood pellet “industry experts” which bought them big seats at the table of the EU’s low-carbon future.
Using their certification requirements, the IWPB quietly orchestrated the control of the EU’s wood pellet market. They also became a benchmark agency that other wood pellet certification agencies would adopt. That’s why IWPB wanted to certify the wood pellet industry; it was all about controlling the market.
While the IWPB was enjoying certifying the wood pellet industry in Europe, other “timber” certification agencies emerged. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), is one of the largest forest certification systems in the world. According to PEFC, their program is, “An international non-profit, NGO dedicated to promoting Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) through independent third-party certification.” The PEFC program tends to have strict standards for harvesting wood for fuel. Generally, the large U.S. timber companies like International Paper, will use the stringent PEFC certifications to prove their sustainable supply-chain to their clients.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is another giant world-wide forest certification agency. They primarily work with logging companies to certify their supply-chain as “sustainable” for companies like Kimberly-Clark. FSC also serves as a major certifying agency for U.S. logging mills and the pulp/paper industries that supply the biomass and wood pellet industries with their “waste” wood. FSC forest certifications are viewed as the “gold standard” by most green groups. They aim to provide equitable timber harvests while adhering to rigorous environmental standards that preserve forests as intact ecosystems.
However, recently FSC’s excellent forest stewardship reputation has come under attack from Resolute Forest Products, a FSC certified Canadian timber company. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) didn’t let this public shaming go unnoticed with its poignant article about Resolute’s forest greenwashing campaign. In a nutshell, Resolute didn’t like being told they had to reduce their forest harvesting in sensitive areas. Resolute ignored FSC’s recommendations and continued to harvest using the much inferior, Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification.
Classic video footage from STAND.earth formerly Forest Ethics
SFI: A Sketchy Past of Certifying Clearcuts
SFI, a forest certification system spawned from the timber industry, has a sketchy past that’s left environmentalists and the general public in shock. Sadly, as Resolute dug its heels in, other timber industries across North America were switching to the lax, “we’ll certify your clearcuts” SFI bandwagon. STAND.earth shows some compelling images of clearcuts that were SFI certified. The unsuspecting public has no idea that SFI created a “Forest Partners Program,” which allows mills to apply SFI’s logo to purchased logs that have not come from certified forests. SFI has set a new standard for greenwashing.
The unsuspecting public has no idea that SFI created a “Forest Partners Program,” which allows mills to apply SFI’s logo to purchased logs that have not come from certified forests.
I’m glad that PEFC and FSC are doing what they’re supposed to do; ensuring sustainable timber harvests that protect forest ecosystems. SFI, however is egregiously working with the timber industries to certify questionable harvests that endanger future forest health. It’s bad enough that we’re torching our precious forests for clean energy, but we don’t need the added environmental problems of making wood pellets and burning woody biomass from clearcut forests.
There’s a lot more to cover regarding wood pellet certifications. I’ll save the residential “heating with wood pellets,” and the “Sustainable Biomass Program” for next week’s blog. Cheers.
This week let’s talk about the Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP), which is a primary certifying agency for the wood pellet and woody biomass industry.
SBP was formed in 2013 from the Initiative of Wood Pellet Buyers (IWPB), which was the leading agency that developed biomass and wood pellet standards in Europe. SBP primarily works with wood pellet producers that supply utility companies in Britain. The SBP team consists mostly of former IWPB members, which includes six of Europe’s largest energy companies, GDF Suez, Vattenfall, Dong, RWE, E.On and Drax. Additionally, Vattenfall, RWE and E.On were Europe’s largest carbon emitters from fossil fuels. SBP was in part, formed by the fossil fuel industry.
SBP uses six approved certification bodies for biomass producers. Biomass companies applying for an SBP certificate get to choose which independent “approved certifier” performs their certification review and pays them directly. This could potentially lead to a bias toward a certain certifier that would produce a favorable outcome for the biomass producer.
Drax was one of the original energy companies at SBP and the CEO of Drax, Dorothy Thompson, was also the Chairman of the Board at SBP. In short, under the leadership of Thompson, SBP’s sustainability framework for certification, and the selection of independent “certification bodies” was directly influenced by Drax Energy. In 2016, Drax Biomass received its first SBP Certificates from a framework it devised and wrote, and from an independent certifier (SCS) that it appointed, for its U.S. wood pellet manufacturing facilities, Morehouse BioEnergy and Amite BioEnergy. This is a blatant “fox guarding the hen house” conflict of interest that should make all SBP Certificates earned by Drax Biomass, invalid.
In addition, there are no U.S. governmental rules that regulate the best sustainable harvest practices of the wood pellet industry; the USDA only provides recommended guidelines for the wood pellet industry. In short, the (domestic) U.S. wood pellet industry is a self-regulated, voluntary system that relies on public perception to justify its certification schemes. However, most of American wood pellet producers are making pellets for international export, mainly the UK and the European Union, which are their biggest markets.
Under the guidance of UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (ofgem) directives, imports of wood pellets must meet specific sustainability criteria, referred to as the “timber standard,” which only uses wood that is sourced from approved forest certification schemes like PEFC, FSC and SFI.
In addition, wood pellet trading between EU countries and Canada, falls under the sustainability guidelines of the ENplus certification scheme, which is operated by the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM). Early on, SBP established a working relationship with AEBIOM, to help pave the way for any future collaborations in certification schemes.
For instance, AEBIOM’s 2014 Sustainability Scheme White Paper, mentioned this,
AEBIOM is actively collaborating to the initiative of SBP with being member of the SBP sounding board and with participating in every meeting. This close collaboration is positively influencing the sustainability management of ENplus but it may also lead to the creation of a common sustainability scheme between ENplus and SBP scheme on mid-term.
The reason why this is so important is because SBP is looking to compete with ENplus to share part of the global EU certification market. For instance, Georgia Biomass recently gained the first U.S. ENplus A1 certification, which allows them to legally export wood pellets to the EU. While ENplus is making progress with establishing certifications in America, SBP is quietly trying to corner the large, utility-scale markets of North America.
For instance, Gordon Murray, the Executive Director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, was an invited guest at a recent SBP stakeholder meeting, had this to say in a recent Canadian Biomass Magazinearticle,
SBP has the appearance of a buyer’s cartel. Murray advised the SC that he, along with representatives of USIPA and AEBIOM had attended SBP’s December board meeting as a guest. During the meeting, one of SBP’s directors said to the association representatives, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to sell to us.” Further, Murray reported that there was a perception that, in North America, the utilities with ownership of production facilities had “jumped to the front of the line” when it came to certification decisions.
Not only is SBP a utility-run, wood pellet certification scheme that has three fossil fuel companies on its board, but now it’s also trying to strong-arm the EU certification industry out of the utility-scale wood pellet market. Here is Carsten Huljus, newly appointed CEO of SBP, relaying some lip service to smooth over their hidden agenda.
My next post I’ll talk about the residential and small-scale commercial wood pellet markets for heating. Cheers.
As promised, let’s talk about the residential U.S. wood pellet market.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has been slow to get statistical numbers regarding the scope and amount of domestic wood pellet fuel in America. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) just started collecting some data on wood pellet sales and production. For instance, in the first half of 2016, the EIA points out that only 18% of the 3.1 million tons of domestic wood pellets was used for residential and light commercial heating, the rest was exported to Europe. The EIA got the numbers from a poll of the U.S. wood pellet industry, so the data is self-reported and voluntary. Those numbers seem unusually low, given the amount of wood pellet stoves and wood pellet suppliers in America. You literally can’t go anywhere in the northern and mountain states without seeing wood pellets for sale at most backcountry grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, and hardware stores. I imagine a good portion of those pellets are not reported in the EIA’s wood pellet inventory.
Most U.S. wood pellet producers tout their pellets as clean and environmentally friendly, when in fact, their smoke emissions are a major source of particulate matter (PM) air pollution. Some wood pellet companies will questionably distort the truth about their environmental impacts. For instance, Woodpellets.com LLC, claims their wood pellets are carbon neutral because “all above ground carbon returns to the atmosphere through decomposition if not through combustions. In other words, if the proverbial ‘tree falls in the forest’, normal decomposition of the log will return the carbon from the log to the atmosphere. When wood pellets are burned in a pellet stove, pellet boiler or pellet furnace, the same carbon returns to the atmosphere.” That statement by Woodpellets.com is not true at all.
According to Dr. Mary Booth of Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), “It takes years and even decades for trees tops and branches to decompose on the forest floor, and during that process, a portion of that decomposing carbon is incorporated into new soil carbon. In contrast, burning pumps the carbon stored in this wood into the atmosphere instantaneously. There is a difference of many years, and even decades, between the immediate emissions from burning residues, and the slow evolution of carbon from natural decomposition.”
American forests are at risk from deforestation. The wood pellet producers rely on the timber industry for much of their wood, which drives over-harvesting and clearcuts to meet the demand of the expanding wood pellet industry.
“It takes years and even decades for trees tops and branches to decompose on the forest floor, and during that process, a portion of that decomposing carbon is incorporated into new soil carbon. In contrast, burning pumps the carbon stored in this wood into the atmosphere instantaneously. There is a difference of many years, and even decades, between the immediate emissions from burning residues, and the slow evolution of carbon from natural decomposition.”
Up In Flames, Another Hazard of Wood Pellets – Video by: yorstonnick
PFPI also outlines that forests are declining in southern America from increased timber and wood pellet harvesting. The USDA has taken a pro-biomass stance that brags forest growth is improving, as former USDA head, Vilsack proclaimed to UK’s Secretary, Amber Rudd, “Our latest inventory showed that the amount of forested land in the southern United States increased by 55 million acres (22.26 million hectares) from 2007 to 2012.” But USDA’s own forest assessment deceptively ignored the fact that forest lands from Texas and Oklahoma were silently “added” to the southern forest inventory assessment (FIA) profile, “The forest areas of Texas and Oklahoma are significantly higher than reported in previous national assessments. This is due to the non-timberland forests in the western portions of these States being estimated by FIA for the first time.” Clearly, the USDA was trying to overstate southern forest growth by counting non-timberland forests.
Additionally, acclaimed U.S. forestry analyst and founder of Maine Low-Impact Forestry Project, Mitch Lansky asserts, “Forests sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Most of the sequestered carbon is either on or under the soil surface; only 25 percent is in live trees aboveground. Forest soil gets carbon from detritus that rots and becomes part of topsoil, and from microbial interactions with tree roots. Mycorrhizal fungi are a major factor in bringing carbon to lower soil levels, according to new research. The fungi help tree roots get more water and nutrients; in return trees provide carbon for the fungi.” In fact, new science indicates an entire network of fungal networks and microbes are responsible for moving tree carbon to deep soil carbon. This is an important part of the natural process of carbon sequestration and long-term carbon reclamation.
Thanks for reading.
Next post I’ll talk about the “carbon neutral” argument by the biomass industry. Cheers.
This week we’ll explore the meaning of carbon neutral.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, carbon-neutral is defined as, “Having or resulting in no net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.” They also give another definition, “Counterbalancing the emission of carbon dioxide with carbon offsets.” Additionally, according to UK’s Cambridge Dictionary, carbon neutral is defined as, “If a person, organization, event, etc. is carbon-neutral, it does things such as planting trees to reduce carbon dioxide by the same amount it produces.”
The global carbon cycle is a complex earth system. Trees play an important role in mitigating climate change by sequestering atmospheric CO2. The biomass industry relies on a scientific position that accepts burning trees is carbon neutral because their biogenic carbon emissions are part of the “active carbon cycle.”
I’m going to argue the “trees are carbon neutral” theory, based on four simple observations. First of all, woody biomass is the physical embodiment of sequestered CO2, which is exactly what we’re trying to remove from our atmosphere. Our governments are willing to spend billions of dollars on questionable “carbon capture” devices, while our forests and soils have the ability to naturally sequester gigatons of CO2.
Secondly, our atmosphere has reached its carbon tipping point, which means any additional CO2 emissions will be reflected as atmospheric and oceanic warming. Simply replacing fossil fuel CO2 with biogenic CO2 is not reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Here is an example of Enviva Biomass claiming that burning wood pellets is actually “cutting emissions.” Now that scientists have identified elevated CO2 levels as the major cause of climate change, we should not allow the biomass industry to continue asserting their highly debatable “carbon neutral” emissions.
Thirdly, burning woody biomass is an anthropogenic activity that unnaturally emits carbon that would have remained in the forest as deep soil carbon. The biomass industry selectively uses weak science that asserts CO2 from the active carbon cycle will have no net contribution to the atmosphere. That premise was recently debunked in this report by Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance and IPCC author, Dr. William Moomaw, “If we halted deforestation, protected existing forests, and expanded and restored degraded forests, we could reduce annual emissions by 75 percent in the next half a century.”
Lastly, another important point that is often overlooked by science; the natural process of carbon reclamation never stops. The Earth is continuously making new fossil fuels, moving active carbon to long-term geologic carbon. Burning biomass interrupts the cycle of carbon reclamation by unnaturally forcing locked-up terrestrial carbon back into our vulnerable atmosphere and oceans.
The big picture issue is whether biomass carbon emissions from the active carbon cycle have the same harmful greenhouse gas effects as compared to burning fossil fuel carbon. The answer is yes, there is no difference in the climatic warming effects of biomass and fossil fuel carbon emissions, in fact, fossil fuels are derived from biomass.
The far-reaching question all of us should be asking ourselves; would we still have global climate change if all of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions ever produced came from biomass? Imagine that we never touched a drop of fossil fuels, instead we only burned bioenergy from native forests, tree plantations and fuel crops. Would the biomass industry’s position of “it’s carbon neutral because its from the active carbon cycle” still hold water? The climate implications of this deep line of questioning forces us to consider that the unnatural movement of biomass (terrestrial carbon) to atmospheric CO2 and oceanic CO2 would likely accelerate global climate change.
For and Against the Carbon Neutral Argument
It’s good to know who is for biomass energy and who is opposed to it. I want you to notice the pro-biomass stance from our U.S. government agencies, higher education institutions and the logging and paper industries, which are also directly profiting from the woody biomass industry.
For instance, the Florida Energy Systems Consortium is comprised of 12 major Florida universities, which receive state and federal bioenergy research funding, and openly promote woody biomass as carbon neutral. Coincidentally, the EPA is the only government agency that has scientifically questioned the carbon neutrality of woody biomass.
The biomass industry commonly uses the carbon neutral argument to justify burning trees to replace fossil fuels. For instance, UK-based Drax Energy uses a convoluted carbon accounting method which involves replanting harvested trees and measuring carbon uptake from surrounding trees. Drax is essentially using natural tree growth as their environmental prize. Drax and the biomass industry have repeatedly been called out on this “flawed” carbon accounting for years. In a recent Twitter post (below), Drax publicly asserted its carbon neutral position while quoting EU’s sustainable biomass energy guidelines. Coincidentally, the EU’s biomass policies were recently contested by 190 scientists.
In a recent Baton Rouge article, (former) CEO of Drax, Dorothy Thompson said, “Wood pellets are carbon neutral, so we get a break for using renewable sources.” Drax receives $600 million a year in UK taxpayer subsidies to burn so-called “carbon neutral” U.S. wood pellets instead of coal.
In a related Stornoway Gazette article, the University of Oulu in Finland teamed up with local businesses to utilize solid biomass for combined heat and energy. The Gazette author writes, “A new affordable solution is proposed that uses local renewable solid biofuel in a small-scale micro CHP system. The advantage of this approach is that all fuel used is carbon neutral, transport costs are minimal, and there are reduced CO2 emissions. This helps with carbon legislation compliance, reduced transmission losses from the grid, and the electricity-to-heat production ratio is a good match for the colder parts of Europe.” This is a bold statement by the Gazette, considering they offer no printed scientific evidence that supports their non-industry “carbon neutral” position. This is another clear case of media bias that is fueled by the expanding biomass industry.
It’s a New Atmosphere with New Rules
Our atmosphere is not the same as it used to be. Our continuous anthropogenic carbon emissions from fossil fuels is changing the dynamics of our atmosphere. In fact, our CO2 emissions have steadily increased over 25% in the past fifty years. Why is this so important? Because now that our atmosphere has reached its climate tipping point, removing the excess CO2 from fossil fuel emissions is critical to reversing global climate change. Trees play an important role in sequestering and locking up excess CO2.
In today’s atmosphere, 25% of the CO2 that is absorbed by growing trees comes directly from the excess CO2 emissions of fossil fuel energy. Every time we burn trees for bioenergy, we’re putting fossil fuel emissions back into the atmosphere.
I wanted to point out the hypocrisy of the biomass industry using the “trees are part of the active carbon cycle, therefor, we’re carbon neutral” rhetoric. The biomass industry’s implied “biogenic carbon benefits” of burning trees over fossil fuels is dispelled by the fact that burning woody biomass re-emits sequestered fossil fuel carbon, which is exactly the same carbon they claim to offset.
In today’s atmosphere, 25% of the CO2 that is absorbed by growing trees comes directly from the excess CO2 emissions of fossil fuel energy. Every time we burn trees for bioenergy, we’re putting fossil fuel emissions back into the atmosphere.
Carbon Debt: Replacing Carbon with Even More Carbon
Offsetting carbon emissions with new growth is the premise for the meaning of carbon neutral. But let’s take a deeper dive into the carbon trading process. When we burn trees, they produce new atmospheric CO2. When trees grow they absorb CO2 directly from the atmosphere. In fact, 95% of tree growth comes from absorbing atmospheric CO2.
When CO2 enters our atmosphere, it immediately acts as a greenhouse gas that traps heat energy that is supposed to escape back into space. As trees grow, they absorb CO2 at a slow steady rate, but when woody biomass is burned, all of its stored carbon from years of growth is immediately emitted into the atmosphere. It’s easy to understand that if you burn a 50-year-old tree in one day, you’re going to have a carbon debt (more remaining CO2). Another important aspect of biomass carbon debt is that its CO2 emissions are ongoing and cumulative. The biomass industry isn’t waiting for decades of new tree regrowth to catch up to their daily CO2 emissions, instead they’re willing to call woody biomass “carbon neutral,” from the moment it’s burned, which is actually increasing global CO2 levels.
Thanks for reading.
Next post I’ll talk about “Environmental NGOs” that support burning trees for energy. Cheers.
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If you have an interest in global climate change, please keep reading…
For those of you that don’t know what biomass and biofuel is; according to Dictionary.com, it’s “organic matter, especially plant matter, that can be converted to fuel and is therefor regarded as a potential energy source.” There’s an entire global industry devoted to harvesting and converting plants and trees into biomass power for energy and heat. In fact, in 2016, the U.S. Energy Information Administration claimed the biomass industry, which includes woody biomass, solid waste biomass and biofuels, was America’s largest source of renewable energy.
There’s only one problem with biomass energy; it emits massive amounts of CO2. So much in fact, according to a report by Dr. Mary Booth of Partnership for Policy Integrity, to provide the same amount of thermal energy, biomass generally emits 50% more CO2 than coal and 150% more CO2 than natural gas.
Biomass is the “Mother Ship” of fossil fuels.
Using natural photosynthesis, biomass is mostly made of carbon, which is directly absorbed as CO2 from our atmosphere. Most of the ancient carbon within fossil fuels was derived from biomass. Essentially, biomass is the “mother ship” of all fossil fuels.
Biomass Industry: It’s Carbon Neutral Because We Said So
It’s hard to believe that America’s largest source of renewable energy comes from a smokestack. The biomass industry continues to be relentless in their pursuit of expanding their “green energy” empire. They’ve garnered a handful of deceptive talking points; asserting that biomass is a “carbon neutral” source of clean energy. The primary reason why they claim carbon neutrality, is because they can regrow trees to offset their carbon emissions.
It’s Time to Call Out Their “Junk Science”
First and foremost, regrowing trees doesn’t negate the scientific fact that the moment their CO2 emissions enter our atmosphere, they’re effectively working as a greenhouse gas and warming our planet. Secondly, biomass produces a cycle of perpetual carbon emissions (carbon debt) because the trees can’t be regrown as fast as they’re burned.
The biomass industry is using natural tree growth as their environmental prize.
To put it simply, if you burn a 40 year old tree in one day, it’s going to take about 40 years to absorb the same amount of CO2 in a new tree. Additionally, instead of the biomass industry being held accountable for only measuring the carbon offsets from their replanted trees, they often take credit for carbon regrowth elsewhere in adjoining forests, under the guise of “sustainable forest management.” This is flawed carbon accounting that the biomass industry chiefly uses to hide their actual CO2 emissions from the stack.
Furthermore, let’s talk about “carbon neutral” utility-scale biomass energy. For instance, the McNeil Biomass Plant in Burlington Vermont, is a 50MW power plant that burns woody biomass for baseload energy. The McNeil plant can burn 76 tons of wood per hour, which in 24 hours is the equivalent of 3,648,000 pounds of wood per day. Let’s assume the wood is dried, which is generally a 1:1 factor compared to pounds of CO2. So we have a biomass plant that’s capable of producing over 3.5 million pounds of atmospheric CO2 per day; calling itself carbon neutral, clean energy. If the hypocrisy of that statement hasn’t sunk in yet, there’s more bad news.
Not only is the biomass plant emitting copious amounts of CO2, but now we’ve lost the ability of those precious fallen trees to sequester and lock up future carbon. It’s the proverbial “double whammy” for the environment. Now, I want you to visualize the McNeil plant’s carbon emissions in your head. Let’s take it out to a year, that’s (1,331,520,000) 1.3 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere as “unaccounted for” green energy. Comparatively, in that same one year of time, how much carbon do you think the newly “replanted” trees have sequestered? Biomass is the worst of our anthropogenic emissions; emitting more atmospheric CO2 than fossil fuels, and removing vital forests that are already effectively sequestering carbon.
Biomass is the worst of our anthropogenic emissions; emitting more CO2 than fossil fuels and removing trees that are already effectively sequestering carbon.
When you sit back and think about it logically, it’s easy to understand how fast biomass CO2 emissions are stacking up in our atmosphere. Keep in mind the CO2 emissions are ongoing and cumulative. This is only one biomass plant that we’ve used as an example; there are thousands of biomass plants worldwide that collectively spew billions of tons of CO2, and greenwash it as clean energy.
My next post, we’ll talk about biomass affecting ocean acidification. Cheers.
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