Carbon emissions from biomass under spotlight

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Carbon emissions from biomass under spotlight

The carbon emissions sent into the atmosphere when wood is burnt as biomass to fuel power and heat are coming under scrutiny in a new study.

The £160,000 seven-month research project by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) will look at the life cycle of greenhouse gases produced when different types of biomass, such as woodchips, are burned.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) looks at the emissions from a product, starting from its production — in the case of wood, the growing of the trees — through to it being used to produce energy.

ETI Bioenergy Programme project manager Andrew Thomas said: "This project will bring together data and information from existing studies, enabling the project team to develop a compendium of the most reliable data to produce carbon balance calculations which are comparable across different bioenergy feedstocks."

The research comes as increasing numbers of environmentalists have questioned how green the energy produced from burning wood-based biomass actually is. A significant number of environmental organisations’ research already indicates that burning wood to generate power leads to higher than expected rates of greenhouse gases being released and is more environmentally damaging than burning the coal that it has replaced. The “science” used to justify the burning of wood does not unfortunately take into account the carbon debt that is being created that will take several decades to potentially rebalance. There are also concerns that growing and harvesting trees to be converted into wood pellets leads to damage to biodiversity, increases unfair competition and prices for wood resources due to government subsidies, and is releasing embedded carbon unnecessarily.

Here at Use Wood Wisely, we believe wood should be more sustainably used in everyday items where its embedded carbon has the opportunity to stay locked up for many decades rather than being released into the atmosphere through burning. Find out more about the Use Wood Wisely campaign and why timber is better employed in building than being burnt.