Biomass may hinder climate fight

A report by campaign groups has warned that burning biomass (such as wood) in power stations may hinder attempts to tackle climate change.

Biomass is expected to contribute about third of the UK’s mandatory EU target for renewable energy by 2020.

It’s described by the Committee on Climate Change as an economic means of low-carbon power.

But the report warns it will take too long for trees to re-absorb the carbon emitted by burning wood.

It also expresses concerns over the scale of the plans.

The government has opened a consultation asking how much carbon can be saved by burning biomass (plant material) and whether the policy will harm forests.

Biomass burning is not a zero-pollution option. It creates greenhouse gases to cut and transport the wood, and when the wood is burned. But supporters say that so long as the burned vegetation is replaced by new plants to absorb CO2 that should confer a significant advantage over using fossil fuels.

The numbers are debated. Power firms say the CO2 savings are worthwhile, but the Institute for European Environment Policy (IEEP) says there’s no reason to believe the required emissions reductions will be achieved with current biomass policy.

As biomass burning expands the topic is increasingly controversial. Drax power station – the UK’s biggest source of electricity – is converting three of its six giant boilers to burning biomass. They will gobble up nearly seven million tonnes of plant material a year.

Drax will have to import 90% of its biomass. The firm says its major source will be unwanted offcuts from the timber industry, mainly in the Americas.


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