Recently there have been a few reasonably sensational articles in the news about using biomass for heating and power. These include Most wood energy schemes are a ‘disaster’ for climate change by the BBC, and £450m lost over failed green power programme by the Times. They have both been sparked by a paper published by Chatham House which essentially suggests that the use of biomass as a fuel is not sustainable, because of adverse effects on the climate (‘worse than coal’ apparently) when they are burnt.
Since this report seems to have sparked a wider debate in the media about the relative carbon benefits of biomass fuels, I thought that it might be helpful if I pointed out some of the ways that this is argued, to shed a bit of light on the subject.
First things first: trees absorb carbon as they grow, and typically release it when they die (through decomposition or combustion) though this is not automatically the case, and trees which are harvested for long lived timber products or which are left in low oxygen conditions (such as bogs) may retain carbon for many years. Taken in isolation, burning wood may look like a bad thing as it immediately releases carbon dioxide but this is certainly not the whole story. Continue reading Biomass and carbon: a climate disaster?