A group of scientists from the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Academies (EASAC) are against the energetic use of wood pellets. The large-scale substitution of coal with biomass exacerbates climate change and the risk of not meeting Paris’ climate goals. The reason is that pellets release more CO2 per kilowatt hour than coal. The CO2 is released within a very short time, but the binding afterwards takes several decades. The scientists do not fundamentally contradict the statement that the energetic use of biomass is climate neutral in the long term. However, the climate situation is now so urgent that no further CO2 emissions can be afforded.
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The combustion of wood biomass to generate electricity and heat is propagated in Europe as an important solution for achieving the climate goals. But above all, wood pellets release more CO2 per kilowatt hour than coal, as a series of reports by the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Academies (EASAC) shows. “Wood pellets are not a miracle cure to supply electricity and heat without contributing to climate change. Even if the EU and national politics create incentives for their use on a large scale,” said Prof. Lars Walloe, chairman of the environmental program of EASAC.
“Listen to science” is the battle cry of the Fridays for Future movement. And as the climate conference in Madrid comes to an end, it becomes clearer every day: Both the reality of climate change and the search for technological solutions to prevent a further rise in global temperature are becoming more and more desperate. The European National Academies of Science are now warning of the serious discrepancies between the current state of science and real politics when it comes to biomass.
“If we still want to save the climate, there is no alternative to stopping the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. But we have also repeatedly pointed out that the large-scale substitution of coal by wood biomass accelerates climate change in many cases and increases the risk that the Paris climate targets will not be met. The reason is simple: when forests are cut down and used as bioenergy, the entire carbon content of the biomass is released into the atmosphere very quickly, but has not been taken up by new trees for decades. This goes against the urgency of fighting the climate crisis, “says EASAC’s Prof. Michael Norton, director of the EASAC environmental program.
Despite the scientists’ warning: Biomass provisions in the EU directive on renewable energies harm the climate more than they benefit
Despite many scientific warnings, the UN rules on CO2 accounting shut the eyes of the climatic effects of deforestation in order to burn them. In accordance with the UN regulations, the 2018 revised EU guidelines for renewable energies and the EU emissions trading system (ETS) consider biomass use as CO2-neutral. “This gives the wrong impression to energy consumers and political decision-makers, and these gaps need to be closed quickly,” added Michael Norton.
“The concept of climate neutrality in wood biomass may have had some validity in 2009, when the urgency to combat global warming was not seen as such. The idea was simply that reforestation removes as much CO2 from the atmosphere as is released during combustion, but the focus today is on limiting global warming to 1.5 or 2 ° C. This requires urgent action – we cannot wait for new trees to regrow while burning biomass in large quantities of carbon are pumped into the atmosphere, “says Michael Norton.
The high subsidies for renewable energies that are made available in some EU member states have led to a huge increase in the use of wood biomass – including the replacement of coal in large power plants by imports, for example from the USA, Canada and other European countries , Deforestation for the production of wood pellets, which are transported over thousands of kilometers, has been industrialized to the extent of many million tons per year.
COP25 – “Driving out the devil with the Beelzebub”
A critical factor in the use of biomass is the so-called carbon payback period, i.e. the time it takes new trees to absorb the carbon released during combustion. The combustion of wood biomass is by no means climate-neutral, but releases CO2 into the atmosphere during the carbon payback period, which for the most important trees is between 50 and 100 years. This has to be taken into account when assessing how the goal of limiting heating to a maximum of 1.5 degrees can be achieved. According to EASAC, the sustainability criteria for biomass would have to set a maximum permissible CO2 payback period that is compatible with the Paris Agreement.
The Madrid conference saw how national governments boast of their success. Misleading rules for CO2 accounting make it possible to reduce national emissions on paper by simply switching from coal (where emissions have to be reported) to imported biomass (shown as zero emissions). “The energetic use of wood biomass is celebrated as a proverbial” silver ball “that gives politicians, foresters and energy companies a win-win situation because the current rules allow them to be subsidized as renewable energy. But for the climate it is as you would drive the devil out with the Beelzebub, “says Dr. William Gillett, director of EASAC’s energy program.
Post time: Jan-05-2020