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2016 February 18

Solid biomass is cornerstone of future energy portfolio

WBA response to declaration ‘Large scale bioenergy must be excluded from the renewable energy definition'

Download the press release here (DocPdf).

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To comply with the Paris climate agreement, Europe and USA should go for more biomass
The recent declaration of the US led NGOs to stop EU supporting bioenergy is a dangerous threat to the global development of bioenergy, a crucial part of the future renewable energy scenario. If the decision makers follow this advice, a climate disaster in this century is imminent.
WBA addresses decision makers in the USA and Europe: Increase sustainable biomass use, introduce carbon taxes on fossil fuel emissions and reject arguments that ignore the basics of the natural carbon cycle. As the President of WBA, Dr Heinz Kopetz puts it: Follow the experience of leading countries in climate mitigation policy. They prove solid biomass is the cornerstone of a future carbon neutral energy portfolio. 

Biomass is carbon neutral
The use of forest biomass is carbon neutral. The carbon contained in wood originates from the atmosphere and is released to the atmosphere: either by microbiological decay, forest fires or by its use for energy purposes. Trees like any other plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and store the carbon mainly in the form of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. This process is powered by solar energy. If humans do not use plants but leave them in nature, microorganisms eventually convert the major part of the plants to carbon dioxide and water. The carbon in the growing biomass is part of the natural carbon cycle.

Fossil fuels: the main cause of climate change
This is the big difference between biomass and fossil fuels. The carbon in fossil fuels would remain in the earth crust forever if humans would not extract it. The burning of fossil carbon: be it in coal, oil or natural gas, is the main cause of climate change and causes more than 30 000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gas emissions annually. Therefore, the use of fossil fuels creates an atmospheric carbon rise that will be a huge burden for future generations. 
The assertion that biomass is even more carbon intensive than coal is plain wrong. If 1 MWh of electricity is generated in a coal-fired power plant, 292 kg carbon (1 tonne CO2) is emitted from the earth crust to the atmosphere that increases the CO2 concentration. Instead, if 1 MWh of electricity is generated in a biomass fired power station, the CO2 emitted originated from the atmosphere and is returned back to the atmosphere with no carbon is transferred from ground to the air. In the long term, bioenergy delivers higher emission savings than compared to forest protection scenarios. 
The problem of electricity generation from biomass is not the carbon neutrality, but the low efficiency if the heat is not used along with electricity. Therefore, WBA favours cogeneration units where the size of the plant depends upon the heat quantity that can be used commercially – be it by the industry or district heating systems.

The need for sustainable forest management
Undoubtedly, the global forests are important stocks of carbon. These stocks can change over time. Increasing the forest area or the wood biomass per hectare lead to a shift of carbon from the atmosphere to the forests. The opposite occurs by deforestation, poor forest management or forest fires. These changes don’t add additional carbon to the natural carbon cycle.
To avoid a net shift of carbon from the forests to the atmosphere, forests have to be managed in a sustainable way. Basic requirement for sustainable biomass can be summarized as follows:
• Not more biomass is harvested than regrown in a given biomass system
• The fertility of the soil is safeguarded as well as the water quality
• The utilisation of biomass is managed for protection of biodiversity
These are basic rules inherent to any sustainability scheme. The state administration and the forest owners along with private players have to warrant a sustainable forest management based on these principles. 

The recent bioenergy declaration from US based NGO’s is alarming
The logic consequence of the declaration by the NGOs would be: leave the trees untouched in the forests while the old trees release their carbon by decay or forest fires. At the same time, continue the use of fossil fuels to supply the demand for heat, electricity and mobility. Unfortunately, this strategy is part of the energy reality in the USA and explains the extremely high CO2 emissions per capita in this country. World Bank data for the period 2011 – 2015 reveals this problem: The sustainability of biomass in Sub Saharan Africa countries is a point of concern and has to be addressed via the various sustainability schemes. The increasing use of biomass in USA and EU will lead to a reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and lower emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita (select countries)

Country CO2 emissions (Tonnes per capita)
USA 17.8
Sweden 5.5
Brazil 2.2
Tanzania 0.2
Target for 2 deg. C 1.6

Follow the leaders in climate mitigation policy
Sweden is a highly developed country that uses its forest in a sustainable way for paper, pulp and energy. Bioenergy covers more than 30% of the primary energy demand, the carbon dioxide gas emissions per capita are 5.5 tonnes and the industry has created many new jobs. Another example is Brazil, a country with a strong economic development. It has a share of more than 20% bioenergy in the energy portfolio and very low emissions per capita. Also, in African countries, south of the Sahara, biomass is the main energy source and the emissions are extremely low, but the issue of sustainability has to be addressed first. Globally, the CO2 emissions should be not more than 1.6 tonnes per capita to comply with the 2°C target.
But what is happening in the USA? The emissions are three times higher than in highly developed Sweden and ten times higher than they should be to comply with the 2°C target! The share of fossil fuels in the energy system is far too high and the contribution of solid biomass is far too low. 

We invite responsible NGOs to be a part of the climate mitigation work to follow the example of countries are proving that solid biomass is the cornerstone of a future carbon neutral energy portfolio. 

Download the press release here (DocPdf).

To support the initiative, click here.

For more information, please contact: 
Heinz Kopetz, President WBA, +436506806988,
Karin Haara, Executive Director WBA, +46705432641,
Bharadwaj V Kummamuru, Project Officer WBA, +46767159785