Biomass mounts a fightback

The biomass industry has been put on the back foot yet again, forced to defend itself against another report refuting its claims that biomass is a renewable, carbon neutral solution to our climate change challenge.

Yes, it is just one more in a long line of negative reports and articles. But there has been a marked change in the industry in the last few years — it is no longer just letting the criticism wash over.

And in response to a Chatham House report Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate assertions that biomass emits more carbon than most fossil fuels and that changes in forest carbon stock are not monitored, the industry has come back fighting.

On the day the Chatham House report was published, the UK’s renewable energy association (REA) was quick to refute many of the report’s claims, describing the report as “misleading”.

“We believe that the author has not fully reviewed, or ignored a significant amount of peer-reviewed science that underpins his conclusions”, the REA said.

In a letter to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, the US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) said the report “contains numerous fallacies and subscribes to discredited claims from activist groups which are not founded in science and do not reflect scenarios in US forestry”.

US-based wood pellet consultancy Futuremetrics president William Strauss points to the “rigorous certification schemes that demand auditing” which prove biomass burn is not causing forests to be depleted or forest carbon stocks to be reduced. US forest carbon sequestration has increased by 13.6pc over the past 25 years, Strauss said.

And without mentioning the report directly UK utility Drax, the world’s largest user of wood pellets for energy production, released on its website on the same day The biomass carbon story, clearly explaining how burning biomass does not add carbon to the atmosphere, as long as at least the trees used are replaced.

The responses have many points in common — the writers are adamant that the biomass industry contributes to growing forests and sustainable forestry, carbon dioxide released by burning wood is recaptured by growing trees, and it is not economically viable to use whole trees for biomass that would otherwise be sold to other industries.

The industry is not only using words in the fight, but action too. The Sustainable Biomass Partnership  (SBP) certification scheme is a joint industry effort which has been developed over the past few years to show the general public that biomass is sustainable, renewable, and reduces carbon emissions and they can prove it. But it does not seem to be enough.

But what does all this bad publicity mean for biomass? Does it really matter if these reports are published if they are as untrue as the industry claims?

The answer is it probably does. Governments all around the world are looking to tackle climate change and they are going to think twice about choosing a controversial technology that does not have wider public support, even if it does make sense on so many other levels. So it falls to the industry itself to get the message out there that biomass has a part to play in the global fight against climate change.

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