Biomass energy could be carbon "sinner": UK study
April 21, 2009
According to Reuters, Britain should only support energy production from burning wood and other biomass where proven carbon cuts result, said a report by the Environment Agency, a public body which advises government. Investors and energy companies plan to invest billions in developing British power plants running on wood chips, straw and other biomass, in response to UK climate change policies, which add a premium for generation of low-carbon electricity. British finance minister Alistair Darling is expected to announce new support for renewable energy and to back tough, legally binding 2020 greenhouse gas emissions targets. But recommendations in a report commissioned by the Environment Agency, if adopted by government may dent biomass initiatives especially by excluding support for electricity-only projects rather than those, which use combined heat and power. Biomass is in theory a low-carbon energy source compared to fossil fuels because burning wood or crop waste only emits carbon dioxide, which plants and trees suck out of the air. But the size of carbon cut depends on how plants are grown, for example energy-intensive farming practices; fertilizers and long-distance transport of the feedstock pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Burning biomass to produce both heat and power is more efficient than wasting the heat and only using the electricity. Burning straw can even produce more carbon emissions than natural gas, a fossil fuel, according to the Environment Agency report, after taking into account the transport of the feedstock and efficiency of the power plant.