Biomass Reconsidered

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Logger Greg Hemmerich and his crew feed low-value trees into a wood chipper, before bringing the chips to ReEnergy Holdings’ biomass plant in Lyonsdale, N.Y. David Sommerstein/NCPR

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Is Burning Trees Still Green? Some Experts Now Question Biomass

by DAVID SOMMERSTEIN

In northern New York state, logger Greg Hemmerich and his crew are clearing out an old pasture at the edge of a forest.

“There’s a lot of balsam, lot of spruce, thorn apple trees,” Hemmerich says. “Ninety percent of this lot is low-grade wood.”

In other words, it’s no good for furniture or paper or sawmills. But he’ll make $80,000 to run the wood through a chipper and truck the chips to a nearby biomass plant.

“Everybody said that green power was supposed to be the wave of the future,” Hemmerich says. “So I went full in.”In 2015, biomass — which refers to trees or other organic matter burned for fuel — produced more electrical energy in the U.S. than solar panels.

Biomass Generates Tiny Fraction Of Electricity In U.S.

Although biomass produced more than twice as much electrical energy last year than solar panels, it still makes up less than two percent of electricity generation overall. Most electricity generated comes from fossil fuels.

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Source: Energy Information Administration  Credit: Katie Park/NPR

The practice exploded in the 1990s, when oil prices were on the rise, in part because of the idea that biomass was “carbon neutral.”

When you burn a tree, it releases carbon gas, which causes climate change. But if you plant a new tree in the old one’s place, the idea goes, it’ll grow and suck up that carbon.

“So there’s not adding any greenhouse gas emissions over the whole life cycle of that species, of that plant,” says David Murphy, who researches renewable energy for St. Lawrence University.

Here’s where Hemmerich — and the biomass industry as a whole — got blindsided…

Read the whole story here.

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