Today is International Day of Action against #BigBadBioMass, and we're busting some of the myths and cutting through the greenwash.
Biomass is plant or animal material used as fuel to produce electricity or heat. In Australia, forests are being touted as the primary source for biomass plants in recent proposals, including a Victorian project in South Eastern Victoria by Port Anthony Renewables. But as we will see in this article, these projects increase carbon emissions and exacerbate deforestation and soil erosion.
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MYTH 1. BURNING FORESTS BIOMASS IS CARBON NEUTRAL
FALSE. Carbon neutral means there is no increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists tell us the opposite: when we burn wood, even if we replant trees immediately, the result is an increase in carbon dioxide emissions for decades!
And that doesn't include other emissions associated with logging, chipping, drying, preparing, and shipping the wood pellets.
MYTH 2. BIOMASS ENERGY IS BETTER THAN COAL
FALSE. Today, biomass plants emit 65% more CO2 than modern coal plants and 285% more than natural gas combined cycle plants!
Wood is a less energy-dense fuel; therefore biomass plants emit more CO2 emissions than coal plants to generate the same amount of energy.
In the UK, biomass has been used to subsidise current coal generators by transitioning to burning wood, which is worse in terms of emissions.
MYTH 3. BIOMASS USES ONLY WASTE WOOD DESTINED FOR LANDFILL
FALSE. It's the same argument used by the logging industry about using 'waste' from the logging for wood chips. Thirty years down the track and Victoria is facing species and ecosystem collapse fuelled by logging for wood chips, and more than 85% of the forests end up chipped.
Biomass is unsustainable, uneconomical, and depends on taxpayers money to exist. Instead of subsidising another polluting industry, we should invest in protecting and regenerating our forests, our natural carbon sinks.
MYTH 4. BIOMASS IMPROVES FOREST HEALTH
FALSE. The recent proposal for a biomass energy plant in Victoria aims to burn about 14,000 tonnes/month of fuel from Australian forests.
Removing logging residues strips vital nutrients out of the forest, degrading soils and increasing erosion. Again, it's just way of treating our forest ecosystems as a resource to be exploited - when they should be protected.
MYTH 5. BIOMASS AS FUEL TO PRODUCE CLEAN HYDROGEN
FALSE. Hydrogen is a non-toxic gas; however, its production requires vast amounts of energy. Currently, the main way of getting hydrogen is by using natural gas, a fossil fuel. As Prof. Alan Finkel says: "if the carbon dioxide by-product of that process is not captured and permanently stored (CCS), as it happens today, then the emissions completely negate any benefit."
The proposal for a biomass energy production plant from Victorian forests claims to capture the resulting CO2 into "solid biochar, a substance similar to charcoal that can be used to enrich agricultural soil". This is using a process called gasification. But this technology hasn't proved to be a carbon-negative solution! A 2013 study showed that "combustion or gasification of biomass could provide more CO2 for greenhouse enrichment than propane or natural gas per unit of energy."