The Obvious Biomass Emissions Error

Wood chips being delivered for a Biomass power plant. Image: USDOE

Guest essay by Steve Goreham

When Thomas Edison established his Pearl Street power plant in New York City in 1892, he used coal for fuel, not wood. Wood fuel could not compete with the cost of coal in 1892 and it still can’t today. Nevertheless, burning of biomass is widely regarded as sustainable and promoted as a solution for climate change, especially in Europe.

Today, Europe produces about 17 percent of its energy and 29 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Biomass accounts for about 19 percent of the electricity generated from renewables. Since 2000, Europe’s biomass consumption for energy production is up 84 percent.

For example, biomass fuel produced 18 percent of Denmark’s electricity in 2017. For the last two decades, Denmark has been reducing coal-fired power plant output, but adding biomass-powered plants. Since 2000, Denmark’s use of coal fuel for electricity decreased 63 percent. But the use of biomass fuel for electricity in Denmark increased by a factor of five, almost exactly replacing the decline in coal output. About three-quarters of the biomass consumed by Denmark is wood, with most of it imported.

But the “sustainability” of biomass is questionable, despite the childish notion that if you grow it, it must be sustainable. Burning wood emits more carbon dioxide than burning coal.

A 2012 study by Synapse Energy Economics estimated that the average smokestack of a US biomass plant emitted about 1.67 tons of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, or 50 to 85 percent greater than emissions from a coal-fired plant. CO2 emissions from a biomass plant are more than triple the CO2 emissions from a natural gas facility.

Despite these well-known numbers, neither the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the European Commission (EC) count emissions from power plants that burn wood. The EPA stated in 2009, “The CO2 emitted from biomass-based fuels combustion does not increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations, assuming the biogenic carbon emitted is offset by the uptake of CO2 resulting from the growth of new biomass.” In 2007, the EC ruled, “Biomass is considered as CO2 neutral. An emission factor of 0 shall be applied to biomass.”

The idea that burning wood is “carbon neutral” originated from the 1996 Greenhouse Gas Inventory paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations. The IPCC assumed that, as trees grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned in a biomass-fired power plant. If correct, substitution of wood for coal would reduce net emissions.

But a 2011 opinion by the European Environment Agency described a “serious error” in greenhouse gas accounting. The carbon neutral assumption doesn’t account for CO2 absorbed by vegetation that grows naturally on land not used for biofuel production. In addition, forests cut down to provide wood chips for power plants immediately release large quantities of carbon dioxide, but decades of tree regrowth are required to reabsorb released CO2. Substitution of wood for coal in electrical power plants is actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

As a result, the emissions numbers reported by Europe are wrong. Eurostat reports that Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions declined 16 percent from 2000 to 2016, but emissions from plants burning biomass and emissions from vehicular biofuels aren’t counted. European nations won’t face this obvious biomass emissions error, because without biomass, already difficult climate targets would become impossible to meet.

As a fuel, wood contains less energy and is more expensive than coal or natural gas. According to the American Physical Society, coal produces about 46 percent more energy per ton than wood. Since wood is less dense than coal, more than twice the volume of wood is required to produce the same electrical output.

In the United States, biomass plants are not doing well. Aided by subsidies and the “carbon neutral” classification, the number of US biomass power plants almost doubled between 2003 and 2016, from 485 to 760. But in 2017, only 1.1 percent of US electricity was generated by biomass fuel.

In the last few years, many of these wood-burning plants have been idled. In California, 27 percent of biomass capacity is off-line. Biomass generation declined in 17 states from 2013─2017, because burning wood is expensive compared to traditional power plants and other renewable generators.

One of the largest industrial emitters of carbon dioxide in Europe is the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire, England. The Drax plant produces 3,900 megawatts of electricity, about 6 percent of the UK’s electricity supply. This formerly coal-fired station consumed 36,000 metric tons of coal per day delivered by 35 coal trains each day.

In the name of cutting CO2 emissions, four of the six Drax generating stations were converted to burn wood chips over the last seven years, at a cost of £700 million ($1 billion). Hailed as “the biggest decarbonization project in Europe,” this facility now consumes about 9 million tons of wood pellets per year, shipped 3,000 miles from the US and Canada.

An estimated 4,600 square miles of forest are needed to feed the voracious Drax plant, with acres of forest felled each day. Replanted trees will take half a century to regrow. Despite the decarbonization claims, the CO2 emitted from the Drax plant is far greater today than when coal fuel was burned.

Burning wood for electricity is just one more foolish policy in the “fight” against global warming.

Originally published in The Western Journal. Republished here by request of the author.

Steve Goreham is a speaker on the environment, business, and public policy and author of the book Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development.

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February 7, 2019 10:08 am

If collapse of civilizations by climate change is caused by the choice of fuel then the late bronze age collapse was caused by renewables.

February 7, 2019 10:13 am


In fact, the UK gets to count their wood chips burning as a renewable resources for climate emission reductions. Great spotlight on the supercilious Emission Trading Scheme, which more Scheme than anything.


Caligula Jones
Reply to  Stephen Heins, The Word Merchant
February 7, 2019 1:18 pm

Here in Ontario, Biomass produces a whopping 0.2% (30MW):

Hourly Output by Fuel Type at 3:00 p.m. EST

Nuclear 9,514 MW
Hydro 4,518 MW
Gas 1,927 MW
Wind 1,838 MW
Solar 24 MW
Biofuel 30 MW

Tom Schaefer
Reply to  Caligula Jones
February 8, 2019 7:53 am

And so you can ship and profit from your indigenous biomass to greater fools in Europe! Brilliant!

Tom Andersen
Reply to  Tom Schaefer
February 8, 2019 1:36 pm

Ontario has to buy wood chips from Norway.

“Yet the new plant couldn’t use ordinary wood chips readily available in Northwestern Ontario. It needed special wood chips from Norway.
As a result, the cost of producing power at this Thunder Bay plant was an astounding $1,600 per megawatt-hour.”

Would be more funny if I was not an Ontario tax payer….

Reply to  Stephen Heins, The Word Merchant
February 7, 2019 1:31 pm

And I assume that the wood chips are produced by machines powered by biomass, and that they are transported across the Atlantic from Canada and the U.S. to the U.K. in ships, by rail or by trucks that are also powered by biomass?

Reply to  Trebla
February 7, 2019 2:19 pm

For sure they are!!!
This biomass idea is simply the most stupid from the greens.

Reply to  rd50
February 7, 2019 6:59 pm

Not stupid – very clever IMO. They achieved their aim of stopping the use of 36,000 tonnes of coal per day in the UK, raising the cost of electricity to industry and consumers, increasing CO2 release and reducing economic growth. Very successful subversion, I would say.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Trebla
February 7, 2019 2:59 pm

Transport over sea with sailing boats, and per draisine on rails – no problem

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Trebla
February 7, 2019 4:01 pm

Steam ships and steam powered rail.

Y. Knott
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 8, 2019 4:35 am

Yeah, really – why don’t they just make everything steam powered? Coal, wood, natural gas – WHY NOT JUST BURN STEAM?

– Oh, wait – water vapour is a greenhouse gas… /sarc on the whole comment, btw 😉

Caligula Jones
Reply to  Y. Knott
February 8, 2019 6:20 am


As I put it to the overly earnest, woefully unscienced greenies I run into: water vapour is actually the biggest green house gas…would you be ok if we shut off Niagara Falls?

R Shearer
Reply to  Stephen Heins, The Word Merchant
February 7, 2019 5:42 pm

I believe they are burning pellets and not chips but please correct me if I am wrong.

Pellets are more dense, dryer and contain more energy than chips, largely from their processing. The energy for processing by the way is largely provided by fossil fuels, as is the fuel needed for their transportation.

Reply to  Stephen Heins, The Word Merchant
February 9, 2019 9:35 am

Here’s something about the CO2 balance of burning biomass, regarding “The carbon neutral assumption doesn’t account for CO2 absorbed by vegetation that grows naturally on land not used for biofuel production”: If biomass burned to produce energy is replaced, AND some of the CO2 produced by burning biomass for energy increases growth of biomass other than biomass to replace the burned biomass, then using biomass as a fuel is CO2-negative, at least after the time it takes to replace the burned biomass.

George T
February 7, 2019 10:18 am

When it came to logging for wood products for home construction etc… environmentalists managed to put a stop to this in parts of the USA due too endangered species or some other environmental concern. 4,600 square miles to fuel one plant in England. That does not sound like “environmentalism” according to their definition. It would be one thing if the wood was already down and cleared from the forest floor, but hacking down trees for the sake of climate change flies in the face of everything they have stood for in the past. Same goes for wind turbines and the number of birds killed. Makes no sense to me.

Lee L
Reply to  George T
February 7, 2019 1:11 pm

Just a note George T…

We don’t ‘hack’ down trees anymore except for fun.
We use feller bunchers or chainsaws which I guarantee you are not solar powered.

We might also remember that a tree as it stands on the soil, is largely a stalk of water supported vertical by dry wood fibre. The wood cells are filled with water and it is tucked away into the spaces between the cells and electrically bound to the cell walls. Wood pellets won’t burn well until the water is evaporated somehow down to maybe 12 percent of the dry wood fibre by weight. The water in the newly harvested tree usually starts out at 100-200 percent of dry wood fibre by weight.

So you will need somehow to remove water weighing the same or double the weight of burnable fibre before burn it or you ship it. I suppose they just put the logs out in the sun for a couple of years to dry out before pelletizing? Or is it Nat gas ? Maybe they keep the price down, don’t dry and instead ship a lot of water to Drax. Then the fuel part of the pellet is only one half to one third the weight of the pellet.

At a plywood plant, we used to make fireplace logs out of the odd shaped pieces of furnish that couldn’t be used in the panel which is a legit use of ‘waste’ that payed better than selling it to the pulp mill. Making these fireplace ‘pellets’ needed energy to dry and form the furnish which was got by burning nat gas. I am certain, using only that ‘waste’, that we could not sustain anything like the volume of pellets needed by a Drax monster if we enlisted all the plywood plants in the world using only legit ‘waste recovery’ material destined for the pulp mill.

Reply to  Lee L
February 7, 2019 2:23 pm

Yes Drax is a monster.
Hard to believe that this was done supported by the green scientists.

michael hart
Reply to  rd50
February 7, 2019 3:34 pm

Unfortunately, “the green scientists” is an oxymoron.
Some people might argue that they really do exist but in my experience the greener they get, the less scientific they become. And some of them have been good friends.

Phil R
Reply to  George T
February 8, 2019 5:50 pm

There’s something wrong with that 4,600 square mile figure, though I don’t really know how to evaluate it. First, 4,600 sq. mi. over what timeframe – monthly, yearly? second, the area of the state of Rhode Island is 1,214 sq. mi. (according to Wikipedia). 4,600 sq. mi. is almost four times the area of Rhode Island (not that there’s anything wrong with getting rid of RI, but that’s for another day).

Krishna Gans
February 7, 2019 10:20 am

Also, they dont take into account the articulates produced by wood fires, even when filterd.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Krishna Gans
February 7, 2019 10:27 am


Reply to  Krishna Gans
February 7, 2019 12:54 pm

Darn .. and here i was hoping it was creating really smart people

Reply to  funnyBonez
February 8, 2019 1:35 am

That actually made me laugh out loud, good one!

February 7, 2019 10:26 am

The “zero emissions” claim has always been a fraudulent one – and one that you don’t even need to be a scientist to debunk.

“Biomass” cycles emit CO2 – in tending the crop, harvesting it, converting it to usable fuel (whether by chipping it or fermenting / distilling), transporting it to the place(s) it is to be burned, and replanting.

Not as much, on a net basis, as extracting and burning fossil fuels, but still quite a bit more than “zero.”

Not to mention the depletion of inorganic soil nutrients that are not returned to the “biomass farm.” (In most cases, they cannot be; the chemical composition has been changed by the cycle so that they are no longer usable by plants.)

Reply to  Writing Observer
February 7, 2019 11:11 am

There’s always that pesky 2nd law of thermodynamics : What ever you do, you will never recoup the energy you put in. There are ALWAYS losses. It takes more energy to plant, grow, and harvest biomass fauna then it does to dig up the concentrated stuff out of the ground.
We aren’t’ running out of coal, and any biomass fuel is a poor substitute for the real stuff. Why would we be burning poorer grade fuel when the good stuff is around and less expensive?
IMHO burning trees for energy is what the cave men did.

Amos E. Stone
Reply to  Rocketscientist
February 7, 2019 1:57 pm

Fauna? Well, liposuction from fat hogs may be a sustainable way forward 🙂 Not sure about the overall efficiency of the scheme…

Reply to  Amos E. Stone
February 7, 2019 5:13 pm

burning fat hogs … there may be, somewhere, a government program in want of such study.

Phil R
Reply to  DonM
February 8, 2019 6:03 pm

Don’t need a government program. If you burn fat hogs slow enough, you end up with reaaallly good eats! Been studied here in Virginia and North Carolina for decades.

Krishna Gans
February 7, 2019 10:27 am

Despite these well-known numbers, neither the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the European Commission (EC) count emissions from power plants that burn wood.

Hide the increase (of CO2)

February 7, 2019 10:32 am

This is just fiddling the figures, but if the EU and the USA go along with this nonsense, then so be it, it all adds to the good gas CO2.

But coal went through this same process of taking the CO2 from the atmosphere e, the only difference is that it was a few million year s earlier.

In fact all of these articles about having batteries, well a pile of coal is a battery, a solar battery from long ago.


Andy Pattullo
February 7, 2019 10:39 am

Very nice summary of another political-environmental boondoggle driven by the religion of CAGW. I don’t apologize for the use of either “Catastrophic” or “Global Warming” in the acronym as claims the world ends in 12 years and that everything bad happening is due to warming are the staples of this end-of-times religion. They may want to temper the language with the term “Climate Change” when convenient (i.e. warming doesn’t happen, extreme weather events don’t increase, and the sea refuses to rise more than a lackadaisical 1-2 mm per year), but this is as fraudulent as cloaking Autocratic Socialism in the veneer of “helping the little people”.

February 7, 2019 10:41 am

The only biomass scheme I ever heard of that theoretically made sense involved pelletizing and burning millet. The millet was going to replace the crop in the area nobody wanted anymore – tobacco. The millet would be harvested, pelletized and turned into electricity and regrown every year, so theoretically the CO2 uptake cycle would have been almost instant. There was also the benefit of giving the former tobacco farmers a new source of income. I was told by someone involved that the project was shelved by the government due to pressure from wind lobbyists.

Reply to  Greg61
February 7, 2019 11:19 am

Is more CO2 produced from planting, harvesting and burning that is taken up by the plants each year?
The ‘accountants’ who conduct these studies always seem to omit all the attendant energy needed to produce the fuel.
By their accounting we simply set naturally growing fields on fire and harness all the released energy.

Reply to  Greg61
February 7, 2019 12:41 pm

Well, as the only person I know or have heard of who has written an energy proposal directly tied to helping tobacco farmers, I can tell you firsthand that it wasn’t millet. The proposal was a willow biomass proposal first submitted to Duke energy and then to Eon, in Louisville, Ky. After the Federal government did a sweeping survey of biomass resources, the strategy was formed to utilize waste from ice storms and forest thinning to initiate the biomass system allowing the willow crop to begin its cycle. After it was discovered that reducing wood waste streams to the Pikeville Ky. landfill enough to extend the life of the landfill for 75 years, the Pikeville Biomass Project was born, some would say, right from the desk of Rocky Adkins. Through the savings to the biggest coal producing municipality anywhere, project finance and risk mitigation were simplified. Somewhere along the line, the fuel initiative was switched to a Mitch McConnell led hemp initiative to pave the road for the $12MM biomass contract between Eon and Patriot Biomass, founded by Don Blankenship and Roger Ford. So you see Gregg61, it wasn’t a millet plan or wind lobbyists at all. It was willow plan, a regenerative fuel crop backing a carbon reductive energy empowering southeastern farmers with the ability to produce energy, stolen by coal executives and tobacco politicians because they were afraid it would end coal forever.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Andrew Moore
February 8, 2019 2:11 am

If willow works, go for it. I suspect more and stickier fingers would get into the project before it got very far.

If you farm in Malawi and don’t grow tobacco you probably won’t make much money. Tea is an option but has to be done on a huge scale.

Finding sustainable incomes for rural farmers is an urgent problem in Africa where the dumping of subsidized farm products from rich countries is rampant.

The supply management system of milk in Canada has worked really well for generations while in the US a free-for-all market has dairy farmers committing suicide.

Isn’t it interesting that tobacco farmers make so much money they get the attention first?

Millet will grow in places where literally nothing else will, like the northern Sahel. There is a lot of merit in promoting it as a biomass fuel if it leads to reclaiming the desert.

Robert of Texas
February 7, 2019 11:07 am

I wonder if they really account for all of the resources that are consumed by growing things to burn. A tree doesn’t just contain carbon after all – it contains all sorts of trace elements. You grow anything in a field long enough without replacing the lost nutrients, the plants become stunted and eventually grow there only poorly. So are we depleting the nutrients or do we refresh them? If we refresh them, is this accounted for in the calculations for it being carbon neutral?

Then there is the energy to get to the trees, cut them, and turn them into pellets. Meanwhile the areas were the cutting is taking place are faced with erosion – never mind they become ugly for 20 years. And that you are disrupting environments full of animals (but likely not a lot of diversity since this is probably a replanted new forest and not an old-growth one).

Then there is the energy to transport the pellets first to a port, then to another port, and finally to the power plant. So likely a lot of diesel engines involved here so particulate pollution, and of course release of CO2. I wonder if they have controls in place for the introduction of new pests – beetles and such?

Then as someone above mentioned, there is the pollution from burning wood – particulates in the air. The ash at least should be reusable on fields, but likely not the fields where the nutrients were originally taken from.

How can this possibly be cleaner then burning local coal – assuming pollution control technology is in place and working. (No, not CO2 sequestration…) Is coal mining that inefficient?

But in the end, you have now made your country more vulnerable to embargoes, war, trade disruptions, etc.

Bryan A
Reply to  Robert of Texas
February 7, 2019 12:23 pm

Taking those into account would be like the European Virtue Signaling about being more Green though all the while getting Coal Power imported from China

Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 11:07 am

While I think coal is clearly an excellent fuel for power generation due to its high energy density and abundance, I have to quibble with the assertion that wood produces more CO2 than coal.

Wood is composed of about 50% carbon by weight and has a heating value of about 8600 BTU/lb (20 MJ/kg). Coal is typically 80-85% carbon by weight and has a heating value of around 13,000 BTU/lb. So burning 2 lb of wood liberates 17,200 BTU and converts 1 lb of carbon to CO2. To get the same 17,200 BTU from 13,000 BTU/lb coal with 82.5% carbon you’d need to burn 1.32 lbs and you’d release 1.09 lbs of carbon.

Of course there are other factors like moisture content, storage and transportation costs, etc. that affect the economics of both fuels. But the difference in CO2 emissions is not very significant. I my view wood is an excellent home heating fuel for those of us with ready local access and the willingness to do the work necessary to use it. It is certainly cheap and renewable in small scale applications for a great deal of rural North America, Canada and many other parts of the world where heating is a substantial requirement.

I have heated my house primarily with wood for 37 years. I have about 30 acres of mixed hardwoods and have never cut down a live tree for fuel. Just dead falls and wind damaged trees provide plenty of wood. In three weekends last spring my wife, kids and I cut split and stacked about a 3 years supply.

Reply to  Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 11:40 am

There is a major difference in woods and carbon contents per pound. My guess is they are using mostly southern pines.

Rick C PE
Reply to  Pierre
February 7, 2019 11:51 am

Not true. Virtually all common tree species have very similar heating values and composition. You can look up the data yourself in the Phyllis Database.

Fred Middleton
Reply to  Pierre
February 8, 2019 10:25 am

U.S. wood used as fuel – heating – fire wood have different BTU values per specie. Volume-like 1 Cord 4’x4’x8′. Some are better than others per volume, and maybe there is a correlation between volume and dry weight
Green vs dry –

BTU/Cord –

David Chappell
Reply to  Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 11:41 am

At a generous estimate that is 10 acres to service one house for a year.

Reply to  Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 1:04 pm

Are you using the actual BTU content of coal and wood to determine the BTUs? Most coal power plants are in the neighborhood of about 30 to 50 % efficient. Most wood burners are in the lower range of those values. Thus, the numbers would need to be multiplied by between 2 and 3 if you are quoting BTU by weight. Making the amount of wood needed even more significant.
Grew up in a home heated by burning wood in a wood stove and fireplace. Clearly remember my father telling me if you live on an acre of wood land you can heat the home for the winter. Rarely did we use more than one full grown Elm, Mulberry, Oak, etc that had fallen and the dead branches that had been blown down.

A C Osborn
Reply to  Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 1:21 pm

Ric, DRAX was built over a Coal Mine, a deliberate decision, they now
Cut 1.5 times as much wood
Chip the Wood
Dry the Wood
Transport the wood by Train, Ship & Train 3000 miles
Store the wood and keep it dry.
Sound like a good idea?

Reply to  A C Osborn
February 7, 2019 2:37 pm

Yes the DRAX project of replacing coal with wood pellets was absolutely stupid.

Steve O
Reply to  A C Osborn
February 8, 2019 10:13 am

The BBC has an article today highlighting a plan at the Drax plan to do carbon capture.

“If you burn that wood, the process doesn’t emit any extra CO2 into the atmosphere – because the trees removed it from the air in the first place. It’s called carbon neutral.”

Yes, that’s the way they account for it. Incidentally, Drax burns 7 million tons of wood chips per year. They plan to capture 1 tonne of CO2 per day. One.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Rick C PE
February 7, 2019 3:17 pm

Emissions compared Gaz (Erdgas), oil (light oil), wood . Unfortunately not mentioned coal.

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  Rick C PE
February 8, 2019 7:19 pm

It’s plausible that wood produces 50% more CO2 than coal per electrical energy output. Computations based on heating values are not accurate because they do not account for heat loss and combustion efficiency. Wood may have more moisture content than coal. Even if you use dry weight of wood, it does not account for heat loss to vaporize the moisture. This affects the efficiency of the boiler.

Another factor is the size of wood feed stock. Coal is pulverized and that increases combustion efficiency. Wood pellets are bigger producing more unburned carbon (charcoal). This affects the efficiency of the furnace.

February 7, 2019 11:15 am

Rick, one anecdote does not a generalization make.

Steve O
February 7, 2019 11:21 am

“… but decades of tree regrowth are required to reabsorb released CO2.”

Supposedly we’re in an emergency situation with regards to CO2 emissions, with 12 years left to act, or 12 years left until we all die, depending on whose prattle you listen to. If we accept what the alarmists claim, then we absolutely cannot afford to burn biomass, just as we cannot afford to build wind turbines, as they are steel and concrete intensive structures.

But what do we hear calls to do? Build wind turbines, and burn biomass. THIS is the crowd of geniuses whose judgement we’re supposed to trust with trillions of dollars???

An honest accounting for CO2 emissions for biomass would resemble an amortization schedule, immediately counting the initial emissions, with offsetting absorption being recorded over a period of time.

Why should I not think that the entire infrastructure spending plan is window dressing for tax increases and wealth transfers?

February 7, 2019 11:39 am

“But the “sustainability” of biomass is questionable, despite the childish notion that if you grow it, it must be sustainable.”
It isn’t a childish notion. It’s an elementary understanding of where stuff comes from. There are nearly 300 Gtons more carbon in the air now than in 1850. That is what is changing the climate. And that new carbon came from digging up and burning fossil fuel.

Burning biomass does not introduce new carbon to the environment. It just moves it around. The spurious arithmetic in this post just reflects that fallacy. All the carbon that burning biomass puts in the air came from the air originally.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 11:46 am

Really … so when you clearcut all the forests, what then? The UK did it at the dawn of the industrial revolution – I’m not sure they’ve recovered yet. The EU is doing it right now outside of their own backyard where the devastation is not so noticeable to their citizens (it’s somebody else’s problem) …

Reply to  MikeP
February 7, 2019 12:10 pm

“Really … so when you clearcut all the forests, what then?”
Then you’ll stop burning biomass. But they don’t actually do that.

A C Osborn
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 12:45 pm

“All the carbon that burning biomass puts in the air came from the air originally.”
Just as it did for Coal.

Show us the proof that the CO2 that has been added to the atmosphere has caused the global warming since 1850.

Nigel in California
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 1:13 pm

“300 Gtons more carbon in the air than in 1850.”

That is an argument from incredulity. You need to provide more convincing evidence that we should worry about those 300 Gtons.

“Burning biomass…”

So, if we burn wood, and the CO2 ppm goes up (for several decades until the trees grow back), that’s ok. But, if we burn coal, and the CO2 ppm goes up (until more plants grow because there is more plant food), that’s bad?

Reply to  Nigel in California
February 7, 2019 1:20 pm

“until more plants grow because there is more plant food”
If you cut down and burn a tree, that leaves a vacancy in an area where trees can and do grow. Trees are growing all the time, reducing CO2 to carbon, which later returns to the atmosphere via oxidation. Biomass burning is one pathway.

If you burn coal, that leaves a hole in the ground.

Bryan A
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:31 pm

A mature tree sinks far more carbon than any 10 saplings combined

Bill Treuren
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 7:03 pm

Nick I think this is a hard one to defend.
Clearly there are CO2 emissions and to assign them as zero is childish at best, you will agree that they are not zero.
The big issue is the soil cycle after felling and that emits a lot of CO2, on a hundred year basis it may be close to reabsorbed. But for this to work a lot of CO2 will be liberated.

I do read what you write not always disagreeing and often respecting what you write but this is a near fraudulent play that is little more than gaming a system and makes it hard to believe there is any integrity behind the CAGW or AGW hypothesis.

Reply to  Bill Treuren
February 7, 2019 11:05 pm

“Clearly there are CO2 emissions and to assign them as zero is childish”
This is the old nonsense of saying that “natural emissions” of 100 Gt per year or so of C dwarf human emissions. That 100 Gt comes from all kinds of respiration, forest fires etc. And the point is that it is balanced by the 100 Gt that plants absorb by photosynthesis. It has to balance in the medium term, because carbon has to be reduced (from CO2) before it can be oxidised (emitted).

Burning biomass makes just part of this “natural emissions”. The lifetime of reduced carbon on the earth’s surface is limited; if bugs don’t eat it, fire will. Human burning just advances the timing slightly.

The test of all this is the advance of CO2 in the air from 280 ppm to 400 plus. It wasn’t “natural emissions” that caused that; they have been going on for millions of years. It was the injection of new carbon from mining.

Nigel in California
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 8, 2019 10:35 am

The hole will be filled with newly farmed trees and plants growing on the newly released CO2/energy.

Randy Stubbings
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 1:33 pm

Nick, I am not a geologist, but when I look at data produced by those who are it says that Earth is at nearly the lowest temperature and lowest CO2 level over its multi-billion-year history. Those who study paleoclimate say that the Earth has had temperatures ~10 degrees C warmer than today, and that CO2 levels have exceeded 6000 ppm. There were camels on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic 3.5 million years ago (when there was no permanent Arctic ice cap), and 15,000 years ago there were ice sheets several kilometres thick where I am sitting right now. When did non-human-induced climate change stop? When did the “catastrophic” level of CO2 fall from somewhere north of 6000 ppm (during which periods life on Earth did just fine) to 400 ppm? How can we possibly imagine that halting the burning of fossil fuels tomorrow is going to stop the climate from changing? What happens when we spend TRILLIONS to mitigate CO2 and weather happens anyway?

Reply to  Randy Stubbings
February 7, 2019 10:55 pm

” When did the “catastrophic” level of CO2 fall from somewhere north of 6000 ppm (during which periods life on Earth did just fine) “
Some kind of life did just fine. But not humans – we weren’t there. And certainly not 7 billion of us. Whether that is sustainable at 6000 ppm is a big gamble.

Kerry Eubanks
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 8, 2019 10:02 am

“Data collected on nine nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines indicate an average CO2 concentration of 3,500 ppm with a range of 0-10,600 ppm, and data collected on 10 nuclear-powered attack submarines indicate an average CO2 concentration of 4,100 ppm with a range of 300-11,300 ppm,” according to a 2007 National Research Council report on exposure issues facing submarine crews.”

These crews are at sea for months at a time. I’m guessing 6000ppm is far from a big gamble.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:21 pm

That logic only works if you balance the CO2 generated from power generation with the uptake of CO2 in new planted forests. If you are not doing that more will end up in the atmosphere than before you started biomass power generation and the alleged CO2 threat remains.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:28 pm

“There are nearly 300 Gtons more carbon in the air now than in 1850”

300 Gtons more CO2 is insignificant compared to the total weight of the atmosphere – 5.5 quadrillion tons.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  icisil
February 7, 2019 4:06 pm

Nick said 300 Gtons of carbon not CO2.

Reg Nelson
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:29 pm

“Burning biomass does not introduce new carbon to the environment. ”

Of course it does. Fossil fuels are used to cut down the trees, transport the pellets to a port where they are loaded onto a fossil fuel burning container ship, offloaded onto ICE truck to transport to the plant.

The process adds more CO2 to the atmosphere.

BTW It’s hard to anyone who deliberately labels CO2 as “carbon” seriously.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:46 pm

All the carbon that burning biomass puts in the air came from the air originally.

…just as all that carbon in the coal you burn came from the air originally, just at a different point in time. But frankly, my biggest complaint with your post is this:

There are nearly 300 Gtons more carbon in the air now than in 1850. That is what is changing the climate. And that new carbon came from digging up and burning fossil fuel.

which we know to be false because the change in atmospheric CO₂ follows the change in temperature. Unless you can explain a viable mechanism whereby the future causes the past.

See, the reason we can’t pin down either a TCS or an ECS response from empirical data is that it may well fall in the negative range, once all the feedbacks have their feedback. Since a higher concentration of atmospheric CO₂ produces an increased rate of infrared radiation to space, it may easily have an overall cooling effect.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 2:58 pm

“There are nearly 300 Gtons more carbon in the air now than in 1850. That is what is changing the climate.”

In what way is CO2 changing the climate?

You must have an example or two in mind to make such a confident assertion.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom Abbott
February 8, 2019 2:54 am

Apparently that was an overconfident assertion, since you offer no examples of CO2 causing the climate to change.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting you to give any examples of CO2 changing the Earth’s climate, because there are no examples, as you well know, even though you asserted that there are. This is what we have to deal with in climate science: Wild, unsubstantiated claims.

Krishna Gans
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 3:24 pm

Burning one tree the day, how many years the CO2 has been taken out of the air that you put in the air over the day ?

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 7, 2019 10:44 pm

“Burning biomass does not introduce new carbon to the environment. It just moves it around.” Nick Stokes

Yes it moves C around from stored carbon in plants to the atmosphere. Burning coal moves stored carbon around from the ground to the atmosphere. It takes a lot longer to make coal than to make new trees, but you don’t get instantaneous new forests when you cut them down and burn them – you need decades to re-sequester the carbon from the trees and all those organisms that lived in those trees. Using North American forests for European energy is insanely destructive to the environment. It makes even less environmental sense than chipping Australian forests and shipping them to Asia for paper pulp.

If CO2 is a satanic gas then burning coal for energy in areas where coal is in good supply is clearly less damaging to the environment than clear-felling forests, mass murdering their wildlife, and shipping the pellets over the Atlantic. What exactly is this ‘changing the climate’ that you seem worried about? As far as I can tell the climate isn’t any more changeable than it has always been: drought and flood has been the Australian way since long before the Climate Change religion made CO2 the Devil. If we stopped using all fossil fuels tomorrow, do you think the Garden of Eden would suddenly appear?

Steve O
Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 8, 2019 3:56 am

It will be a long, long time before all the carbon is reintroduced into the environment, and I’m fairly certain it will affect the climate. What was the climate like, and how sustainable was life, back when all that carbon was in the environment instead of the ground? Some lizards grew to be 100 feet long. Some dogs were the size of small horses. There were butterflies with 2′ wingspans. Plants grew to enormous proportions. The seas were teeming with life.

But even the advocates of radical action don’t seem to believe their own pronouncements. If they did, wind turbines and bio-mass plants would be research projects — not part of the proposed solution. And we’d hear more people saying they’re sorry for opposing nuclear power for the last 40 years, but could we please build some nuclear power plants now.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
February 8, 2019 4:28 am

Burning coal only moves carbon around as well.

Clearing land to build roads and cities and farms and using the trees from the land clearing to power Draxx is not CO2 neutral.

It is phoney accounting to assume biomass energy is carbon neutral. This is clearly childish thinking trying to cash in on the EU ETS scheme.

william matlack
February 7, 2019 11:41 am

Ontarios former Lieberal govt. shut down a natural gas fired power plant in Thunder Bay Ontario and replaced it with abiomass capacity. The wood chips were shippedfrom Scandinavia by freighter across the Atlantic up the St. Lawrence etc etc. Ontarios auditor general did astudy of this plant and found the plant not very efficient. Her analysis found that it cost$ 1.76 to produce TWO CENTS OF ELECTRICITY. Only a liberal would think this makes economic sense.

Harrow Sceptic
Reply to  william matlack
February 7, 2019 12:06 pm

William M
If Ontario ships wood chips in from Scandinavia and the UK ships wood chips in from the US shouldn’t each swap suppliers. It would make for much shorter shipping journeys and would make it (a bit) GREENER. Or wood/would that be too simple

Reply to  Harrow Sceptic
February 7, 2019 10:15 pm

Hmm. Hadn’t heard about the reverse shipping from Europe to North America.

It would be interesting to follow the money – who owns interests in the ocean shipping companies?

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  Writing Observer
February 7, 2019 10:42 pm

An old Aussie story has two truckers meeting each other at Albury, between Sydney and Melbourne, which are 10 hours apart on a good day.
Old mates, Fred said to Bill, “Hope you have a good trip going South. What are you carrying?” Bill replied “Eggs”. Then he asked ‘What is your load heading North, Fred?”
Fred replied “Eggs”.
(Here, readers can supply the punch line). Geoff.

February 7, 2019 11:42 am

Don’t forget clear cutting of forests in areas that are both outside the EU and lack environmental protections, such as the Carpathian mountains. Tragic harm to the environment is occurring in the name of environmentalism !!

February 7, 2019 11:43 am

So by the logic used for the justification of burning biomass being carbon neutral why would you not just continue to burn coal and plant more trees and other biomass to offset the use of coal? Especially if the CO2 emitted is close to the same and the cost is cheaper.

Bryan A
Reply to  BillG
February 7, 2019 12:36 pm

Just plant fast growing trees, harvest and replant them every 10 years, and stack them in old Coal Pit Mines covered with water. once the PIT is filled, cover with 100′ of rock and soil and wait…wait…wait.
Eventually the trees will turn to coal and some future generation will have a high density fuel source that Greenies could consider renewable much like biomass is considered renewable today.

Reply to  Bryan A
February 7, 2019 1:14 pm

Wouldn’t this be the ultimate in Carbon Sequestration? But where is the ability to make money off it? That is part of the scheme as well.

David Chappell
February 7, 2019 11:48 am

There are two questions that are never addressed by the sustainability claim:
1: How long does it take to grow a tree?
2: How long does it take to burn a tree?

Substitute biomass of your choice for tree.

Bryan A
Reply to  David Chappell
February 7, 2019 12:38 pm

Poplar matures in 5 – 10 years
Others can take decades to centuries to fully mature

Reply to  David Chappell
February 7, 2019 12:50 pm

2 years to grow it
six months to burn it. Green fuel requires drying time.

February 7, 2019 12:25 pm

So if clear cut forests in U.S. used for wood pellet shipments to the UK causes increased CO2 emissions in the U.S. landscape and preferred renewable emissions in Europe from burning the wood, the U.S. loses in the eyes of Paris Climate accountants and Europe gains. Nice.

Did Putin design that one too?

A C Osborn
February 7, 2019 12:48 pm

Is there a problem with the DRAX numbers?
“This formerly coal-fired station consumed 36,000 metric tons of coal per day delivered by 35 coal trains each day.”
“this facility now consumes about 9 million tons of wood pellets per year”

A C Osborn
Reply to  A C Osborn
February 7, 2019 12:59 pm

Surely as it takes 1.5 times as much wood to get the same energy then the wood used for 2/3rds of the units should be about 12 million tons per year?

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  A C Osborn
February 7, 2019 10:49 pm

The math sort of closes properly if you remember that some of the units at Drax still burn coal, but others have converted to wood.
36,000 tonnes of coal by 365 days is 13.1 million tonnes of coal a year.
Assume half the units kept on using coal, so 6.5 million tonnes of coal a year.
The wood burning units use 9 million tonnes of wood per year instead of 6.5 million tonnes of coal before. Coal is the more concentrated energy source, so less is used for the same electricity output.

A C Osborn
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
February 8, 2019 12:03 pm

Geoff, 4 of the 6 were converted. ie 2/3rds.a

On the outer Barcoo
February 7, 2019 1:15 pm

A tree can be burnt in an industrial-scale biomass plant in what time? A few minutes, perhaps? Yet the time taken to grow that tree is measured in years. And this is regarded as sustainable?

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
February 7, 2019 1:42 pm

In the name of cutting CO2 emissions, four of the six Drax generating stations were converted to burn wood chips over the last seven years, at a cost of £700 million ($1 billion). Hailed as “the biggest decarbonization project in Europe,” this facility now consumes about 9 million tons of wood pellets per year, shipped 3,000 miles from the US and Canada.

And if I recall correctly a US Forest Service survey estimated 1.4 million dead trees in California’s forests. Rather than wait for something to start another major fire with all that dead wood, why not harvest those trees and turn them into Drax fuel? Sounds like a win-win to me.

Maybe Gov. Brown will look differently at cutting down trees if it helps “save the planet”.

February 7, 2019 1:48 pm

Reasoning with people who believe that hacking down trees for the sake of climate change even if it produces more CO2 and augmenting it with wind turbines that kill huge numbers of birds and bats is a good and logical process, is quite impossible. These people are so deranged that they inhabit a World of their own, not connected to reality where the rest of us live. Unfortunately they are damaging reality not their fantasy World.

Smart Rock
February 7, 2019 3:47 pm

Chewing up the forest floor to cut trees with feller-bunchers releases a lot of the dreaded methane. As does the rotting of the leaves, needles and twigs that are stripped from trees. Methane being 23 times more greenhousey than CO2. Or is it 26 times? or 82 times? I can never remember.

None of which is accounted for in the “carbon neutral” concept. What a joke.

February 8, 2019 4:21 am

All the carbon that burning biomass puts in the air came from the air originally.
The same is true of coal. Coal is made from trees.

Burning trees will not reduce CO2 in the 12 years left before climate change kills everyone. The replanted trees will only be a fraction of their original size if replanted.

In any case who says the trees are going to be replanted? They are likely from land clearing projects that will be turned into roads anc cities.

February 8, 2019 5:39 am

Apart from Drax having been built on a coalfield, for obvious reasons – and all the lunacy surrounding trashing forests in North America; processing the wood and transporting it 3000 miles – stored wood pellets have a tendency to self-combust, and the fire can take months/years to put out.

It happened at Tilbury power station here in the UK…

February 8, 2019 8:54 am

I’ve been a huge proponent of supporting more markets for forest biomass. Without low grade markets, we cannot practice great forestry. I have written many articles on this subject. Here’s one:

– Silvicultural Practices to Mitigate Climate Change.

In MA, biomass gets scant subsidies – only for biomass thermal to reduce our use of imported oil. Stand alone biomass electric gets no subsidies thanks to the fraudulent Manomet Biomass “Study”.
Meanwhile in MA, forest destroying toxic made in China solar “farms” have cost an astonishing $6 billion while rooftop solar has cost $4 billion. Solar adds almost nothing to the grid. Finally tens of billions will soon be wasted on offshore wind “farms”.

Our forests are declining due to many insect, disease, and other agents. – MA Forests in Decline

If you live in a wood house or use any type of forest product, you should thank those of us who work in the industry.

Mike Leonard, Consulting Forester
North Quabbin Forestry
Petersham, MA

A C Osborn
Reply to  Mike Leonard
February 8, 2019 12:15 pm

Burn wood for the sake of it, not to replace Coal when the Power Station is built on it.
If you really have enough dead material then build a Combined Heat and Power Station for a School, Hospital or Uni.
But don’t forget transport costs and disruption.

Johann Wundersamer
February 8, 2019 9:13 am

“The IPCC assumed that, as trees grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned in a biomass-fired power plant. If correct, substitution of wood for coal would reduce net emissions.”

What’s not in the sum is gasoline powered chainsaws for cutting the trees, fossil fuel driven transport to the next harbor, crude oil for shipping to waiting consumers. …

The deception would have just gone through.

A C Osborn
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
February 8, 2019 12:17 pm

The other thing not in the sum is that it takes a lot more wood than coal to get the same energy.
But they do not care, it is like Palm Oil & Ethanol, it sounds good, but is not.

February 8, 2019 12:59 pm

80 quadrillion btus of energy generated in the US annually…. has anyone figured out how we produce this after we eliminate fossil fuel use?

Phil R
February 8, 2019 6:22 pm

Ignorosphere-Region that few people understand and studies are under-funded.
Fundopause-where the funding stops.

Caligula Jones
Reply to  Phil R
February 11, 2019 6:13 am

End of the World: when the Fundopause occurs.

February 9, 2019 3:16 am

Moronic stuff.
More logically: burn coal, and then plant the equivalent number of trees to offset it if you feel better that way.

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