Thanks, Guardian, For Questioning the Virtues of Biomass

From ClimateREALISM

Linnea Lueken

A recent article in United Kingdom (UK)-based newspaper The Guardian gives fair coverage to the idea that biomass energy may not be as environmentally friendly as its advocates claim. This is especially true in the case of wood pellet biomass power plants in the UK, where the majority of pellets are shipped across the Atlantic from the United States and Canada.

The article, “Burning imported wood in Drax power plant ‘doesn’t make sense’, says Kwarteng,” describes the recent comments by the UK’s business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. Kwarteng says that “[t]he importing of wood to burn in Drax power station “is not sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense,” The Guardian reports.

Drax power station is one of the largest biomass power facilities in Europe, and used to be the largest coal power generators before converting several of its units to burn biomass in the form of manufactured wood pellets. The company receives billions in “renewable” energy subsidies because of its alleged “net zero” power generations. However, as The Guardian reports, “[s]cientists and campaigners have long argued that burning wood to produce electricity is far from green and can even increase the CO2 emissions driving the climate crisis.”

Drax also gets around 70 percent of its woody biomass pellets manufactured in the United States, importing them by cargo ship across the Atlantic. The manufacturing of and transport of wood pellets across the Atlantic is energy intensive and creates additional emissions and brings the “net zero” power generation into question.

The Heartland Institute produced a report, here, that concurs with the European Academies Science Advisory Council and Kwarteng; burning wood in power stations may well produce more emissions than fossil fuels, and for less energy.

The report found that it can take 44 to 104 years to offset carbon dioxide emissions from burning biomass by growing trees, and that is assuming the trees grown as replacements are an equivalent carbon sink to the original now-combusted wood—which they usually aren’t.

The Heartland report shows biomass power plants also “emit 50 to 85 percent more carbon dioxide” than coal plants, and “more than three times” the amount a natural gas plant produces.

The emissions alone from biomass power plants should disqualify it as an alternative to fossil fuels at the industrial level, but the impact on land use and habitat is also a major issue, especially when the wood pellets come from tree plantations or virgin forest.

This issue is explored in a Climate Realism post, “Real Threats to Biodiversity and Humanity,” which says that “nearly 300,000,000 trees per year” are cut down and turned into wood pellets that go to the Drax plant. As Paul Driessen explains in the post, “[t]hat’s one year to slash and burn the fuel, and fifty years to regrow replacement trees.”

Kwarteng is right to call this practice nonsensical.

If a climate alarmist-friendly publication like The Guardian is willing to promote the idea that biomass power isn’t sustainable or logical, they should get credit for reporting it honestly. The most “inconvenient truth” is that power plants like Drax may actually save on emissions by switching back to modern, clean coal, and leave the forests alone to act as vital plant and animal habitat, as well as a natural carbon sink.

Linnea Lueken

Linnea Lueken is a Research Fellow with the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy. While she was an intern with The Heartland Institute in 2018, she co-authored a Heartland Institute Policy Brief “Debunking Four Persistent Myths About Hydraulic Fracturing.”

5 21 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
August 15, 2022 6:11 am

If biomass is used close to the source and comprised of waste instead of transported hundreds of miles using vehicles powered by fossil fuels can be environmentally friendly. Many of us in rural Colorado partially heat our homes using wood that replaces some fossil fuels. These wood sources are dead trees that would provide sources for wild fires or release their CO2 through decay.

Reply to  Randy
August 15, 2022 6:26 am

There is a big difference between heating your home and running a power station. There aren’t enough dead trees to run a power station like Drax for very long.

Rick C
Reply to  SMC
August 15, 2022 8:19 am

You’re absolutely correct. I don’t know the net efficiency of the Drax process, but with processing, transport, plant efficiency and distribution losses, it must be around 40% or less. I do know the efficiency and emissions of modern wood burning heaters (wood stoves) because they are tested and certified by the EPA. Efficiency is typically about 80% and particulate emissions less than 2 g/hr. That’s too small to even be readily distinguished from normal background. Burning wood that would otherwise rot away in the woods is both economically and environmentally good.

Reply to  SMC
August 15, 2022 9:53 am

UK Friends of the Earth and many others were saying nearly a decade ago that importing wood pellets was insane

Coal and biomass campaigners hit out at DECC “greenwash” over Drax conversion – London Mining Network

Its a good idea to use fallen spare timber locally in small scale operations including homes, but drying, chipping then shipping it thousands of miles for burning is certifiable


Richard Page
Reply to  tonyb
August 16, 2022 12:58 pm

I hadn’t seen that before. I saw a similar report by Greenpeace Canada from 2011 but Greenpeace UK was solidly behind wood pellet burning as a transition fuel until about 2020 when they switched to opposing Drax. Mixed messages within the Green blob?

Rod Evans
Reply to  Randy
August 15, 2022 6:31 am

Sensible truly sustainable use of natural resources is not being questioned when talking about DRAX, Most sensible people see wood burning to heat rural homes as a positive for the reasons you mention. I have a wood burner and own woodlands, I do not think what has been going on at DRAX is sensible or sustainable.

Willem post
Reply to  Randy
August 15, 2022 10:06 am

Dead trees are nature’s way to fertilize its forests, so climate balance is maintained.
Taking away dead trees is robbing the nutrients of nature’s forests.

Man clear-cut harvesting, transporting, pelletizing trees, more transporting, burning, etc., emits huge quantities of CO2, even before burning, plus the instant burning CO2, plus decades of CO2 of decay of below ground root/stump

Always look at the A to Z process. Anything else is obfuscation or ignorant bleating

Reply to  Willem post
August 15, 2022 11:24 am

Always look at the A to Z process.

It’s apparent that when one does actually look at the “A to Z process” that it’s not “net zero”.

Reply to  ih_fan
August 15, 2022 1:54 pm

Just like solar and wind.

Willem post
Reply to  ih_fan
August 15, 2022 4:43 pm

Net-zero is for ignorant people, similar to flat earth folks

Reply to  Willem post
August 15, 2022 2:45 pm

Yep, people like you are the reason we have so many wildfires in the west.

Reply to  Randy
August 20, 2022 4:52 am

Wildfires only started when fossil fuels were widely utilized. (sarc)

Reply to  Randy
August 16, 2022 9:06 am


why not burn sawdust from sawmills, wood from demolition sites, tree trimmings in managed woodlands, at or near the place obtained…

Ian Magness
August 15, 2022 6:21 am

The whole Drax saga has been an utter – and clearly corrupt – farce right from the start. The multi-£bn UK taxpayer subsidies have been justified solely on the EU standard CO2 accounting regime meaning that most of the process gets a big fat zero rating (the trees will be re-grow so…). The story is about, however, to get an even more ridiculous twist because there are plans to add CCS facilities onto the CO2-belching towers. What will this mean? It means that as CO2 is being removed (not, of course that there was any there in the first place…), the Drax process will now qualify for a NEGATIVE emissions rating – no doubt entitling them to benefit financially by selling off “carbon” credits or some such scam.
I know this is a cliche but honestly, in your wildest dreams you couldn’t make this up.

Reply to  Ian Magness
August 15, 2022 6:36 am

The climate changers have an even wilder dream than that. One day they’re going to finally disprove a fundamental axiom of engineering that you can’t build a reliable system from unreliable componentry. Just you wait and see Luddites.

Steve Case
Reply to  Ian Magness
August 15, 2022 6:43 am

The whole Drax saga has been an utter – and clearly corrupt – farce right from the start. 


The whole Global Warming / Climate Change saga has been an utter – and clearly corrupt – farce right from the start. 

Reply to  Steve Case
August 15, 2022 12:59 pm

Yup Steve. All the scaremongering and dramatised hoodwinking that’s gone is an absolute farce and one hell of a big expensive hoax. I’ve been banging on about this for years.

411 ppm CO2 sounds frighteningly enormous when the figure, by contrast, is exactly the same as saying 0.0411 parts per 100 (of which 95% of the 0.0411 parts per 100 is natural and a mere 5% is anthropogenic).

But when you question “So, just how much CO2 is up there in the sky?” to a Just Stop Oil idiot, a politician or an Extinction Rebellion twit, they answer “a lot”.

Best argument I’ve used. Draw 100 x large squares on a A4 piece of paper (10 x 10). This represents the ‘Sky’. Divide just one of those 100 x squares into 10. Take one of the ten tiny squares left and divide it into two. One half is how much CO2 is up in the sky. Now divide that tiny little chunk into 100. Are you still with me? 95 of those miniscule squares are entirely natural and just those 5 incy-wincy squares left over are entirely our fault!

Reply to  GeeJam
August 15, 2022 3:04 pm

At 420 ppm, there is, to the nearest one tenth of one percent, no CO2 in the atmosphere.
Even at 490 ppm!


Reply to  GeeJam
August 16, 2022 1:50 pm

My favourite is to imagine the atmosphere is a 100-metre tall silo and the gases in layers.The bottom 78 metres is nitrogen; the next 20 oxygen, etc.
CO2 is about 4 centimetres.
Anthropogenic CO2 is about 1.3 millimetres.
And we are to blame for climate change?!

Adrian Mann
Reply to  GeeJam
August 17, 2022 1:44 am

This might also help:

Reply to  Adrian Mann
August 19, 2022 4:13 am

Thanks Adrian. Great animation. Sums it up nicely.

Reply to  Ian Magness
August 15, 2022 11:25 am

Drax is the environmentalist’s equivalent of Enron.

Dr. Bob
Reply to  Ian Magness
August 15, 2022 3:19 pm

Note that Fracking is not legal in the UK, but CO2 injection is. This seems like a contridiction, but no one will complain about CO2 causing minor unnoticed tremors, will they. Always a double standard with CAGW.

Richard Page
Reply to  Dr. Bob
August 16, 2022 8:28 am

Sorry, fracking is perfectly legal in the UK, as long as the fracker has a permit – to date, permits are impossible to obtain. The UK government, despite frantic screaming from Labour, Lib Dems et al, has never banned fracking.

Reply to  Ian Magness
August 16, 2022 9:07 am

Exactly so… as Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth, UK Green party said from the start…

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
August 16, 2022 12:40 pm

From the start? I really don’t think so, Griffy – they became aware then started campaigning to stop the Drax greenwashing only in 2020. I think you’ll find they gave Drax a pass for many years before that.

It doesn't add up...
August 15, 2022 6:22 am

At North of $300/tonne for 6,000kcal/kg quality I suspect a lot of coal mines that were uneconomic at 10% of that price suddenly look like potential bonanzas. That the Guardian will not mention.

August 15, 2022 6:23 am

So, the Guardian is finally coming to the the conclusion, concerning Drax, that has been known and talked about for years now. Good for them. Glad to see they’ve finally taken a very small sip of reality. I wonder how long it’ll be before they chug down another pitcher of the Green Kool-Aid.

Richard Page
Reply to  SMC
August 15, 2022 8:14 am

Either I’m mellowing with age or Greenies are becoming slightly less despicable. Just saw a news article about French XR who, in response to the exemption of golf courses from the French hosepipe bans and water conservation, are filling the holes in with concrete. Why can’t our XR do amusing things like that? Why can’t they be more like the French (and I never thought I’d be saying that)?

Reply to  Richard Page
August 15, 2022 8:40 am

Even a stopped clock shows the correct time, twice a day. Just because the leftists actually get something closer to ‘right’, from time to time, isn’t cause for celebration or acknowledgement.

Reply to  Richard Page
August 15, 2022 12:43 pm

The XR morons don’t know that golf courses regularly move the holes to even out wear and tear on the greens. They use a circular plug remover to open a new hole and use the plug to close the old one. This can be done in just a minute or two. It’ll take only another minute or two to remove the concrete plug and fix the hole with the plug taken out of the new hole. It’s a good thing that the French XR hooligans are as stupid as they come.

Richard Page
Reply to  Meab
August 15, 2022 1:41 pm

I know. That’s why it’s so hilarious, it’s like caddyshack in reverse!

Reply to  SMC
August 15, 2022 10:10 am

They are late bloomers.

Rod Evans
August 15, 2022 6:26 am

Kwasi Kwarteng has been told endlessly by the Tory Party members, the DRAX wood pellet scam has to end. Last year the company received just under £1 billion for importing wood to burn in its facilities. Facilities that are built literally on top of coal that would last them for another fifty years.
The Guardian has obviously jumped on the long running embarrassing story no doubt in order to claim it was they who raised the issue. DRAX grant harvesting while increasing CO2 production and destroying native forests while they do it.
We should accept, finally the Guardian has had to reflect the feelings of normal analytical logic, i.e. if something is plain stupid, eventually it will have to be called out as such.
Who knows? Maybe they will get around to calling out the industrial wind parks being built on state grants and operated using yet more state grants. They should look at the performance of the entire wind fleet here in the UK over this past week. We have 27 GWs installed capacity, yet the entire fleet were providing less than 1GW for long periods of it.

Reply to  Rod Evans
August 15, 2022 11:40 am

But they’ll point out, as they always do, that solar is working wonderfully.

Which it is, at 12 noon, before declining to zero at 6pm, and not producing anything until 6am, when it gradually ramps up again until it’s peak at noon.

UK-Weather Lass
Reply to  Rod Evans
August 15, 2022 11:40 pm

The wood pellet fiasco was exposed in ‘Planet of the Humans’ and has been called lunacy for much, much longer than that. The problem is those in the woke echo chambers don’t want to have their toys taken away.

August 15, 2022 6:45 am

You can’t cut down local forrests, as they are already factored into “net zero” emissions plans. Importing it is the only option. If that emits more CO2, so what?

Richard Page
Reply to  E. Schaffer
August 15, 2022 8:18 am

Au contraire, mon ami. You can cut down local forests if you use creative Green accounting and count them twice – once as a carbon sink and once as renewable fuel. I’m not joking – this has been done and it’s outrageous but they seriously don’t care, it’s all about being seen to do the ‘right thing’, regardless of reality.

August 15, 2022 6:59 am

Hold on to your chair, nobody has accused the Guardian – or The Observer, aka The Sunday Guardian – of this since the 1970s

“The Guardian gives fair coverage”

Standby for a change of narrative. 

“Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”

“…organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in”

“Earlier in May, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has inspired school strikes for climate around the globe, said: “It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”

It’s a lovely summer’s day. Look what they’ve done to the children.

Old Man Winter
Reply to  fretslider
August 15, 2022 10:03 am


Reply to  fretslider
August 15, 2022 10:14 am

Greta who?

Reply to  Redge
August 15, 2022 1:58 pm

Garbo will do for me.

August 15, 2022 7:45 am

Plant a million trees and burn 10 million more after expending great amounts of fossil fuels harvesting, pelletizing, and shipping through international ports is a testament to green greed and stupidity. They make the Taliban look smart by comparison.

August 15, 2022 7:49 am

There’s only one thing worse than green colonialism and that’s subsidized green colonialism.

August 15, 2022 7:58 am

Drax is helping me to understand what colonialism was about and what I’ve heard before from former colonies. They strip the resources in the colonies and ship it long distance to feed their own factories. Remember that when you see glowing articles about all the wonderful estates and gardens of the plundering class.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
August 15, 2022 8:20 am

Like this one?

comment image?quality=90&strip=all&w=1754

Reply to  Yooper
August 15, 2022 8:35 am

Not grand enough but maybe a start or a guest house

Rod Evans
Reply to  Yooper
August 15, 2022 10:30 am

Looks like the Obama shore side pad in Martha’s Vineyard. I could be wrong.

Reply to  Rod Evans
August 15, 2022 10:48 am

One of his pads

Reply to  Yooper
August 15, 2022 11:58 am

Jack Sweeney, 20, has become an unexpected authority on the flight paths of the rich and famous. When Kylie Jenner’s Bombardier BD-700 flies from Van Nuys, Calif., to nearby Camarillo, or Taylor Swift’s Falcon 7X takes off in Nashville, Mr. Sweeney’s Twitter bot @CelebJets shares the private jet’s whereabouts, flight duration and estimated carbon emissions.
With his tweets, Mr. Sweeney, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida who also runs the Elon Musk jet-tracking account @ElonJet, has propelled a global conversation about the role celebrities play in the warming of the planet. After @CelebJets shared that Ms. Jenner’s plane had completed a 17-minute flight in July, she was branded a “climate criminal” by online commenters. And for several weeks now, Ms. Swift’s jet has been the subject of memes about needlessly flying private: to Starbucks, Target, the fridge. 

But all of these bespoke requests come at a high price—and a steep environmental cost. Using data from Mr. Sweeney’s @CelebJets account, Yard, a sustainability marketing firm, published a list of the celebrity jets that had generated the greatest carbon emissions so far this year. All of them weighed in at more than 3,000 metric tons to date; according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, most cars emit fewer than 5 metric tons of carbon in a year.

In one TikTok video, a creator named Zev Burton parodies a Swiftie standing up for Ms. Swift’s environmental considerations. He points out that her album art features images of the woods and that she retains a publicist named Tree. 
“She rerecorded and rereleased all of her albums,” Mr. Burton says. “That’s recycling.”

Reply to  Yooper
August 15, 2022 9:48 pm

How DARE you point out the green hypocrisy of Saint Barack Obama?

Richard Page
Reply to  ResourceGuy
August 15, 2022 8:32 am

Yeah. That would make a lot of sense if it weren’t for the fact that most of Drax’s principal shareholders are American firms. BlackRock with Larry Fink is right in there, as you’d expect!

Reply to  Richard Page
August 15, 2022 11:22 am

Subsidies are for everyone with money–it attracts them.

August 15, 2022 8:48 am

No sh*t Sherlock. Anyone with a rudimentary grasp of math can see biomass is not “green”. Burning living forests not fossilised ones. However competency in math has never been a pre-qualification for an energy policy decision maker – at least not for 25 years.

August 15, 2022 8:50 am

“[t]he importing of wood to burn in Drax power station “is not sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense,” The Guardian reports.

The saying “even a blind squirrel can find a nut” comes to mind.
The Guardian is typically blind to common sense thought so this is a surprise. Either that or the Drax backers missed some payoffs.

Also, the Scotts just cut down 14 million trees to make way for windmills. I didn’t hear what they did with all that wood but I would think it would be cheaper to import from Scotland than the U.S. and Canada.

I wonder if the Drax power plant, which used to burn coal, can be converted to burn coal and wood.

Last edited 1 month ago by Brad-DXT
Reply to  Brad-DXT
August 15, 2022 11:44 am


Reply to  HotScot
August 15, 2022 11:55 am

My apologies to all those offended by my typos.

My condolences to all Scots that are affected by the green loonies decision to rape and pillage a forest to virtue signal their obeisance to Gaia.

August 15, 2022 9:06 am

To anyone with at least half a brain, which admittedly leaves out climate activists, the idea of burning imported wood pellets would have seemed stupid at first glance. Given that coal plants are more efficient and have less real pollution that wood burners, given the cost and emissions of transporting pellets, and given the emissions of harvesting and processing the trees into pellets – any sensible environmentalist would have rejected the Drax conversion and would have preferred that the pellet trees be left growing and any conversion costs have instead been spent upgrading Drax with anything to make it more efficient and cleaner.

Robert MacLellan
August 15, 2022 9:31 am

Its good that they realize this even after so long… the next question is how long before they realize that trees and forests are not even carbon sinks, just part of a long(in human terms) carbon CYCLE?

Peta of Newark
August 15, 2022 9:59 am

What would it take to break the spell – the one that says CO2 controls Climate?
(fair to say) it’s just as intractable as the ones that say:

  • ‘Eating Fat makes you fat’
  • ‘Humans are carnivores’
  • ‘Ozone prevents UV from frying the Earth’

All I can immediately see is that we need Diversity – we need to break up the one humongous tribe we’ve become and dissolve the glue (the MSM) that holds it together.

Let the, then separate, little tribes figure it out individually – each to their own best health and interest. They’ll then learn what suits their individual situation and learn how to properly live/survive without trashing and burning their environment.
Because as ‘small tribes’ – its only they themselves they can blame when it goes pear-shaped.

That is after all, how we got as far as The Industrial Revolution – since then and effectively, Scientific and Political Inbreeding has ruled the roost.
….not a good thing to happen….

So what would break the spell?

Richard Page
Reply to  Peta of Newark
August 15, 2022 12:34 pm

Bring an end to Globalism. Unfortunately the financial service providers are 100% all for it which may mean putting the squeeze on them as well. Re-educating the Green deplorables that ‘nationalism’ is not evil nor a swear word. That might help.

Andrew Dickens
August 15, 2022 1:17 pm

The ships that transport the wood pellets to Drax go back empty. That has to be factored in.

Andy Pattullo
August 15, 2022 1:49 pm

Is this the beginning of some of the radical left biased media deciding they don’t want to be cheerleaders anymore for the policies that are making consumers’ lives a horror show? Seems to me that would be bad for business.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Andy Pattullo
August 16, 2022 7:30 am

No. Greenpeace, FoE etc have long been anti Drax here in the UK . The Grauniad is just virtue signalling to its supporters.

Richard Page
Reply to  Dave Andrews
August 16, 2022 12:43 pm

Not as long as you might think. They only really started to oppose Drax in 2020.

Giordano Milton
August 15, 2022 6:45 pm

Next, we’ll be burning dung

August 15, 2022 9:42 pm

I once drafted analysis for the San Joaquin Valley Air District that showed the best place to dispose of biomass was in landfills equipped with landfill gas to energy systems. Since this would conflict with other environmental mandates (keeping biomass out of landfills, even as alternate daily cover), the next best option was to burn it in an efficient biomass plant for electricity. This would allow a large portion of the carbon to be emitted as CO2 (GWP of 1) rather than as methane (GWP of 21), and the analysis was directed at existing biomass waste from things like orchard removals and urban green waste, not forest management.

Coeur de Lion
August 15, 2022 11:14 pm

In the Guardian? I don’t believe it

August 16, 2022 4:05 am

I find it to be very suspicious that the Guardian chooses this point in time to point out this giant hoax since the West is facing a huge energy shortage. It is apparent that there are groups working out there that want to destroy Western Governments and replace them with a central power controlled by a few very wealthy sociopaths. Power shortages, food shortages, financial collapse and social upheaval are all part of their plan to create the new One World Government.

Gerry, England
August 16, 2022 6:43 am

You can always count on the legacy media to be late to the party every time. Biden’s laptop for example. On Turbulent Times the stock phrase is ‘They get there eventually’ which can be anything from 6 months to a number of years as we see here.

August 16, 2022 9:05 am

The Guardian and all UK green groups have been against Drax from the start…

It is good to see Watts readers finally caught on…

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
August 16, 2022 12:50 pm

Ah the useful idiot rushes in with an attempt to rewrite history to cover the sheer embarrassment of the Green blob. Greenpeace et al only began to oppose Drax fairly recently – 2020 or thereabouts, not ‘..from the start..’ at all. Your guile and bullshit is misplaced bear of little brain as, embarrassingly for you, you have it completely ass-backwards (as usual) – WUWT have known about this for far longer that Greenpeace have been campaigning against it. Now crawl back into your hole little Griffy.

Reply to  griff
August 16, 2022 2:08 pm

Don’t make a bigger idiot of yourself than usual, griff.
It is well-established (and I blogged about it at the time, if I could be bothered to dig it out) that the eco-activists were all for Drax until somebody lent them a calculator so they didn’t need to count on their fingers and toes to do the sums.

August 16, 2022 1:42 pm

Some of us in the UK have been making this argument from the beginning. Good to see that at long last one British Minister has woken up. There is no way that clear-felling forests, chipping the trees, shipping them across the Atlantic and burning them to make electricity can ever be more environmentally friendly than burning the coal Drax is sitting on — the very reason why it was built there in the first place!!
It makes no environmental or economic sense under any (real world) scenario you care to create.

August 17, 2022 3:19 am

Bit isn’t coal just naturally processed wood?

%d bloggers like this: