Linnea Lukin, Exploring Energy: Biomass

The Heartland Institute

Biomass is considered a renewable organic material that can be burned for energy. However, this isn’t always the case. Quality wood pellets with low moisture content have only about half as much energy content as an equivalent amount of coal (by mass). Biomass power plants also emit 50 to 85 percent more carbon dioxide than modern coal plants, and more than three times as much carbon dioxide as natural gas-fueled power plants.

Heartland’s Linnea Lueken breaks down the details behind this biomass as an energy source in the newest episode of Exploring Energy.

For more detail and all the sources used in this video, please check out Linnea’s Energy at a Glance paper series:
Energy at a Glance: Biomass –…

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December 11, 2022 6:03 pm

My car is powered by organic hydrocarbons.

John Hultquist
December 11, 2022 6:25 pm

There are two dozen thermal-type facilities that feed into the BPA grid. The list is under this chart:
BPA Balancing Authority Load and Total VER

On this Sunday evening, the Columbia Generating Station (nuclear) and the thermal total are about equal, and the lines overlap.

Kit P
Reply to  John Hultquist
December 12, 2022 7:14 pm

One of them is Kettle Falls. It was built to reduce pollution from burning wood waste.

Forest health is a huge problem in the semi-arid west. Small fires was nature’s way of cleaning of excess biomass but years of fire suppression not results in destructive and dangerous wild fires.

This video is another example a person who produces nothing explaining why productive should not be productive.

December 11, 2022 7:34 pm

Anti-deniers urge that the methane being liberated by the thawing tundra be used as a fuel. Don’t make a bio-mess.

Reply to  antigtiff
December 12, 2022 12:54 am

Is there any evidence that “the methane being liberated by the thawing tundra” is in any way even slightly different than the rising sea level that is about to displace 100,0000,000 city dwellers?

Rick C
December 11, 2022 8:03 pm

Whale oil is renewable biomass. Just sayin…

Peta of Newark
December 12, 2022 12:36 am

Just. Don’t. Burn. Plant. Material.
No matter how contrived, technological or clever you imagine yourself or your process to be. e.g (bio) Ethanol
Sorry no, don’t let anybody **ever** get away with the notion that there is any such stuff as ‘agricultural or forestry waste

I say that, as I always have, because at some point the penny has to drop concerning:

  • Plants make their own Climate
  • They do so using water and rock and if we/you/us/anybody destroys them, that is all there will be left

I think we’re all familiar with the final words (ashes 2 ashes) at a funeral – it will be our funeral so who’ll be uttering them is a mystery.
The Emporer perhaps – he’s good at surviving cold.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
December 13, 2022 5:40 am

I am afraid you are wrong – forestry produces quite a bit of waste. Forests undergo regular thinnings to allow the best trees to grow to their full value. The biomass market will now pay to take the thinnings which brings extra income to the estates. And if you go to a forestry sawmill you will likely see a huge pile of offcuts from producing the saleable timber which is sitting waiting to be chipped for biomass.

December 12, 2022 1:13 am

Let me start by saying that I agree that growing trees specifically for biofuels is not very smart. This is one of several examples of why: “Use of wood fuels from boreal forests will create a biofuel carbon debt with long payback time”
That is why we now differentiate between biofuels. We say that some are not sustainable, some may be and some are.

The issue of biofuel is about greenhouse gases, not only CO2. Wood waste will emit GHGs if left to rot, some of which is methane and other potent GHGs. Making biofuel out of wood waste thus reduces the potence of the emitted GHGs, to some degree. There are still many issues surrounding this, and many points made in this video are important.

However, I get a bit skeptical when at 3:49 Linnea says burning biofuel is “sacrifying on at least energy efficiency”. She says so based on a previous chart showing that biofuels are less energy dense than coal or liquid fossil hydrocarbons.

Energy efficiency has nothing to do with energy density. This is very basic, and cannot be misunderstood. And when someone makes such a mistake I get skeptical about the rest of the message.

Also, on emissions. Wood contains approximately 50% carbon, while coal and liquid fossil fuels contain close to 80%. The lower heating value of dry wood pellets is approximately 4,9 kWh/kg ( – apologies that the author is using dietary energy units. 4100 kcal is approximately 4,8 kWh).
The lower heating value of coal is around 8 kWh.

Since wood has a higher energy content per unit of carbon, CO2 emissions are almost the same between the two. Wood pellets claim to fame is that it comes from a source that will grow back. I am not saying the claim is true, I am just saying it is the claim.

Burning wood pellets to achieve GHG emission cuts have many problems associated with it. That does not mean all other sources of biofuel make no sense. Even some of the wood biofuel makes sense.

December 12, 2022 2:51 am

My daughter and her husband have access to plenty of wood. They use one tree a year, the wood of which has dried for 5 years before use, and since they plant a new tree for every one they use they will never run out. That is why they have installed a biomass unit in their house which provides all their heat and hot water and they cook on a wood fired cooker. Almost all their light comes from electricity from rooftop panels and batteries.
So what is wrong with that?

joe x
Reply to  Oldseadog
December 12, 2022 3:53 am

oldseadog, So what is wrong with that?
well nothing really. providing they live that life style voluntarily and not as a result of a regulation or mandate. it sounds appealing when you think about it. my question is did they in the past, are they now, or will they in the future take advantage of tax payer subsidies to build and maintain their sources of energy?

Reply to  joe x
December 12, 2022 5:56 am

They do it voluntarily, but yes when they installed the units they took full advantage of the subsidies on the grounds that if the government was daft enough to give them cash then it would be silly of them not to take it, and now that the system is up and running they are pretty much home and dry. The source of their energy, their trees, doesn’t need to be “built and maintained”, it looks after itself.

Reply to  Oldseadog
December 12, 2022 6:39 am

The major problem is that it takes about 20 acres of woodlands to sustain their home heating fuel alone, so extrapolating to the world’s population, available arable land, and labor man-hours doesn’t fit for standard human development….which is cities of millions of people located with oceans on one side and fertile agricultural land on the other.

Last edited 3 months ago by DMacKenzie
Reply to  DMacKenzie
December 12, 2022 9:04 am

Fair comment, but they live in rural Galloway, in fact with the sea on one side and agriculture all round, so it works for them,

Last edited 3 months ago by Oldseadog
Reply to  Oldseadog
December 12, 2022 8:02 am

Well. are they NetZero? Are they burning HC fuel? Some pols are making HC fuels illegal by 2030….includes new IC vehicles.

Reply to  antigtiff
December 12, 2022 9:15 am

No, they are not Nut Zero, they are realists; and here “they” aren’t making IC vehicles illegal by 2030, just not allowing you to buy new ones, the old ones will keep going until they fall to bits.

Mike Leonard
December 12, 2022 3:01 am

With skyrocketing oil and electric bills, burning firewood and/or wood pellets and updating old oil furnaces is the way to save money. In my old house, I replaced my 30 year old Burnham oil burner with a new high efficiency Viessmann oil burner which uses less than 1/2 the oil. I also installed a wood pellet stove in the basement to reduce oil use further. In my new house, I installed a heat pump, but the electric bill was outrageous, so I installed a wood stove and keep the heat pumps off most of the time.
As a consulting forester in my own business helping landowners to protect and manage their forest land, I mark and sell thousands of cords every year for improvement cuttings. But much more forestry is needed as the latest US Forest Service forest inventory report shows that tree mortality has increased to 1/2 the annual growth in MA. In other words, our forests are suffering from serious decline due to a variety of insect, disease, and other agents. So, we need more biomass markets not less. Biomass electric may be dead here, but firewood and wood pellet markets are booming.

Bruce Cobb
December 12, 2022 5:46 am

Here’s the distinction people often get hung up on: People are certainly free to choose whatever legal form of energy they like, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is that others should not have to help pay for that, whether it is through taxes, subsidies, or any other type of government coercion. Burning wood to produce electricity makes no sense financially, and is highly questionable environmentally. There will always be a legitimate market for wood waste, so that is not the issue. So, wood and pellet stove people, along with those in forestry, relax. This isn’t about you.

December 12, 2022 9:03 am

Ah, that good old most unrenewable, renewable – biomass is the biggest nut zero con of all – forced deforestation and shipping pellets 1000s of miles in some kind of green virtue signalling is in itself perverse beyond all sensibility

Citizen Smith
December 12, 2022 10:02 am

I am unconvinced on the carbon cycle argument. Grow a tree and burn the same tree stores and releases the same amount of co2. What the video does not define is the amount of energy required to harvest, transport, process, handle and the eventual burn efficiency loss. That spent energy is not a neutral cycle and it’s not insignificant. For example, a 600 ton per day pellet mill may have 3MW of grinding equipment.

Let me help clarify where the biomass comes from, at least in the Southeastern USA where the UK gets most of its pellets. In big general terms, timber is grown mostly on plantations of all sizes owned privately or by investment groups. It is normally sold at market price to the high bidder. Bidders include pellet manufacturers as well as sawmills and pulp mills. Sometimes a single sale will sort and ship to multiple users. Trees are not planted with a single intended end use as it is difficult to predict market conditions 25 years in advance.

30 years ago many people in the business used to believe if China and India were to change from their current method of hygiene to using toilet paper, there is not enough pulp on the planet to keep them supplied. I wonder what would happen to the price of pellets.

Reply to  Citizen Smith
December 12, 2022 11:37 pm

The argument seems to be the way you put it. However, it is more nuanced. It actually says that burning a tree releases an amount of CO2 which is equal to the release if the tree dies and is left to rot. That is, converting the biomass using a high temperature process yields the same result as converting the biomass through low temperature metabolism of a diverse range of species.

I am not so sure about that part of the argument either. I believe nature is left with a lot more carbon in bacteria and soil when a tree rots than when it burns.

That of course adds to the other energy issues you highlight.

For fast growing species, such as grass, algae and seaweed I do believe you could make the argument of near neutrality, sans the energy input you mention. But not for slow growth.

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