Wood – An Imperfect Biomass

Wood – An Imperfect Biomass

- by Jack Dini, November 12, 2013, Source: Canada Free Press

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"101","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 444px; height: 400px; margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px; float: left;"}}]]The largest, so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is not solar power or wind power, but wood. As The Economist reports, “In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable energy consumption.

In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable energy demand. Even in Germany, home of the energy transformation which has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power, 38% of non-fossil fuel consumption comes from the stuff. After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favored fuel of the pre-industrial societies. The EU wants to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020; it would miss this target by a country mile if it relied on solar and wind alone.” (1)

And speaking of pre-industrial societies, Jane Orient in an article “Back to Medievalism” points out, “There can be no better symbol for the return to medievalism, or of the ‘madness of Britain’s energy policy’ than the conversion of Britain’s biggest power station to wood burning.”  The Drax power stations in Yorkshire supplies 7% of Britain’s electricity by burning 36,000 tons of coal a day. For a conversion cost of 700 million pounds, it will start to burn wood chips, mostly shipped across the Atlantic from forests covering some 4,600 square miles in the US. The cost will be two or three times what coal costs now, but possibly the equivalent of what coal will cost when Britain finishes taxing it. But at least it preserves the generating plant. Several other major coal-fired plants will have to close. (2)

 The reasons for this hugely costly decision is that Drax has become a key component in the so-called ‘green revolution’ which is now at the heart of the Government’s energy policy. Because it burns so much coal, Drax is the biggest single emitter in Britain of carbon dioxide, the gas supposedly responsible for global warming, reports Christopher Booker. (3)

Campaigning groups, such as Friends of the Earth, scorn the idea that wood chips are ‘carbon neutral’ or that felling millions of acres of American forests, to turn trees into chips and then transporting those chips thousands of miles to Yorkshire, will end up making any significant net reduction in ‘carbon’ emissions.

As Drax admits, all this means that to generate nearly the same amount of power from wood as it does from coal will cost between two and three times as much, meaning that its fuel costs will double or treble—so that the only thing to make this possible will be a massive subsidy, which will eventually be worth over 1 billion pounds a year. (3)

Drax is not the only proposed ‘wood-burner’ in the UK. If all goes according to plans, the country could be burning somewhere between 15 and 35 million tons of wood for energy in 2017. Irrespective of the exact figure, this would be a lot—somewhere between two and a half to five times the UK’s wood harvest. (4)

Also, wood burning makes smoke and wood is 1,000 times more susceptible to spontaneous combustion than coal. There have been several disastrous fires in plants that converted to biomass burning. (2)

Worth the Trouble?

The proponents of ‘global warming’ have assumed for many years that the burning of biomass would be inherently ‘carbon neutral.’ Steve Goreham says, “If true, the substitution of biofuels for hydrocarbon vehicle fuel would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the basis for many climate change policies in the US, Europe, and other areas. But the burning of wood or plant material releases CO2 into the atmosphere, like any other combustion. Burning 1 metric ton of dry wood releases about 1.8 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, since biomass has lower energy density than coal, gas, or petroleum products, direct burning of biomass releases more CO2 than hydrocarbon fuels.” (5)
Since biofuels are less efficient than gasoline or diesel fuel, they actually emit more CO2 per gallon than hydrocarbon fuels, when proper accounting is used for carbon sequestered in natural vegetation. World governments are actually boosting emissions with biofuel policies.

Also, over the past few years, scientists have concluded that the original idea—carbon in managed forests offset carbon in power stations—was an oversimplification. In reality, carbon neutrality depends on the type of forest used, how fast the trees grow, whether you use woodchips or whole trees and so on. A researcher at Princeton University calculated that if whole trees are used to produce energy, they would increase carbon emissions compared with coal by 79 percent over 20 years and 49 percent over 40 years and that there would be no carbon reduction for 100 years until the replacement trees have matured. But as Tom Brookes of the European ClimateFoundation points out, “we’re trying to cut carbon now, not in 100 years’ time.” (1)

In short, the EU has created a subsidy which costs a packet, probably does not reduce carbon emissions, and does not encourage new energy technologies. (1)


  1. “The fuel of the future,” The Economist, April 6, 2013
  2. Jane Orient, “Back to Medievalism,” Civil Defense Perspectives, March 2013, Volume 29, #3
  3. Christopher Booker, “Eco Madness,” tallbloke.wordpress.com, March 9, 2013
  4. Robin Webster, “Plans to massively expand wood burning lead to concerns about sustainability,” carbonbrief.org/blog, May 7, 2013
  5. Steve Goreham, The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism, (New Lenox, IL, New Lenox Books, 2013), 209