The bioenergy industry has defended the use of forest plantations to create fuel for power plants, following claims by NGO Biofuelwatch that expanding wood biomass production to meet EU renewable energy targets will make climate change worse, not better.
Deepak Rughani, co-director of the NGO, told Environmental Finance: “As we risk triggering irreversible climate feedbacks in the next 10 years, the least safe way forward is to licence the conversion of stable carbon in living biomass into atmospheric carbon. Felling one 50-year-old tree would require a real-time replacement with 100,000 one-year old saplings to be carbon neutral. Ignoring this is tantamount to a suicide bid.”
Up to two-thirds of the EU’s target of 20% renewable energy production by 2020 could come from biomass, according to the European Commission, requiring a three-fold increased in production on 2007 levels. Currently, 80% of biomass used in the EU is in the form of wood.
Rughani was speaking at last week’s Forests, Biomass & Sustainability conference in London, organised by Environmental Finance Publications. Some other speakers agreed that if virgin forest were cut down to be replaced by plantations for biomass, Rughani’s carbon debt argument could be valid. Gareth Phillips, chief climate change officer at Sindicatum Carbon Capital said: “It makes sense that the carbon stored in woody biomass should remain in woody biomass."
Noel Forrest, head of sustainability at MGT Power, a firm developing two 300MW biomass power plants in the UK, emphasised that the company would not be procuring biomass from virgin forests and that the UK biomass industry was committed to sustainable biomass sourcing. He added: “Much academic research indicates large areas of land available for sustainable forestry establishment without displacement of ecologically damaging activities.”
Rughani said there were better uses of land, such as concentrated solar power, which he said produces 400 times the energy from one unit area of land, compared with biomass.
But Gavin Maxwell, senior strategy partner at consultancy firm Coolfin Partnership/Tomax, said Rughani was ignoring the issue of base load demand. Biomass can supply base load capacity in existing gas and coal-fired energy infrastructure, he said, unlike wind and solar, whose output is less predictable.
Rughani added that Biofuelwatch believes sections of virgin forest in Papua New Guinea, Alaska and the Congo, amongst others, have been given logging concessions in anticipation of rising demand for biomass in European markets.
By. Steven Bland
Source: Environmental Finance