Why Biomass May Be Dangerous for the Climate

Why Biomass May Be Dangerous for the Climate
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What comes to mind when you envision renewable energy? Biomass might not be your first thought. This sustainable fuel isn’t as popular as solar or wind power, but it’s classified as one of the major types of green energy. Could that categorization be a mistake?

Here’s a look at why biomass should be on your radar as a potentially harmful resource.

Biomass, Defined

If you’re not familiar with biomass, you might be wondering what it means. This term refers to naturally occurring organic materials like wood waste, animal manure and biogenic items from plants and animals. They’re turned into fuel through methods such as direct combustion.

There’s no denying biomass is renewable. This energy source will always accumulate as long as plants and animals exist. Biomass clearly hits more sustainable points than fossil fuels in that regard. However, it’s smart to look a bit deeper — because biomass has caused more harm than it might be worth.

1. Contributions to Pollution

Energy is created from biomass by burning specific materials. As a result, it’s clear that pollution has become a biomass-related issue. There’s a reason why researchers have called biomass “the new coal” in past studies.

Factories further the environment’s pollution problem when they turn biomass into power. This phenomenon occurs due to trees’ energy density. These plants don’t contain as much energy as substances like coal. Therefore, we have to burn more to achieve similar outcomes.

Biomass amounts to 27% of America’s renewable energy use, so it’s crucial to rethink our methods.

2. Use of Logging

If you have to cut down trees to create power, it’s not a sustainable process, right? There are obvious reasons why we need trees, like creating clean air levels and cultivating proper animal habitats. Unfortunately, biomass contributes to deforestation.

Manufacturers often generate biomass power with wood. This practice involves pellets sourced from unsustainable logging schemes. Enviva, the world’s greatest harvester of wood pellets for fuel, cuts down 50,000 acres of forest in North Carolina annually. That’s only one example.

This process leads to devastating circumstances for various reasons.

3. Increases in Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Consider how solar or wind power works. Do these options contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere? Nope. That’s why they’re widely considered to be the best choices for renewable energy sources. Biomass, on the other hand, shouldn’t receive the same praises.

If you look at how biomass contributes to pollution, it’s pretty easy to see how it also creates carbon dioxide outputs. Everything you burn releases gas into the atmosphere.

Some people claim biomass has a carbon-neutral cycle, where plants that produce it capture just as much CO2. That’s not always true. If you think about how long it takes for trees to regrow, it’s clear that the timing doesn’t make sense. This method doesn’t happen fast enough for it to be effective. Scientists view biomass as a “fast out, slow in” process because we’re not burning biomass at even speeds.

Therefore, you can’t call biomass carbon neutral. This energy source might be renewable, but it’s not truly sustainable. Any power supply that increases greenhouse gas emissions is a threat to the environment.

Should the World Keep Using Biomass?

There are benefits that come with biomass. These materials are seemingly inexhaustible, so you can regard them as significantly better for the environment than resources like natural gas. However, more people must realize that better options exist.

Sources including solar, wind and hydropower are both clean and renewable. These alternatives don’t contribute to pollution — and they don’t require cutting down trees and burning various materials to generate energy. As a community, we need to reevaluate our use of biomass and choose better options.


Jane Marsh works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co.

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