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The climate is under attack from two of it’s biggest proponents, the EPA and environmentalists. Failure to understand the science of carbon emissions  could spell environmental doom and take down one of America’s leading renewable energy sources, biomass, in the process. Biomass makes up about half of the renewable energy generated in America today, but a new ruling by the EPA doesn’t exempt biomass from greenhouse gas emissions on larger scale plants, effectively revoking it’s carbon neutral status and treating it no differently than coal.

Looking at the problem through a keyhole

The process that policy makers and environmentalists are using to measure C02 emissions is flawed. Much of the data comes from just two points, the emission stack and atmospheric sampling. It completely neglects the carbon cycle, most specifically decay emissions. Further, there is no line drawn between fossil carbon, the type that is already sequestered away from the atmosphere, and biogenic carbon from the active carbon cycle of plantlife growth and decay.

The additional carbon that is causing global warming today is from fossil carbon. Biogenic carbon is in an active cycle of going between solid (trees/plants)  and gas (CO2/Methane) in much the same way that water goes from evaporation to liquid in the rain cycle.

Here is where the confusion is– Because biomass is less energy dense than coal, to get the same energy as coal you have to burn more and release more CO2. (note: When gasification is used instead of incineration, then that is no longer true, biomass has less CO2 emissions)

That additional CO2 shows up in the stack and in the atmosphere, but it isn’t new carbon, it’s just carbon that is in the same recurring cycle. What isn’t being taken into consideration is the carbon footprint of plant decay because the EPA doesn’t have data testing points out in the forest. So, when coal is burned instead of biomass, that biomass decay still releases greenhouse gas emissions that have to be added to the coal emissions to get an idea of the true carbon cycling in the atmosphere. There will always be one unit of plant based carbon in the trees and the atmosphere. Anything you add to it, whether natural gas or coal or oil is a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why biomass is carbon neutral. In fact, new reports say we can actively remove greenhouse gases by using waste streams for energy and sinking the carbon in the plants or in the ground with biochar.

Marginal Metrics

In the Manomet Study the metrics were unrealistic, using whole trees for the carbon intensity and payback, but then quoting slash prices through much of the report. In response to the report Bob Cleaves, President & CEO of the Biomass Power Association had this to say, “Let’s look at the industry as it is today, and that industry is 100% byproducts and residuals. 100% waste! We don’t do whole tree harvests.” In fact the biomass energy industry actually works on waste streams that would normally decompose and have a greater environmental impact than when they are used for energy.

The EPA’s Boiler MACT also skews the results by using uncommonly dry and sized feedstock in baseline testing of boilers. The results are difficult to reach with available real world feedstocks and may force industrial boilers across the nation to shutter if they can’t afford to meet compliance measures.

Policy Fallout

The result of the Boiler MACT is that many boilers will be forced to switch to natural gas to comply, even wood mills that are producing their own heat and energy from onsite waste could be required to make expensive changes or switch to fossil fuels.

The EPA Tailoring Rule that sent a shockwave through the industry is causing a great amount of uncertainty as investors wonder if policy will pull the rug out from under them in the future.

The Manomet report succeeded in getting the headline “Biomass worse than coal” into the papers, but it also pointed out carbon policy has it’s head in the clouds and until we fortify the line between biogenic and fossil carbon, we will be polluting the atmosphere with fossil carbon in the name of clean air and destroying an American industry and American jobs.

Take Action

Biomass is our only tool to replace both coal and oil in large quantities, while actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Contact the EPA and environmental groups and tell them to support the carbon neutrality of Biomass.

Attend the Biomass Fuels Summit as we explore this topic in greater depth.

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