Is Burning Biomass Just "Lipstick on a Pig"?
Climate change might be biomass‘ worst nightmare. Suddenly, just as it seems we are beginning to see momentum shifting towards the regulation of GHG gases, biomass is catching quite a bit of heat. Siting a plant now invokes not just NIMBY protests, but serious debate about the benefits of large-scale biomass burning.
Within the context of reducing GHG emissions, it would seem that anything used in place of fossil fuels would be a good idea, but this is not necessarily the case (read about the “Carbon Accounting Error” here). Accordingly, some contend that burning biomass is, as one might say, “lipstick on a pig.”
Take the Massachusetts Environmental Alliance, which lays out a series of bullet points detailing why biomass is bad:
- It degrades air and water quality.
- It will increase logging
These concerns are certainly valid and should be considered when drafting future policy. But at a time when utilities are hustling to meet aggressive RPS standards, we need to allow for certain trade-offs in order to begin moving towards viable solutions. Wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy are fraught with their own challenges. One renewable energy technology can not meet current load demands alone. Within this context, it is important to recognize biomass for what it is: an ancient energy-generating process that will burn marginally cleaner than fossil fuels.
Any incremental decrease in the amount of CO2 that is spewed into the atmosphere will have tremendous benefits. Biomass energy is one piece of the puzzle, and as it stands now, the U.S. is already sitting on plenty of unused, dying, or diseased wood resources around the country. Carefully managed, these feedstocks would mitigate fire danger while enabling healthy forest management. More importantly, a heavy focus on GHG accounting errors and other drawbacks to biomass utilization ignores the broader reality that biomass feedstocks can also include municipal waste, agricultural waste, and algae, to name a few.
When searching for future energy sources, we should be careful to avoid counterproductive solutions, but should also allow for the careful integration and management of better, available options.
Image: Flickr/. SantMB .
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