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Featured Is Biomass Carbon Neutral?

  1. Jul 10, 2017 #41
    Rive, the climate problem and need for low emissions energy are not due to Environmentalists, no matter that they are some of the loudest voices on the issues. That these make an opportunity for forest owners and managers in the low emissions energy market is not due to Environmentalists.The large scale use of biomass burning for electricity is, for the most part, opposed by political environmentalism - it is the managers of large scale forestry and the closely tied wood fired generators that seek to create market opportunities out of it and to benefit from it, including (mheslep note) by cutting corners and taking no care or responsibility for where or how the wood is sourced. If they do so without regard for the longer term consequences (the ones that many environmentalists keep going on about), then they are not doing such a good job of it and the burden of responsibility rests with them. Blaming environmentalists for the self interested choices and poor decisions of those who are actually responsible for that management makes no sense to me except as a blame shifting exercise - despite the perception that (elements of) environmentalism are the enemies of commercial forestry it largely supports improved long term management over short term and environmentally damaging exploitation.

    Changes to local and regional climate from AGW will become ever more significant to forest managers - things like changes of rainfall and seasonal temperature patterns, extremes of heat and cold, flood, storm and wildfire to forests and infrastructure will challenge management based solely on traditions. The very mix of species across forested regions and the wildlife they support will change and I expect regions like Europe - where forests are mostly not primeval, but have been managed for centuries - will probably cope better than the minimal management/exploitative practices of places that lack those traditions or reject regulation. Depending on where, there is likelihood of enhanced droughts and increased wildfire risks (with increasing fire mitigation costs). In places like Australia climate change may make forestry unviable across large regions, especially if we collectively fail to bring emissions down and climate moves further from it's familiar range.

    Mitigation of climate change through lowering of emissions is in the long term interests of the owners and managers of productive forests and biofuels can and will play some part in that - not pivotal perhaps, but significant all the same.
  2. Jul 11, 2017 #42


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    Trippling the biomass consumption over the last 15 years in Germany, in keeping with biomass inclusion in EU renewable requirements, caused demand well beyond traditional supply, which in turn caused sharp timber price increases, which always and everywhere is expected to cause black markets in any commodity.

    Blaming the "self interested" "managers" for this outcome is a page from Bolshevik handbook, central planning chapter.
  3. Jul 11, 2017 #43
    Ken Fabos,

    I think you too needs to face it: regardless of the lot of polite speech and agreements, on their tracks right now there is no actual practice exists for biomass which can be said to be green and sustainable.

    In this environment to further propagate biomass as energy source is no different to the practice of those poor farmers who burns up forest in Middle-America just because they have no idea what else should they do.

    Thank you for your understanding, but I'm not interested in anything like that.
  4. Jul 11, 2017 #44
    This is a false dichotomy. One should consider "green" and "sustainable" as a continuous scale rather than black and white. Having the discussion in black and white allows one to keep moving the goalposts where nothing is ever satisfactory. In the real world of energy, nothing will ever be perfect.

    I ask a few questions when considering how "green" and "sustainable" a practice or energy source is:

    1. Is it more sustainable than oil and coal?

    2. Are the net emissions lower than oil and coal?

    3. Is there a path where the long term costs are likely to be competitive with oil and coal?

    If the answer to all three questions are "yes" then odds are it is a step in the right direction.
  5. Jul 11, 2017 #45
    And there are some good biomass examples, and some existed long before the environmental concerns. Ex, Burning the leftover sugar cane stalks to process and manufacture sugar. It is a one year or less, cycle. Corn based biodesel, since it drives up the cost of a food source is not my favorite, but collecting and similarly burning the the stalks would be a good field to study.

    As for the government funding dead end research, it is pretty easy to cherry pick bad (some very bad) examples of politicians being sold BS - or leveraging Govt research spending to bring home the bacon... but this process is nothing new and has nothing to do with Green research, it is a byproduct of our political system. Sen. Byrd anyone? Some cases are just researchers that have never worked / experienced "the real world" and have drank their own coolaid, they believe in their idea, and keep advocating for it, so in some of this I see no malice or fraud, it takes then good, professional and educated people in government and to make policy that determines how to best spend the tax dollars.

    I like Dr. C's post - as I have long subscribed to the thinking that to make significant changes, you should have at least three reasons, don't know why but the successful projects always seem to have 3 or more. Regarding Biomas... there is some good research and development where the objective more than just "carbon focused" - some of the grass projects, that can grow quickly on brown field, or help remediate soil, recover swamp land, provide agrarian buffers and other factors do show promise. Developing plant / algae that feed on our existing waste streams, and consume little additional valuable or important resources - also well worth the R&D cost.

    Still - I see them all as " solar" - that is the source, can we grow plants to capture energy more effectively than PV for example? When only looking at energy - I doubt it. When we look at secondary and tertiary reasons to do this - it should be part of the mix, IMO.

    Like wise - I vehemently hate coal, sorry, it is a dirty business. From questionable land grants, worker exploitation and abandonment, commercial manipulation of the environmental protections, local and global environmental damage AND then the CO2 issue. As a model, each of our households generate waste, and we have to pay (a cost) to have that removed, or we have to change and work to eliminate the waste - not a trivial task. We have been heavily using coal for 150 years - and not paying the bill (cost) of the waste we have been generating. Like one giant Superfund site.

    Napkin Maths..... ~ 9B STonns Coal per year, ~ 24B Tons CO2, ... over 196 M Sq Miles.... 122 TONS of CO2, for every square mile of the planet, year after year - the numbers to me are in the realm of space travel, so large the layperson can not comprehend, and thus the issue becomes trivialized or ignored.

    Making it personal - in the atmosphere above your one acre plot of land - we put ~ 640 lbs of CO2 - every year.

    We have more then one reason to stop using coal. And we need to find ways to accomplish this. Unfortunately - simple answers are hard to come by, they have already been done and they clearly are not enough.

    Ah.. rant over...
  6. Jul 11, 2017 #46
    Another thing I don't like about corn-based fuels (that could be in play with ANY biofuel) is that the increased corn prices encourage farmers to plant more and to use more fertilizer to increase yields (production per acre). Those fertilizers are often petroleum dependent in their production, AND also tend to wash downstream and contribute to eutrophication and hypoxia in bodies of water. The large area of recurring hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico would likely be much smaller (or gone completely) if we ended corn-based biofuel subsidies (with expected reductions in fertilizer use in the Mississippi watershed. )

    The impact of downstream nutrient loading should be considered when weighing how "green" and "sustainable" a given biofuel really is. I like wood-based biofuels better, since they don't tend to increase nutrient loading. Of course, there are some places where moderate nutrient loading can actually improve fisheries production since it can fertilize relatively infertile bodies of water. One needs to consider whether more nutrients downstream is gonna help or hurt.
  7. Jul 11, 2017 #47


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    An all-or-nothing decision on biomass would be a false choice if not for the government RE grid share mandates. Numerous governments are setting high majority share renewable requirements (Germany 80% 2050) in places where hydro is limited, and all the energy source mandates I'm aware of exclude nuclear. It seems clear to me that RE sources like wind and solar will grossly fail to achieve targets of 80% or more due to their intermittent nature, eventually forcing a similarly gross overuse of biomass to meet those targets, especially in the context of i) some nuclear heavy countries that long ago removed carbon from their grid (e.g. France, Switzerland, Sweden), and ii) some dense forest neighbors looking for income.

  8. Sep 3, 2017 #48
  9. Sep 3, 2017 #49
    Some of my own napkin maths - here in Australia the 15 metric tonne average emissions work out at 7500 cubic metres of CO2 per year per person; by volume it is our largest waste product. If it were a column of CO2 with a cross section of an average human body, each person's would be, literally, reach into the stratisphere.
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