Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Are Wood-Burning Power Plants Truly Environmentally Friendly?

Given the logic that if one harvest biomass sourced fuels slower that the rate it grows back considered renewable and therefore environmentally friendly? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The European Union’s proposed to put on-line wood-burning electricity generating power plants that use fast growing sustainably grown and harvested woods from the United States had ignited a renewed discussion on the “green credentials” of wood and other biomass burning schemes as an alternative to fossil fuel burning. So are these proposed schemes truly Earth friendly in the sense that it doesn’t introduce more climate disrupting and global warming causing excess carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere? 

There was a BBC discussion back in May 28, 2013 by Gaynor Hartnell of the Renewable Energy Association and Andrew Pendleton of the Friends of the Earth on weather wood-burning electricity generating power plants are truly sustainable and climate friendly. According to Hartnell, if one harvests biomass – like wood – at a rate slower than the rate it grows back can be considered sustainable. But is there a flaw in Hartnell’s apparently logical perception on the concept of biomass renewability? 

In an interview back in July 9 2012, the 1984 Nobel Physics Prize laureate Carlo Rubbia stated that based on current research on the behavior of gaseous carbon dioxide currently circulating in the earth’s atmosphere, the average lifetime that carbon dioxide generated by human activity – as in biomass and fossil fuel burning – stays in the atmosphere before being sequestered back into wood, dissolved into the world’s oceans and lithosphere, is 30,000 years. Therefore, most of the carbon dioxide produced when Emperor Nero burned a section of Rome as he fiddled around 2,000 years ago is still in the atmosphere. So is the industrial burning of biomass at the same rate we go through fossil fuels truly climate friendly and sustainable? 

Even though Pendleton sides with the view of Nobel Physics laureate Rubbia that the rate of the carbon dioxide generated by burning wood or other forms of biomass is much slower than the rate that it can reabsorb it back and turn it into cellulose, it seems that this move is the most sensible one at present according to the EU where the powers-that-be at Brussels plans for a 22-percent target of its energy source to come from renewable – as in biomass based – schemes before the year 2020. But most environmental based groups in Europe are still mystified on its true sustainable green credentials given that the woods hat are sourced from the United States are shipped to Europe on transports that run on fossil fuels. So EU based environmentalists are now actively up in arms to ban the proposed scheme. 

Derb Carter, an environmentalist from the US state of Georgia says the increased harvesting of “low grade” swamp-wood harvested from environmentally sensitive swampy woodlands in Georgia that are grown on privately owned wood farms that border Federally protected old growth swamp woodlands to be processed into pellets to be shipped to Europe to fuel their wood-burning electricity generating power plants could have unforeseen dire environmental consequences on Georgia’s swampy woodlands. So, is the widespread adoption of wood-burning electricity generating power plants a misguided policy used to combat climate change? 

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