Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scientists Confirm Burning Biofuels is Not Carbon Neutral

Many in the paper industry have been touting their business as environmentally friendly because they assert that they use a carbon neutral source of energy: residuals from forest harvest and the byproducts of pulp production, particularly black liquor.

However, as many environmental organizations have been quick to point out, burning biomass is far from carbon neutral as it immediately releases carbon from land-based stores to the atmosphere. And of course burning land-based stores of carbon, whether they be locked in fossil fuels below ground or in biomass above ground, is precisely the major cause of climate change.

While environmental organizations have been making this rather commonsense point for some time, an October article in Science has confirmed this glaring accounting error. As reported in the New York Times, "The accounting error even gives the impression that clearing the world’s forests, which absorb and thereby diminish heat-trapping carbon dioxide, is good for the climate, the scientists write." They also state the critical fact quite succinctly, "If an existing stand of forest land is cleared for fuel, its ability to absorb carbon dioxide is lost, and the net balance of the gas in the atmosphere goes up."

And Princeton University, who led the study, had this to say in their report:

"Tim Searchinger, a research scholar in the Princeton Environmental Institute and a fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, is lead author of the study. Michael Oppenheimer, director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy and professor of geosciences and international affairs in the Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is a co-author.

In the study, "Fixing a Critical Climate Accounting Error," the authors contend that across-the-board exemption of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from bioenergy -- the use of plant materials known as biomass for the production of renewable fuels -- is improper in greenhouse gas regulations if emissions due to land-use changes also are not included. This, they assert, erroneously treats all uses of bioenergy as carbon-neutral, renewable energy regardless of the source of the biomass, and could create strong economic incentives for large-scale land conversion as countries around the world tighten carbon caps."

To read the full article from Princeton University, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is the most recent confirmation that biofuels are not carbon neutral. An American company, Neenah, is allowing its lands in Nova Scotia to be clear-cut for fuel in a "climate friendly" energy project. Canadian environmental groups are enraged.