Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Biomass Energy Boom: What Price Habitat and Heritage?

Will your forests end up as pellets?

With catastrophic biomass energy carbon accounting errors integrated into the policies of corporations and governments, especially in European countries, there is strong demand and plenty of free money flowing to drive a rapidly growing industry in biomass-to-energy. Concern among conservationists and communities in the target forest conversion and extraction regions and around the world is also growing, because science is increasingly revealing that large scale biomass burning have major impacts on air quality, endangered species habitat, and our climate.

Recently, there seems to be an especially strong buzz and flurry of announcements. investor confidence is bolstered by the current subsidies from the US federal government to biomass burning facilities. See a list of these facilities.

Last week, the company RWE announced a massive wood pellet making facility for export to the European market. The company press release states, “Through this investment, RWE has taken a strategically important step towards safeguarding the supply basis for the constantly growing biomass market in Europe. This is because we will be unable to achieve the targets for reducing CO2 emissions in Germany and Europe without biomass. But the European wood market will not be able to satisfy the demand in this fast growing sector on its own." There is also word that the company NexGen Biofuels will convert a former Georgia Pacific sawmill in Arkansas to manufacture wood pellets for European export. And the announcements keep coming, and coming and coming....but who is looking at the collective impact? Well, you could buy a full list of projects here if you have the money. In the meantime the communities in Massachusetts threatened by biomass energy development are doing a pretty good job raising key issues in their neck of the woods.

Paper companies are aggressively pursuing conversion of some of their assets and expertise to invest in the market. Mitsubishi Corporation and Weyerhaeuser Company announced that the two companies signed a Strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to explore the possibilities of collaborating in the biomass-to-energy business.

International Paper and MeadWestVaco are jointly investing in Arborgen, a Genetically Engineered trees project, seeking fast growing species for pulp and biomass-to-energy. They are currently applying to the USDA to be able to plant 260,000 frankentrees in the US South, and there's a public comment period reopened right now until the 18th of February to look at critical science that was not considered yet.

There are so many questions and red flags and issues of moral responsibility pending and that must be addressed. For example, have we really analyzed all the impacts of this massive growth in the demand for our forests. What are the full costs?

The Paper Planet will be following the science, policy, and environmental leadership on biomass-to-energy issues over the course of the year and looks forward to your comments.

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