Biomass Dirtier Than Coal, Says New Study

Sal holds a Political Science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
biomass_mass_sized
Mounds of biomass present promise and problems. (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A new study says that burning harvested trees to generate electricity yields more greenhouse gases than coal-fired plants.

Released last Thursday by the Manoment Center for Conservation Sciences, the study, which was commissioned in November 2009 by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, shows that by mid-century, burning trees and other biomass for heating would cause a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions—relative to oil.

There is, however, one caveat.

“Biomass-fired electricity would result in a 3 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to coal-fired electricity,” said Ian Bowles, Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in a press release.

“Now that we know that electricity from biomass harvested from New England forests is not ‘carbon neutral’ in a time frame that makes sense given our legal mandate to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we need to re-evaluate our incentives for biomass,” said Bowles.

Generally, biomass fuel is any organic material made from plants (wood and crops, for example) and animals that can be used to generate heat and electricity.

“Biomass fuels encompass a broad range of solids, gases, and liquids that result from living organisms or from the wastes and by-products of human activities,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The results of the Manoment study could throw a wrench into biomass plans under consideration in Massachusetts.

Currently, a plan to construct four wood-fired power plants is making its way through the state’s permit process.

Biomass fuels currently provide about 4 percent of the energy used in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association.

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