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The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable

The Dutch have decided: Burning biomass is not sustainable

EU member states are increasingly turning their coal plants into biomass plants in an effort to cut carbon emissions. [Mizzou CAFNR / Flickr]

The Netherlands should phase out the use of biomass for generating electricity as soon as possible, the advisory board of the Dutch government said in a report presented earlier this month.

Biomass is an “indispensable” resource for the circular economy, but burning it is wasteful.

That is the main message of the report issued on 8 July by the Socio-Economic Council (SER), an independent advisory board of the Dutch government consisting of entrepreneurs, employees and independent experts.

In the chemical industry, the building sector and agriculture, biological materials are crucial for the transition to a circular economy, the council writes. But sustainably produced biomass is too scarce to keep using it for the production of heat or electricity, for which other low-carbon and renewable alternatives exist, the report states.

Accordingly, the billions worth of subsidies that were intended for biomass combustion plants should be phased out as well, the advisors say, calling however for measures to preserve “investment security” when designing a phase-out plan.

This means compensation should be handed out to companies who stand to lose out from the abrupt end of bioenergy subsidies.

“In case of a faster phase-out than companies and employees could have reasonably foreseen, compensation for investments, labour consequences and social consequences is appropriate,” the document states.

The ball is now in the court of the Dutch government, which will use the advice to construct a national “sustainability framework” for bio-resources due to be presented after the summer.

The new framework will “expand on existing criteria” laid down in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive to design “widely supported and coherent criteria on the sustainable production and use of biomass” in the Netherlands.

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Wood for the Trees: rush to green hydrogen masks mammoth plans to wood-chip the forests

Wood for the Trees: rush to green hydrogen masks mammoth plans to wood-chip the forests

biomass, green hydrogen, logging, wood chips
Biomass projects entail wood chips. Image: @john_kinnander, Unsplash

Is green hydrogen yet another spin with catastrophic consequences for the environment? Sue Arnold looks behind the greenwash to find wide-scale plans for logging for wood-chips.

Dominic Perrottet and his new Treasurer, Matt Kean, enthusiastically unveiled their $3billion “world leading” green hydrogen strategy for NSW last month, with promises of $80 billion in private investment and more than 10,000 jobs created.

What the two politicians didn’t say was that NSW forests would be the source feedstock for the so-called “renewable energy”. Nor did they detail that this latest effort to convince the public their government is “serious” about net zero commitment, is in fact yet another massive money pit labelled “renewable energy”. A green light to the corporate cowboys waiting to cash in on the net zero train.

One of the first cabs off the green hydrogen rank is the old coal-fired Redbank Power Station near Singleton. It is now owned by Verdant Earth Technology, previously known as Hunter Energy. The project plans to convert the station into a 150-megawatt biomass plant to generate 1,00,000 MWh of green baseload power, equivalent to supplying 200,000 homes with net zero CO2 emissions.

Pending approvals, Verdant plans to be operational with 16 tonnes of hydrogen production per day by the end of 2023.

What exactly is biomass? ScienceDirect’s definition is useful:

Forest residues are a by-product from forest harvesting, which is a major source of biomass for energy. This includes thinning, cutting stands for timber or pulp, clearing lands for construction or other use that also yields tops and branches usable for bioenergy. On top, stands damaged by insects, diseases or fire can be an additional sources of biomass.

Killing trees is not curbing emissions

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Biomass: The EU’s Great ‘Clean Energy’ Fraud

Biomass: The EU’s Great ‘Clean Energy’ Fraud

The professionalization of the biomass industry is a problem that needs attention.”–Bas Eickhout, Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament.

When it comes to the global shift to low-carbon energy sources, Europe has traditionally been viewed as the world leader while the United States has frequently been regarded as an important, albeit grudging, participant. Over the past half-decade, China has also improved its stock in the fast-growing market through a plethora of heavy investments, especially in solar and wind.

For the most part, those views appear merited: Renewables rose to generate 38% of Europe’s electricity in 2020 (compared to 34.6% in 2019), marking the first time renewables overtook fossil-fired generation, which fell to 37%. In contrast, the IEA estimates that natural gas and coal generated a combined 61% of electricity in the United States in 2020, with renewables accounting for just 20%.

Earlier this year, the EU earned extra bragging rights after renewable energy surpassed the use of fossil fuels on the continent for the first time in history.

In contrast, the United States’ standing in the energy transition cycle took a significant hit after former president Donald Trump fulfilled a key campaign pledge by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement, joining the likes of Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries not party to the agreement.

But maybe Europe is not as clean as it has made the world believe—and the United States is not as dirty.

In 2009, the European Union issued a Renewable Energy Directive (RED), pledging to curb greenhouse gas emissions and urging its member states to shift from fossil fuels to renewables. But the fine print provided a major loophole: the EU classified biomass as a renewable energy source, on par with wind and solar power.

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Farewell fossil fuels? Biomass broken down without chemicals for 1st time, study claims

Farewell fossil fuels? Biomass broken down without chemicals for 1st time, study claims

© Nigel Roddis
Scientists have made a huge leap in lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, managing to break down raw biomass without using chemicals for the very first time. The result was record high amounts of clean liquid hydrocarbon fuel, according to a new study.

When dealing with the possibility of breaking down biomass, a substance known as lignin – one of the components in the woody material used to produce fossil fuel – has traditionally been seen as a challenge, as it is difficult to break down and convert into useful fuel. As such, it often requires high levels of energy or the use of chemicals.

To study this further, a team of scientists from the University of Manchester and East China University of Science and Technology stewed a catalyst – made up of the metal complex niobium phosphate, with small particles of platinum scattered across the surface – with raw wood sawdust for 20 hours at 190° Celsius (374° Fahrenheit) and a pressure of 50 atmospheres.

The catalyst was able to directly break down and convert into lignin. The result is encouraging for scientists, who believe it could be a first step in the process of converting biomass into fuel.

“The conversion of biomass into fuels typically requires separations and pre-treatments to the raw biomass, thus suffering high energy penalties,” study author Dr. Sihai Yang said in a statement.

However, he noted that “this catalyst showed exceptionally high activity in splitting the carbon-oxygen bonds, the most challenging step in the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass.”

“This new catalytic process can therefore directly convert raw biomass to liquid fuels without separations or chemical pre-treatments, leading to significant potential energy savings,” Yang said.

The production of biomass offers an energy alternative that is almost carbon neutral, since the carbon dioxide used is recycled in plant photosynthesis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Worse Than Fossil Fuels? Why Bioenergy Is Not Green

Worse Than Fossil Fuels? Why Bioenergy Is Not Green

An Interview with Princeton Research Scholar Tim Searchinger

Bioenergy’s role in the global economy is growing as governments promote renewable biofuels and biomass electricity to replace fossil fuels. But in recent years, mounting scientific evidence has shown that bioenergy is not, in fact, carbon-neutral: hidden emissions from land-use change actually make it worse than traditional fossil fuels. Given increasing competition for land and the need to reduce carbon emissions, Princeton Research Scholar Tim Searchinger argues that bioenergy is the wrong path.

Photo: Sweeter Alternative

The fundamental idea behind bioenergy is that it’s carbon-neutral because it releases the carbon that plants absorb when they grow, and thus does not add carbon to the air. Why is this wrong?

It’s a common misunderstanding. Burning biomass of course emits carbon, just like burning fossil fuels. The assumption is that the plant growth to produce that biomass offsets the emissions. But the first requirement for a valid offset, whether for carbon or anything else, is that it is additional. If your employer wants to offset your overtime with vacation, they have to give you additional vacation, not just count the vacation you’ve already earned. Similarly, you can’t count plant growth as an offset if it was occurring anyway. Plant growth can only offset energy emissions if it is additional. Counting plants that would grow anyway is a form of double-counting.

Can you explain more what you mean by double-counting? Plants regrow, so why doesn’t that make them carbon-neutral?

Your paycheck provides a good analogy. Say you get paid every two weeks. You spend your paycheck, and the good news is you’ll get your next paycheck in another two weeks. Ok, so what if I say, “Give me your paycheck. It’s not going to cost you anything because you’ll get another paycheck in two weeks.”

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Big Biomass 101: When Burning Wood for Energy Makes Sense

Big Biomass 101: When Burning Wood for Energy Makes Sense

By David Dodge and Duncan Kinney

The great boreal forest straddles the country and provinces from Nova Scotia to British Columbia have ample forestry resources. In a place like Canada biomass to energy can make a lot of sense. So we headed to the largest, closest biomass operation we could find — the Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC) pulp mill.

It is North America’s largest single line kraft pulp mill and back in the 1990s these projects were the environmental flash point of their time. But out of that strife ALPAC got FSC certified for progressive forest management and in 2009 they installed a condensing steam turbine to make green electricity from waste wood.

The mill is located near the small town of Boyle, Alberta in northern Alberta. Aside from serving their own power needs with their waste they have a 32-megawatt power plant that contributes power to Alberta’s grid.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


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