Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Report finds biomass emits significantly less CO2 than coal

Biomass Power & Thermal
By Lisa Gibson August 15, 2011

A life-cycle assessment comparing biomass power to coal power shows biomass emits just 4 percent of the carbon dioxide coal power emits. The conclusion is one of many resulting from “Life Cycle Impacts of Forest Management and Wood Utilization on Carbon Mitigation: Knowns and Unknowns,” a recently released study by lead author Bruce Lippke, of the University of Washington’s College of Environment, as well as other contributing authors. The report also found that sustainably managed forests are better than carbon neutral, and managed forests continually accumulate carbon and maintain stable carbon stocks.

The findings are significantly different from those of the 2010 Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences study, which concluded that biomass power initially emits more carbon per unit of energy than coal, accruing a carbon debt that is paid off as the forest continues to grow and recapture carbon. Lippke’s group is not the first to offer a counter to the claims made in the Manomet study, pointing out that equating biomass carbon and fossil fuel carbon can give rise to concerns about the immediate release of carbon from burning biomass as opposed to slower releases as would occur during decomposition on the forest floor. “While much has been made about this time sensitivity—that burning wood is worse than letting it decay—the longer term benefits of sustainable wood production displacing fossil fuel emissions rotation after rotation far outweighs any short-term impact,” the report states. The view is similar to that of William Strauss, president of FutureMetrics, whose analysis found that there is no carbon debt, but instead a credit of previously-accumulated carbon.

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