What Are the Europeans Up To and Should We Emulate Them? EDF and Pinchot on European Biomass; Also Bob Berwyn’s Observations in Europe

You may not have looked at the comments on the Bye-Bye Biomass post; but thankfully Alex knew of a study by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Pinchot Institute so I thought I would post it directly below. Here is the link.

Also I provided a link to a Bob Berwyn piece on the scale of wind in Germany. I noticed that a few years back in driving around Thuringia. It makes me wonder about the question of scale and what drives that. Perhaps because we have so much public land, it could be a barrier in certain parts of the country. For example in Vermont, a 15 turbine facility raised controversy.. certainly that is the same size as in Germany, yet it appears that it is being litigated.. Here’s one story about it.

New Approach Promotes Pathways to Forest Sustainability
As Demand for U.S. Wood Pellet Production Grows

Image from Pathways to SustainabilityEuropean utilities are using trees grown in the United States to make electricity. Well, not the whole tree. But lots of the tree is used to make the little wood pellets that are then shipped across the ocean, mostly to the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Denmark, and Belgium. It is these wood pellets that are burned with coal or in stand alone biomass boilers to produce energy.

Why is Europe able to make electricity from U.S. trees when domestic utilities are cancelling wood biomass projects? Answer: Europe has a strong renewable energy policy.

Watch the video: Wood Biomass Goes to Europe

The EU Renewable Energy Directive passed in 2009 sets a target for EU member countries to collectively achieve 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. Many utilities are increasing the use of biomass as a low-cost means of producing renewable energy. But Europe doesn’t have enough forest or agricultural land to meet the increasing demand. To fill that gap, European utilities are importing wood pellets (a form of chipped and compressed wood) from North America and increasingly from the Southern United States — European imports are projected to increase to as much as 60 million tonnes annually by 2020. The growing demand for U.S. wood biomass is raising questions about the sustainability of the country’s forest resources.

Two reports from Environmental Defense Fund, in conjunction with colleagues at the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the University of Toronto, examine economic, environmental, and public health impacts from the expanding wood pellet market. European Power from U.S. Forests (download report PDF) documents how the EU policy is shaping the transatlantic trade in wood biomass. For the U.S. export market to benefit from the large potential capacity for pellet production, producers in the U.S. will need to meet or exceed sustainability standards of the EU and individual European countries. Some type of forest management or pellet supply chain management system (e.g. forest management certification and/or chain-of-custody certification) is likely to be required.

Image from Pathways to SustainabilityPathways to Sustainability (download report PDF ) evaluates the programs and practices available to U.S. pellet producers to meet European buyers’ sustainability expectations and policy requirements, concluding that few of the pathways completely meet the standards.

Specifically Pathways to Sustainability: (1) explains the uncertainties of existing import requirements and the options that can help this sector avoid controversial sourcing; and (2), presents the ways companies can reduce actual or perceived risks that sourcing may have on biodiversity, water resources, and other natural resource values.

Sustainability will remain a pivotal issue as EU member countries, the European Commission and various stakeholders seek to harmonize sustainability requirements. European bioenergy companies often view biomass sustainability as the largest unquantified risk in their supply chains. The supply chains for wood pellets are being formed now. Developing Pathways to Sustainability for biomass supply chains now will reduce economic risk and encourage market development both here in the U.S. and for use of wood pellets abroad.

Here’s a link to the story by Bob Berwyn about renewable energy in Germany.

Here’s a piece on the Interior solar siting plan and mixed reactions of green groups. (note the author admits he has a bit of a bias).

But as we’ve talked before, I think that one of the reasons driving “industrial scale” is the size of the renewable requirement to the large utilities. To have a plan to reach 30% or whatever by a certain date, you can’t depend on the “kindness of strangers, ” or “efforts by communities to have small scale” on land with mixed ownerships. Unintended policy consequences?

6 thoughts on “What Are the Europeans Up To and Should We Emulate Them? EDF and Pinchot on European Biomass; Also Bob Berwyn’s Observations in Europe”

  1. The hiigh demand for biomass for energy in Europe is the result of rulemaking based on the erroneous assumption that such energy is necessarily carbon neutral. It is also the result of unthoughtful reliance on the notion that any form of “renewable energy” is necessarily a capable contributor to solving the climate change dilemma, whereas one form of renewable energy involves combustion as well as involving other CO2 emissions from producing and transporting the fuel.

    Last September the Scientific Committee of the EU’s European Environment Agency (EEA) issued a report “Opinion of the EEA Scientific Committee on Greenhouse Gas Accounting in Relation to Bioenergy.” It points out the fallacy of EU policy (and policies of individual EU nations) that have led to the growing import of biomass from elsewhere, mainly the US and Canada at present.

    The problem is that the deep cuts in carbon emissions that the EU has planned are based on the assumption of carbon neutrality from biomass. Consideration of what to do is still in process. By rights, because the climate matters, we should see a decline in the export of biomass from the US (as well as a decline in use here).

    You can find the EEA Scientific Committee’s report here: http://www.eea.europa.eu/about-us/governance/scientific-committee/sc-opinions/opinions-on-scientific-issues/sc-opinion-on-greenhouse-gas

  2. Biomass, compared to coal and nuclear, has MUCH less impacts on the environment, especially when it is acquired through thinnings and fuels reduction projects. Let’s take solar panels, for an example of what could be lumped on to them, as impacts. Let’s say that such panels are made in China, exported here, to Walmarts across the country. Of course, we have to input all the extraction impacts, which are many in a country with few environmental laws. Then the transportation and processing of the raw materials, which may have to be imported in China. Then the assembly process adds its own impacts. Then we have major impacts and environmental costs of exporting the assembled products, halfway around the world. Once they get here, they must be moved to warehouses from the ports, with additional impacts and fuel. From there, they get distributed to the individual stores, with even more impacts and fuel. Once inside, we also have the costs of the store’s air conditioning, since they would sell few products without it. The costs of the lights and computers and cash registers supplies additional impacts. Of course, the consumer has to expend fuel to drive to the store, and buy the product. Once there, of course they have to buy some fast food, and that adds more impacts. Then, they have to drive home, too. Many solar panels require professional installation, as any good Walmart products would (smirks), and the contractor will be adding impacts of his own to the mix. Anything he buys from the hardware store to install the panel has its impacts, too.

    These are some of the impacts I have come up with, off the top of my head, in just a few minutes. Do you really think that solar panel, by itself, is “carbon neutral”?? Shall we eliminate solar panels because they “aren’t carbon neutral”?? Why do people assume that solar panels are carbon negative? Now, knowing this about solar power, I’m not going to toss out solar panels, the same way I’m not going to toss out biomass usage. I’d rather we not export our biomass but, instead, utilize it where it is already in excess. Otherwise, we are simple growing trees as firewood to heat our atmosphere. Of course, biomass opponents favor burning it in place. If you can come up with better ways of using our excess biomass, which grows back rather fast, I would be interested to hear those ideas.

  3. Larry, I took a look at the EEA paper. I thought the paper was just saying “hey, you need to be careful of where you are taking the biomass from.” Which I agree with…

    Below is a quote:

    To reduce carbon in the air without sacrificing other human needs, bioenergy production must increase the total amount of plant growth, making more plants available for energy use while preserving other benefits, or it must be derived from biomass wastes that would decompose and neither be used by people nor contribute to carbon sequestration.

    I would say that once it is decided to thin or remove trees for a fuel reduction treatment, this material is “biomass waste that would decompose and neither be used by people nor contribute to carbon sequestration.”

    Notice that they say “to reduce carbon in the air without sacrificing other human needs”. While it may be a report by scientists, the “without sacrificing other human needs” sounds like a value to me. This is pretty much “sleight of science” to me.

    As in “I am a scientist and have been asked to talk about carbon, but I will just slip in a value and then claim that the response to the value is “science”.”

    Suppose we used grazing as an example, since food is a human need. “To reduce the environmental impacts of grazing without sacrificing other human needs..”

    I agree that certain kinds of biomass can have negative environmental effects and human effects. But this seems to be getting the carbon, other environmental effects, and human needs all mixed up and then people say “well “biomass” is bad, the paper says so.”

    Here’s another quote:

    Based on the assumption that all burning of biomass would not add carbon to the air, several reports have suggested that bioenergy could or should provide 20% to 50% of the world‟s energy needs in coming decades. Doing so would require doubling or tripling the total amount of plant material currently harvested from the planet‟s land. Such an increase in harvested material would compete with other needs, such as providing food for a growing population, and would place enormous pressures on the Earth‟s land-based ecosystems. Indeed, current harvests, while immensely valuable for human well-being, have already caused enormous loss of habitat by affecting perhaps 75% of the world‟s ice- and desert-free land, depleting water supplies, and releasing large quantities of carbon into the air.

    This is the old “the world as it is is not scary enough to make our point, so we will assume that someone who published on the worst possible case that could happen is correct” trick. And anyone can publish any old number (why not go for 100%?) so there is unlimited fear-fodder there.

    I have no idea what they mean by the last sentence.. current “harvests” for biomass use for energy has affected perhaps 75% Harvests of what? Food? Hopefully this sentence is clearer to someone other than me.

  4. There exists a constellation of profound policy absurdities to the European biomass program, regardless of what percentage it might represent in renewable energy alternatives.

    1) That it commits itself to biomass in full recognition of having insufficient landmass to maintain it’s domestic biomass demand.

    2) That it would pursue biomass under the pretense of addressing the need of lowering GHG emissions, when, in fact, biomass has greater emissions than than some of the worst of fossil fuels– when produced domestically, to say nothing of the emissions resulting from international transport. see http://www.manomet.org/manomet-study-woody-biomass-energy

    3) Climate change is resulting in LESS arable land, and threatening water supplies almost everywhere. The competition for arable land for food has already resulted in famine and skyrocketing food prices. Here’s a short list of what this means:

    a) Much of the current productivity of arable land is highly dependent upon fossil fuels.

    b) the world population is INcreasing.

    c) As climate consequences are increasing in frequency and amplitude, they are resulting in massive levels of emigration. As the ranks of climate refugees swell, increasing global instability is certain, thereby increasing the likelihood of the interruptions of markets and international transportation of biomass.

    See: The Coming Hunger Wars: Heat, Drought, Rising Food Costs, and Global Unrest http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/07-2

    The fact is, both the magnitude and timing of impacts resulting from climate change were underestimated. A full-fledged aggressive response to the present climate change crises are in order, but as long as there are those who raise doubts around basic facts, we can expect delays of timely, efficacious action.

    • Common sense tells any person with a brain that shipping biomass across an ocean is idiotic, not to mention local effects of over harvesting.

      The “sustainable” precepts of the EU are collective stupidity, electric rates are skyrocketing and reliability is decreasing, when the power starts going out I reckon things will change.

      • Mike, My state, Oregon, ships about $1.3 billion worth of wheat (biomass, yes?) to other countries every year. As far as I know, Oregon doesn’t export wood pellets in bulk, but I wish we did. More exports = more jobs here at home.


Leave a Comment