A new study conducted at the University of Washington’s College of Environment says that burning biomass for fuel is a significantly cleaner energy source in comparison to coal.
The study – authored by Bruce Lippke and entitled Life Cycle Impacts of Forest Management and Wood Utilization on Carbon Mitigation: Knowns and Unknowns – used a life-cycle assessment to compare biomass and coal, and found that biomass power emits just 4 per cent of the carbon dioxide coal power emits.
This study showed considerably different results than a study conducted last year at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences
, which reported that biomass power emits more carbon per unit of energy than coal.
The debate centers on carbon debts. The Manomet study concluded that letting biomass decay on its on terms in lieu of burning it would be a better for the environment. The Lippke study points out that while those findings may be a good short-term solution, biomass power provides a bigger benefit to making the forestry sector more sustainable.
“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.
According to Lippke and his team, creating a more sustainable forest means the emissions from burning biomass – which would otherwise be waste – offsets any negative impact.
“The life-cycle research results accumulated over the last decade does not lead one to assume forest carbon neutrality, rather it demonstrates that the emissions from burning biomass for energy and the products produced from forest removals are being offset by the sustained growth in forest carbon removed from the atmosphere even after deducting any emissions from unused dead wood left in the forest,” the study says.