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Burning trees ‘dirtier than coal’

PostPosted: Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:59 pm
by Wilberforce
UK: Burning trees ‘dirtier than coal’

November 17th 2012

Power stations around the UK are being encouraged to burn wood as part of plans to cut carbon emissions. The Government claims that burning ‘biomass’ is carbon neutral and offers subsidies to power stations for converting from coal to wood. Drax, the country’s biggest coal-fired power station, is aiming to take half of its fuel from biomass and Eggborough [coal power station] has announced its intention to fully convert to burning wood. The amount of biomass burned for electricity has doubled over the past year to about 3 million tons and is expected to increase ten-fold by 2017, meaning most of the wood will have to come from abroad. Already half the biomass burned is imported.

However, a damning new report by the RSPB, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth [Dirtier than Coal, published on 12 November] points out that in fact burning wood from whole trees produces more carbon than burning coal per unit of electricity. This is because newly cut wood is wet and bulky, meaning it has already produced carbon being transported to the power stations from as far away as New Zealand and being dried out. Also, because wood is almost half water by weight, you need a lot more to produce the same amount of energy as coal – and therefore more carbon. Even if the trees are replanted in an attempt to compensate, it could take decades for the same amount of carbon to be absorbed. But to avoid dangerous climate change the world needs global emissions to peak in the next couple of years.

Harry Huyton, head of climate policy at RSPB, pointed out that the whole point of the subsidies is to slow the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the short term. ‘When trees are burnt in power stations, CO2 comes out of the chimney, just like it does when you burn coal. The difference is that the wood is less energy-dense and is wetter than coal, so it takes a lot more energy to harvest, transport, process, and finally burn it. Government has justified burning trees in power stations by claiming the chimney emissions are offset by the carbon that the forest takes in when it re-grows after being harvested, but this is misleading. It can take decades, if not centuries for the trees to recapture that carbon, leaving us with more emissions in the atmosphere now - when we least need it.’ Doug Parr, Policy Director from Greenpeace UK, said it was ‘fraudulent’ to claim burning trees is more green than coal. ‘It’s time to end the fiction that burning wood is carbon free. If we don’t get the arithmetic right on the real impacts of biomass energy, our carbon budgets will be more like carbon fraud.’

Read the full article: The Telegraph ... -coal.html

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