Greenpeace Canada Releases Damning Report on Wood-based Biofuel

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The Canadian chapter of Greenpeace yesterday released a report that highlights the dangers of the large-scale use of wood and tree harvesting for heating, electricity generation or liquid biofuels. The report is called ‘Fuelling a Biomess’ and it argues that burning woody biomass on an industrial scale could severely harm Canada’s public forests and further contribute to the global climate crisis.

The report is based on recent peer-reviewed scientific literature, and challenges the claims that simply burning forest biomass is green, clean and carbon-neutral. It’s on such claims that current bioenergy boom is based, it says. As demand for biomass grows, it can no longer be met by traditional waste stream sources, such as the bark, sawdust and other residues from pulp and paper plants or sawmills.

“Forest bioenergy, as it is currently being developed in Canada, threatens the health of our forests and will harm the global climate for decades to come,” said Nicolas Mainville, Greenpeace Canada forest campaigner. “The amount of wood being burnt in power plants or turned into liquid fuels is growing exponentially without the public’s knowledge and little government oversight or regulation.”

Greenpeace said that in some jurisdictions forest biomass is increasingly consisting of elements essential to functioning forest ecosystems, including standing trees, naturally disturbed forests and remains of traditional logging operations that were previously left in the forest. The amount of wood and other tree parts cut from Canadian public forests could more than double under new policies that support the expansion of forest bioenergy production.

The organization added it is concerned that the growing demand for trees associated with the bioenergy boom will drastically increase pressure on forests and out compete the traditional forest products sector, particularly with respect to available wood supply and the development of new products and jobs.

“Using woody biomass to produce energy should be restricted to local, small-scale uses of mill residues” said Mainville. “Before we continue to approve new projects, public hearings, a full accounting of the climate and biodiversity footprint and life-cycle analyses of those projects are needed.”

In 2010, Canada exported 1.2 million tonnes of wood pellets to Europe, resulting in a 700 per cent increase in less than eight years. Canada alone releases approximately 40 megatons of CO2 emissions annually from forest bioenergy production, an amount that exceeds the tailpipe emissions of all 2009 Canadian light-duty passenger vehicles.

The release of the report was timed with the opening of the first European Biomass Exchange in Amsterdam.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. Let’s look at this a little objectively. Wood is mainly used for home heating and Canada has long cold winters. Comparing it to emmissions of light vehicles is a very red herring! A better comparison would be to natural gas, fuel oil and coal for generation of electrical heating in which case wood is miniscule. Unlike these others wood at least has the potential to be carbon neutral. I must agree that the current policies don’t reflect that but there is tremendous potential.

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