Biomass Worse Emitter Than Fossil Fuel?

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If you’re thinking about shifting to biomass-fuelled appliances, beware – they might not be as clean as you think.

It’s true that biomass is a renewable, and therefore technically green, fuel. It’s also part of the carbon cycle, as burning wood and any other plant matter releases carbon dioxide into the air.

The main ecological advantage between such fuels and fossil fuels is that with biomass, the carbon is continually cycling – it hasn’t been locked away underground, and it can theoretically be tracked, offset and generally kept going round without adding to our worries.

Britain’s Environmental Agency wants everyone to take a closer look at this assumption.

Under that overarching term “biomass” is a lot of room and while it’s true that the cleanest varieties produce just a few percent of emissions from coal, other types are much higher.

In a just-released report snappily titled “Biomass: Carbon Sink or Carbon Sinner,” it claims that digging up pasture land and growing energy-packed crops – such as rapeseed – and processing them as fuel can emit more greenhouse gases than burning fossil fuels.

The report suggests all biomass-producing companies should be under the same scrutiny as their eco-unfriendlier counterparts. Biomass is still the way forward – but as with the question of food or fuel, it’s a solution to our problems that still needs a lot of work. Blanket assumptions not welcome.

Image: johntrainor

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.