Biomass: A Global Carbon Reduction Strategy

There is a lot that world leaders can do to ensure that we can take full advantage of available biomass fuel.
By Bob Cleaves | November 24, 2015

World leaders convened in Paris the week of Nov. 9 to discuss ways to jointly address climate change. Along with wind and solar deployment, and the possibility of developing methods of carbon capture, we urge these leaders to acknowledge the role of biomass in reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Global momentum continues to grow in support of increased renewable energy generation. With the introduction of the Clean Power Plan by the U.S., and last year’s agreement between the world’s two largest carbon emitters, the U.S. and China, to significantly lower emissions, decades of talk are becoming real action to replace fossil fuel generation.

The U.S. EPA joined many international governments by exempting biomass from carbon emissions reduction requirements under the Clean Power Plan, and biomass can play a similar role in even more countries.

The most discussed forms of renewable energy are typically wind and solar, but biomass can and should play a key role in updating energy infrastructure. Regardless of the many advances being made to wind and solar technology, the fact remains that they depend on the weather for generation. Thus, these two sources of energy alone can’t be expected to power large areas indefinitely. Biomass and other renewable baseload sources like hydropower, waste to energy and geothermal must be included as part of the mix to generate electricity at peak times.

There is also a direct role for biomass in reducing fossil fuel generation. Last year, The Earth Partners conducted a study on the potential of cofiring in the U.S. and China. It found that sustainable biomass cofiring at existing power plants has the potential to replace over 25 percent of coal use in each country, representing 1 gigaton of potential carbon emissions reductions per year. Cofiring can also provide the added benefits of preserving land and contributing to forest maintenance.

There is a lot that world leaders can do to ensure that we can take full advantage of available biomass fuel. In recent years, the U.S. DOE and Union of Concerned Scientists have each released studies that show that there is much more biomass available than we are currently using as fuel. In many regions, both developing and developed, discarded organic fuels are readily available and adaptable, but research and development funding is needed to learn more about how to convert them into effective biomass power generation.

Agricultural waste can be a particularly good source of fuel, providing the extra benefit of getting rid of waste. There are many obstacles to converting these fuels into reliable electricity, however. It is expensive to build a biomass facility, and to collect and transport fuel. More study is needed to identify solutions to these problems, bring down the cost for small-scale facilities, and find ways to adapt equipment to different types of organic materials and weather conditions.

The Paris conference is a solid step toward international cooperation in addressing climate change. Commitments to reducing carbon in the atmosphere should include biomass.

Author: Bob Cleaves
President, Biomass Power Association