The “S” Word, Points and Counterpoints

Biomass’ carbon neutrality and forest sustainability have been two topics of heated debate, especially over the past decade, as the global wood pellet industry has flourished.
By Anna Simet | May 24, 2018

Biomass’ carbon neutrality and forest sustainability have been two topics of heated debate, especially over the past decade, as the global wood pellet industry has flourished. Largely, there are two starkly different viewpoints, either pro or antibiomass, with seemingly little room for compromise.

When Senior Editor Ron Kotrba proposed writing a balanced article detailing both sides of the argument, we knew it was important to do just that—balance, as objectively as possible, both sides of the equation. As an advocacy trade journal, that can be tricky to do, without much bias. Our readers are mostly the people who work on this topic and in the trenches of this industry every day—scientists, foresters, appliance and equipment manufacturers, plant managers, etc.—and along with their passion for biomass energy and wood pellets comes a great deal of frustration, when someone on the outside doesn’t understand, or—particularly when it’s a member of the media writing a flashy headline—portray industry dynamics.

I believe Kotrba hit the nail on the head, when it comes to thoughtfully presenting both viewpoints. For his page 11-feature “The Ideological Divide,” Kotrba spoke with a number of sources on each side, including the Dogwood Alliance, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Nebraska Forest Service, Enviva, Spacial Informatics Group and more. In it, Thomas Buchholz, a senior scientist who leads SIG’s forest and agriculture team, pointed to one of the biggest challenges the biomass industry faces with this argument—its size, and the fact that there will always be some poor examples to point at, even though there are many, many great examples to highlight. “With biomass, we can point to horrible examples from sustainability and carbon perspectives, down to other systems that are no-brainers in terms of carbon friendliness and sustainability,” he said, adding that, acknowledging these kinds of cases—instead of ignoring or denying them—and hard-lining against them as an industry, may be best way to exemplify what it really stands for.

As Kotrba writes, “Closemindedness, particularly when affixed to hardline positions and unbendable philosophies, cannot bridge ideological gaps. Sometimes, nothing can.”

Also in this issue, we have included a broader piece on wood pellets and their role in the growing Asian bioenergy market, and a story detailing a promising biomass dewatering technology, as we have tied feedstock logistics into this sustainability theme. They go hand in hand, after all, and the industry can’t continue to grow and succeed without being smart and innovative about both. 


Author: Anna Simet
Editor
asimet@bbiinternational.com