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Beyond Regulatory Uncertainty

As I edit the features for the annual 2012 Industry Outlook edition of Biomass Power & Thermal, it is refreshing to see all of the progress the industry has made despite the regulatory uncertainty.
By Rona Johnson | November 11, 2011

As I edit the features for the annual 2012 Industry Outlook edition of Biomass Power & Thermal, it is refreshing to see all of the progress the industry has made despite the regulatory uncertainty.

Biomass businesses are constructing two of the largest biomass power plants in the U.S. in Texas and Florida. Each will produce 100 megawatts of electricity annually. Pellet companies are building new plants and expanding existing facilities to supply a growing demand for biomass power in Europe, and technologies such as cogeneration and anaerobic digestion are taking off as people learn more about their benefits. Universities, businesses, schools and communities are building or considering gasification and district heating systems to reduce their carbon footprints and take advantage of local resources.  

Many companies credit their success to individual state renewable portfolio standards and the fact that many states understand the job-creating potential of biomass projects and welcome them with open arms.

Whatever the case, the fact that this industry can overcome the regulatory burden makes the future look pretty bright.

And if that’s not enough to be encouraged about, a new study by the U.S. Forest Service proves what the woody biomass industry has been saying all along—energy produced from forest biomass results in no net release of carbon if the forest is sustainably managed (see http://www.biomassmagazine.com/articles/5958/study-confirms-biogenic-emissions-result-in-no-net-carbon-release).

Study authors say U.S. environmental and energy policy should be based on the study’s four basic science-based premises, which are:

1. Sustainably managed forests can provide carbon storage and substitution benefits while delivering a range of environmental and social benefits, such as timber and biomass resources, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation.

2. Energy produced from forest biomass returns to the atmosphere carbon that plants absorbed in the relatively recent past; it essentially results in no net release of carbon as long as overall forest inventories are stable or increasing (as is the case with U.S. forests).

3. Forest products used in place of energy intensive materials such as metals, concrete and plastics (a) reduce carbon emissions (because forest products require less fossil fuel-based energy to produce), (b) store carbon (for a length of time based on products’ use and disposal), and (c) provide biomass residuals (i.e., waste wood) that can be substituted for fossil fuels to produce energy.

4. Fossil fuel-produced energy releases carbon into the atmosphere that has resided in the Earth for millions of years; forest biomass—based energy uses far less of the carbon stored in the Earth thereby reducing the flow of fossil fuel—based carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

The study, which included several co-authors hailing from New York, Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi, Washington and California, can be found here

I don’t know about you, but I’m fired up for 2012 already.

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