March 9, 2009

EESI: Briefings on Woody Biomass and Renewable Energy

July 6, 2009 - After two years development, EESI has just released a new policy paper titled Sustainable Forest Biomass: Promoting Renewable Energy and Forest Stewardship . EESI convened a discussion series bringing together scientists, community groups, foresters, environmental advocates, federal agencies, and other experts to explore the opportunities and problems associated with greater use of woody biomass for energy.

The paper summarizes the most important issues surrounding the current use of woody biomass as a renewable energy resource, and identifies policy solutions that will promote sustainable harvesting of woody biomass resources as part of a larger effort to steward our nation's forests for a diversity of values, products, and ecosystem services. The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, H.R. 2454), recently passed by the House of Representatives, contains a number of provisions relating to bioenergy.

The renewable energy paradigm shift will not happen without clear communication and education of policymakers at the highest level of Congress. One of the most influential agencies designed for this purpose is the EESI - whose Executive Director Carol Werner and staff are top notch accumulators and presenters of relevant information about these emerging industries and the policies needed to enable their development:

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization established in 1984 by a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress to provide timely information and develop innovative policy solutions that set us on a cleaner, more secure and sustainable energy path.

EESI accomplishes these objectives in three ways: 1) Policymaker Education, 2) Networking & Coalition Building and 3) Policy Development.

A glimpse of their home page reveals that the breadth of their focus is staggering.

Below are abstracts from two stories that were emailed to me today about a briefing that was conducted March 4th in Washington, DC.

Forest Biomass and Its Role in a National Renewable Electricity Standard

On March 4, EESI held a briefing at the Capitol Visitor Center about the role that woody biomass from forest management can play in helping to meet a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).

Briefing Highlights
• Biomass, described by speaker Bob Cleaves as the "most poorly understood resource in the U.S.," is a low carbon source of renewable energy available in every region of the country. It is a readily available fuel source that can increase America's energy independence and largely reduce carbon emissions in the short-term, relative to fossil fuels.
• It will be very difficult for some states to meet a national renewable energy standard if forest biomass is not included in state or regional energy portfolios. In the Southeast, for example, biomass represents about two-thirds of the region's near-term potential for expanding renewable energy. "Biopower is our competitive advantage in the Southeast," said speaker John Bonitz.
• A very inclusive definition of forest biomass must be included in a national RES which permits greater use of forest feedstocks from both public and private land. Strict rules and oversight on biomass harvesting and environment concerns will ensure a sustainable biomass industry.
• A national RES, with a broad and inclusive definition of forest biomass, will provide tremendous economic benefits. It will boost rural economies, reduce our reliance on imported fuels, make the grid more reliable, foster greater energy security, and create jobs. Use of biomass for energy will not compete with the pulp and paper industry to a significant extent, and therefore will not threaten existing manufacturing.
• Biomass can provide renewable, reliable baseload power. Furthermore, it is a low-cost, easily implemented baseload generation source, particularly when used in cofiring applications (where biomass replaces a portion of fossil fuels, usually coal). Biomass can also replace all fossil fuel at an existing power plant (known as repowering), but this requires far more expensive and extensive modifications compared to cofiring and will not occur without policy drivers and incentives.

Click here for more information from the forest biomass briefing, including a video and presentations from the speakers.

Issue Brief: Biomass Cofiring: A Transition to a Low-Carbon Future

Biomass cofiring refers to the simultaneous combustion of a biomass fuel and a base fuel to produce energy, usually electrical power. The most common base fuel is coal. The most common sources of biomass fuel include low-value wood from forestry activities, crop residues, construction debris, municipal waste, storm debris, and dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass, willow, and hybrid poplar. Most biomass feedstocks must undergo significant processing before they can be utilized for cofiring. The shape, size, and moisture-content of feedstock particles need to be adjusted to meet specifications.

Once the feedstocks are prepared, cofiring is a relatively simple process. A mixture of coal and biomass (typically containing less than 20 percent biomass by energy content) is fed into a modified coal-burning power plant to produce energy. Cofiring systems can be broadly classified as blended delivery systems, in which the two fuels are blended prior to injection, or separate feed systems, in which they are injected into the system separately. The former requires less modification to the power plant, although modifications are generally simple for both approaches. Additional modifications to the fuel-handling, processing, and storage systems may be necessary.

The entire issue brief is available here.
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Anonymous said...

What is the total global warming effect of burning biomass versus letting it rot? Not one expert could answer that question when I asked them, and the EPA officials admitted they had no idea either. Burning wood bypasses the methane cycle. Methane (CH4) is 25 times more effective as a global warming gas (GWG) than CO2. Methane oxides into CO2 in about 7-9 years. CO2 averages 100 years in the atmosphere. By my calculations, for every unit of wood that is converted directly to CO2 by burning for fuel there is a 225% reduction of total global warming effect. IF one actually believes in manmade global warming (I don't), this is as good a strategy as any. Further, CO2 is a finite resource. Nature has sequestered 94% of the atmospheric CO2 over the past 540 million years from 7000 to 380ppm. IF mankind sequesters CO2 underground where it won't be recycled through the environment, we will undoubtedly be accelerating the time when all plants on Earth die (about 150ppm) of starvation. Burning biomass has the benefit of decreasing methane but not CO2.

Randy Dutton

C. Scott Miller said...

You are in good company with many who believe that burning wood as efficiently as possible is far preferable to burning virtually any fossil fuel from a carbon perspective.

The main argument is that carbon from combustion of biogenic materials is part of the existing carbon cycle (carbon neutral), whereas carbon from fossil fuels is the real cause of carbon buildup in the atmosphere (carbon positive).

Regarding your point about combusting carbon verses decay... perhaps the best supporting argument is made by Dr. Tom Bonnicksen who I quote frequently throughout my BIOstock Blog (see ).

One of his studies is titled "Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Four California Wildfires: Opportunities to Prevent and Reverse Environmental and Climate Impacts" (see ). Note that he concerns his findings to the environmental as well as climate impacts - so you don't have to believe in global climate change to regard his findings as impactful.

"A key to understanding the urgency for remedial action is recognition that GHG doesn't just come from the combustion and smoke of the original fire - that only accounts for 25% of the emissions. The other 75% comes during the period of decay of the affected forest."

He then calculates the impact from doing nothing (decay) to thinning forests, salvaging the wood of dead trees, and reforestation - which together sequester more carbon that was emitted from the fires originally.

You don't have to believe in warming or cooling impacts to be concerned with the 35% increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.