Sustainability of Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy Prodution Questioned
Over at the Summit County Citizens Voice, Bob Berwyn notes a study that throws cold water on some folks zeal for “Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy.” According to Berwyn, the study, by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and several universities suggests that such large-scale production “may be unsustainable and is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.” Here are a few “concerns” raised by the study:
- The general assumption that bioenergy is carbon-neutral is not valid.
- The reduction of biomass and lost carbon sequestration by forests could take decades to centuries to be “paid back” by fossil fuel substitution, if paid back at all.
- There are significant concerns about the economic viability of biofuels, which may require government mandates or subsidies.
- A higher demand for biomass from forests will increase prices for the biomass, as in Germany where they have already increased in price 300-600 percent from 2005 to 2010.
- An emphasis on bioenergy production from forests could lead to shorter rotation lengths, questionable management practices and increased dependence on wood imports.
- Negative impacts on vegetation, soil fertility, water and ecosystem diversity are all possible.
- Fertilizer use, another important source of greenhouse gas emissions, could increase.
- The use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution allowed previously degraded forests to recover in much of Europe and the U.S., while industrial-scale use of forests for biomass would likely reverse this trend.
Full study from GCB Bioenergy (2012) here (pdf)