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Biomass Is Not Crazy Logic

I saw a story about a week ago that I flagged to comment on when I got caught up. I suppose I am caught up enough now to do so. The story is:

Burn a Tree to Save the Planet? The Crazy Logic Behind Biomass

The author is listed as Joshua Frank, described as an environmental journalist and the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush. Frank has previously written an article critical of Oregon’s usage of electricity derived from coal, and in the current essay he turns his attention to biomass.

The article is confusing from the start:

It might seem crazy that anyone would even consider the incineration of wood and its byproducts to be a green substitute for toxic fuels such as coal. Yet that’s exactly what is happening all over the country, and it has many environmentalists scratching their heads in disbelief.

I find those comments baffling. Why would it seem crazy to believe that burning biomass – which utilizes CO2 when it is growing and helps sequester carbon in the soil through the root systems, leaves, and slash – would be greener than burning a fossil fuel like coal that has a long list of potentially undesirable environmental impacts? Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn’t utilized? It decomposes and ends up as the same CO2 it would end up as if you burned it.

While it is true that emissions controls on coal-fired power plants are much improved in recent years, it is also true that burning coal has resulted in acid rain and increased levels of mercury in our waterways. Burning coal also increases the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. To suggest that burning trees isn’t greener than burning coal is one of the most ludicrous things I have ever heard. From the tone of the article, it sounds as if the author believes that forestry and the harvesting of trees is by definition bad.

Now it is true that if you cut down an old growth forest and inefficiently turn it into a liquid fuel, that isn’t environmentally responsible. I could certainly envision any number of schemes to make the burning of biomass come out with a higher environmental impact than from burning coal. If I cut down a chunk of the Amazon, displace the people and the wildlife living there, ship the wood halfway around the world, and combust it in an old, inefficient boiler – then yes, the environmental impact of that would be higher than from burning Powder River coal. But such exceptions aren’t the norm. This article, however, paints with a very broad, one-sided brush and acts as if all usage of biomass is by definition bad:

NASA’s James Hansen says that the burning of coal is the single largest contributor to anthropogenic global warming, so any alternative fuel source must decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere if we are to put the breaks on climate change. Biomass, despite its label as a renewable energy source, does not solve the problem because burning trees actually emits a large amount of CO2.

That is another very odd comment. Burning coal releases ancient CO2 that was sequestered away. Burning biomass releases recently recycled CO2. That’s why it is renewable. If the author is concerned about CO2 emissions – and he clearly is – then coal and biomass are night and day. And while they acknowledge in their next paragraph that this is what “proponents counter with”, Frank quickly tries to shoot that one down:

An article in Science released last October attempted to debunk the myth that biomass is a good alternative to traditional coal and oil burning. The study, authored by climate scientists, claimed that when an existing forest is chopped and cleared to produce fuel, the ability of those harvested trees to absorb CO2 is eliminated entirely while the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere actually increases.

This entire article seems bent on the notion that the biomass we utilize will come from old growth forest that is slashed, burned, and left fallow. The people interviewed for the article must envision a scenario like turning the Amazon into biofuels – and this is the future they must foresee for biomass to come up with these sorts of conclusions. Such a notion isn’t remotely indicative of the future of biomass. Biomass will be grown for purpose (as I explained in Don’t Weep for the Trees), and it can definitely be grown responsibly and sustainably.

“The game is up,” stated biomass skeptic Ellen Moyer, a principal of green engineering firm Greenvironment, after the release of the report. “The problem has been identified, and the clarion call for course correction has rung out around the world. The days of biomass burning … are numbered and pending legislation needs to be corrected before perverse incentives to burn our forests are enshrined in law.”

You will have to show me the laws that incentivize the burning of our forests. If you mean laws that incentivize the usage of biomass for energy – well that isn’t the same as burning our forests. You first grow the forest, and while that is taking place everything you are complaining about when you burn it is running in reverse. Oh, there can be particulate emissions from improper burning, but it is also true that proper forest management can result in improved soil and increased carbon sequestration in the soil.

Another problem with biomass is that it is typically mixed with substances like coal to produce energy. In Nevada, for example, NV Energy is set to use a mix of coal and wood at its Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant. As a result, the company hopes to qualify for the state’s renewable energy credits.

The first problem is that this isn’t true. That is not how biomass is typically used. It can only be blended with coal in small amounts due to differences in chemical and physical properties, and it requires a substantial investment in the coal plant to allow such mixing. There is a technology called torrefaction that has the potential to allow much greater mixing, as it converts biomass into something like bio-coal. But torrefaction is still mostly at a pre-commercialization stage.

If a coal-fired power plant receiving energy credits isn’t mind boggling enough,…

Why is that mind-boggling? You just wrote that they were going to use wood to displace coal. Why wouldn’t they qualify for the same energy credit anyone else gets for using biomass? Or do you prefer that they simply continue to use 100% coal?

“They are burning more than trees because wood is simply not a good energy source,” said Jeff Gibbs, who resides in Michigan and is fighting the state’s six operating biomass plants. “Look, wood produces 50 percent more CO2 than coal, for the same amount of energy output. We have to stop this before more plants begin to pop up.”

I am sorry, but that’s another ludicrous statement. I would really love to see the analysis that provided that figure.

Not only is biomass not a good source of power, claims a 2007 paper presented at the European Aerosol Conference, it’s also not a healthy alternative to coal. The paper claimed that particulate matter (particles, such as dust, dirt, soot or smoke) was actually higher for a 7 megawatt wood gasification plant than it was for a large coal-fired power station.

There’s that broad brush again. While it is true that wood gasification plants can have lots of particulate emissions, that is not an inherent quality. You can put the same pollution controls on them that you can on coal plants. So once again a bad starting assumption leads to a sweeping, but false conclusion.

In summary, this was a very one-sided view that presented the worst extremes as more or less the status quo for biomass utilization. It is true that you can do things a right way or a wrong way. Water is healthy and I need it to live, but if I drink too much it can kill me. Taking a page from this article, I suppose I should avoid water from now on, as it has the potential to kill me.

For those quoted in the article, I hope they don’t freeze to death in the dark as the biomass they are so opposed to rots and releases its CO2 anyway. As I tell people sometimes, if you are opposed to everything, then prepare to be happy with the status quo.

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December 15, 2009 - Posted by | biomass, biomass gasification, climate change, global warming

133 Comments

  1. Don't get me wrong. I don't think we should clear-cut all of our "old-growth" forests; BUT, when those hardwood trees ARE cut down the carbon IS sequestered, Either in Furniture, or some other permanent use.No One on the planet, that's smart enough to use a chain-saw is going to burn immensely valuable hardwoods. The fires you see are the "slash." That is what should be processed for biofuels, along with "managed" crops like eucalyptus, and poplar.Most of those people are, really, just Malthusians, with a sprinkling of anarchists.

    Comment by rufus | December 15, 2009

  2. Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized?Let it lay undisturbed and wait long enough, and eventually it will turn into peat and then coal.What does he think coal is? Coal and oil are nothing more than the original biomass fuels.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 15, 2009

  3. Sounds like you have just realized, Robert, that some of the guys on "your" side are insane. Keep it in mind!A clear example of the perversion of the "environmental" movement is the effective legal opposition in the US to forest thinning. Instead, forests are left to become overgrown, leading to inevitable forest fires. Which wipes out habitat and releases the sequestered carbon anyway.An enterpreneur in my area tried to build a "biomass" power plant fueled by thinnings & brush clearing from the national forests. Would have created lots of jobs in an area where families need them, as well as protecting animal habitat and backing out coal-fired power.Yet the project was killed. High-priced lawyers for rich "environmental activists" killed it.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 15, 2009

  4. Sounds like you have just realized, Robert, that some of the guys on "your" side are insane. Keep it in mind!I think that folks at both extremes are completely unrealistic about the future. I spend my time somewhere in the middle, but find that I can't really talk to people on either extreme end of the political spectrum. I don't like Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 15, 2009

  5. Wendell wrote: Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized?Let it lay undisturbed and wait long enough, and eventually it will turn into peat and then coal. Don't you need a bog or marsh to form peat? I think most of our waste biomass isn't anywhere near a bog and will never turn into peat or coal. It's more likely to be consumed by bugs or rot and turn into CO2.

    Comment by Clee | December 15, 2009

  6. All of the biomass haters you mentioned, Robert, are attacking it from entirely the wrong angle. There's little doubt that the act of converting biomass to electricity or another useful fuel creates a net carbon benefit. But the act of harvesting it is another matter; if it's energy intensive to gather biomass and transport it to both processing and end use, that benefit will collapse quickly. Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized?Yeah, you don’t consume fuel driving equipment around to gather it.

    Comment by Bill Henry | December 15, 2009

  7. Yeah, unlike that coal that just jumps out of the ground, and into your boiler.

    Comment by rufus | December 15, 2009

  8. coaxing coal to do that has proven too challenging; much easier to just burn it while still in the ground…

    Comment by Bill Henry | December 15, 2009

  9. This article sounds almost hysterical, and disregards many of the facts of this issue. I would take a guess and say that this author really wants to see ten of industry, etc, and is incensed at the prospect that we might (partially) fuel switch to biomass to keep going.The harvesting of woody biomass is actually less energy intensive (per ton) than growing corn, or almost any other biomass. The "harvesting" energy use, to cut and chip the wood is about the same, per ton, as to harvest and thresh corn or grain, but you don't have nearly as much field preparation (per ton of product) as with annual crops, so the overall energy input is less. And if, as Robert mentioned, if you don't try to convert it to liquid fuel, there is very little energy invested in processing. The rapidly expanding wood pellet market attests to this. The next step we will see is indeed torrefied wood pellets, which can be thought of as being half way between kiln dried and charcoal. On an overall system basis, for every unit of wood energy produced, you have put in about 20%. And, about half of this this 20% can come from the wood itself, so you could have a fossil fuel EROEI of 10:1.Transport and distribution is another matter, but that applies to any fuel, even oil. But given that BC exports over one million tons of pellets to Europe each year, clearly there are customers that are prepared to pay for transport. The irony is that while this is being exported via the Panama Canal to Europe, heating oil is being imported from the middle east to eastern US! While there is actually some natural sequestration happening in the vast boreal forests (where it does to turn to peat, or "muskeg"), is most other areas, and all those at less than 30 deg latitude, the carbon ends up back in the atmosphere. In BC alone there is currently over one billion tons of standing dead trees from the mountain pine beetle. The trees are no good for lumber (the dry wood splits and shatters when try to mill it) but dry wood is an excellent energy source. That on billion tons is the gross energy equivalent of 700 million tons of coal, or 3 billion barrels of (heating) oil.And these standing dead trees are getting drier every year – its only a matter of time before there are some uncontrollable fires.Harvesting these trees, or any managed forest crops, for our own use isn't crazy logic, it's crazy smart.Unlike that article..

    Comment by paul | December 15, 2009

  10. Don't you need a bog or marsh to form peat? I think most of our waste biomass isn't anywhere near a bog and will never turn into peat or coal.You're right Clee, there are unique conditions for turning biomass into coal. It's also possible it could turn into petrified wood as happened in Arizona.But who knows for sure what will happen to biomass if we leave it lay for 75 million years or so? 🙂

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 15, 2009

  11. Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized? It decomposes and ends up as the same CO2 it would end up as if you burned it.Not necessarily. Some of it turns into soil. The relevant questions then become:1) What fraction becomes soil carbon, vs. free CO2?2) Is the soil layer building, depleting, or stable? If it's building, then you are net sequestering some carbon. If it's stable or depleting, then you're not.3) What are the requirements of the local ecology for this carbon source? Strip a forest of it's duff, and bad things happen.The answer to each of these questions will depend on the local biome and climate, and will not necessarily be consistent from place to place. So they are hard questions to answer. But those are the questions that should be asked, in the context of using biomass for an energy source.

    Comment by GreenEngineer | December 15, 2009

  12. Articles like this one cited by RR, and websites like The Oil Drum, seem to be "planted," that is they are carrying water for somebody not identified. They have an agenda. Did the coal industry hire this guy to do some PR?BTW, I think there is an argument that nukes are greener than biomass. No, I do not have any connections to the nuke industry.

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | December 15, 2009

  13. It's simple. The author of that article is a clueless zealot.

    Comment by PeteS | December 15, 2009

  14. "In BC alone there is currently over one billion tons of standing dead trees from the mountain pine beetle."Preach it, Paul! Preach it!Same thing in the US from California east to New Mexico, following various insect infestations which resuted from the forests being allowed to become overgrown. (Pre-1900, native Americans used to burn the forests regularly, to improve the hunting).You can drive for a hundred miles through dead forest — which the environmental extremists insist be left there, unharvested. Eventually, it will go up in the mother of all forest fires, killing the surviving trees, destroying animal & bird habitat, and emitting lots of CO2 along with the soot.RR points out there are extremists on both sides. That may be. But it is the extremists in the "environmental" movement who have the ear of government today. Doesn't matter how good their intentions may be, they are doing harm.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 15, 2009

  15. “Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized? It decomposes and ends up as the same CO2 it would end up as if you burned it.”If you are lucky. If it just decays it can also become more powerful ghg CH4 or N2O2.When it burn out of control semi arid forest with too much biomass do not cleanse the forest as it did when Lewis and Clark first passed though the PNW. Now a raging inferno destroys the forest for hundreds of years killing firefights caught in the path. The fores floor is baked into a hard pan until the first rains wash the water into the watershed. I have observed both the Boardman coal and the Kettle Falls Washington wood waste plant (40MWe). Both are assets to the local community and do not cause air pollution. Air pollution in these areas are infrequently caused by natural wind erosion and wild fires.

    Comment by Kit P | December 15, 2009

  16. “An enterpreneur in my area tried to build a "biomass" power plant fueled by thinnings & brush clearing from the national forests.”Kiny, was that near Quincy California?

    Comment by Kit P | December 15, 2009

  17. But the act of harvesting it is another matter; if it's energy intensive to gather biomass and transport it to both processing and end use, that benefit will collapse quickly.Bill, I don't know if you are just stopping by, or visit regularly. If the latter, you may know that I have written numerous essays on that very topic. The key word in your statement is "if." Those are the kinds of things that we spend a lot of time evaluating, and "if" in that particular case this is a true statement, then we don't do it. That's why all of those pine beetle killed trees throughout the Rockies aren't being utilized. The net energy of harvesting and turning them into fuel would be negative in most situations.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 15, 2009

  18. “(Pre-1900, native Americans used to burn the forests regularly, to improve the hunting).” Man as part of the environment. The Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon named because of the smoke from small fires. From WIKI:“Historically, frequent low intensity wildfires reduced fuel loading in forests of widely spaced old-growth ponderosa pine.” But does Joshua Frank write:“In recent years, studies have shown that the Boardman plant contributes to regional haze and visibility impairment in the Columbia River Gorge, a national scenic area, as well as 14 national parks and wilderness areas in Washington and Oregon.”Normal visibility is 100-200 miles as can be seen in this link:http://www.iwindsurf.com/windandwhere.iws?regionID=219&siteID=244&Isection=Windcam Today we can see the normal cause of visibility impairment. Clouds and humity!

    Comment by Kit P | December 16, 2009

  19. "The net energy of harvesting and turning them into fuel would be negative in most situations."I strongly disagree. You have to be clever enough not to build a power plant too big.One example might be a CHP plants replacing fuel oil used from food processing.

    Comment by Kit P | December 16, 2009

  20. So they are hard questions to answer. But those are the questions that should be asked, in the context of using biomass for an energy source.GE, if you read my essay "Don't Weep for the Trees", you will see all of those questions being asked.Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  21. I strongly disagree. You have to be clever enough not to build a power plant too big.I can only ascertain from that statement that you have never laid eyes on much of the area in which these dead trees are located. Difficult terrain, little infrastructure – and you want to build small power plants out there? So then you harvest the dead trees for your small CHP plants, and then what?No, I strongly stand by my initial statement. Those trees are still standing there because it is too energy intensive to collect them and turn them into energy.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  22. The article doesn't surprise me one bit. We've been hearing the same kind of thing from ethanol haters for how long now? Everything has a downside. If we wait around for the perfect biofuel,we'll be waiting forever.

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  23. I will say this though Robert. Your company has one of the most eco-friendly approaches to biofuels I've seen yet. Unfortunately,it can never provide more than a fraction of our needs. I'm also afraid gasification won't be competitive with modified yeasts. If corn cobs can be processed for $2.35 a gallon,how long can it be before trees can be turned into cellulol for a similar price? Are you guys even considering that route?

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  24. Robert, I'll have to disagree with you on this one. It's not because it's too energy intensive, it's just that it is not (currently) profitable, that's all. A couple of years ago, before the lumber market crashed, the BC lumber companies were going all out to harvest the beetle kill trees. Now, at that time, they were not too dry for lumber, so they were milling them. But the energy intensity was exactly the same then as it would be now, it's just that when you are selling the logs for energy, you don't get the same price per ton, so it may not be profitable anymore. None of the companies involved have been doing EROEI, they do $RO$I, that's all. Energy is only one of the costs involved, the difficult terrain means more time for access roads and the like. These cost money, but don't use that much more energy (in the scheme of things). Even if used lots of energy, but was still profitable (like ethanol) then they would be doing it. So if it's not too energy intensive, then why isn't it being done? It is because there are not many local energy markets (yet) for this wood. By a local market I mean somewhere the logging contractor can drive these logs to and sell them, for energy, profitably. There are a few, such as the various wood pellet plants in the BC interior. They are all attached to sawmills, and used their waste, but now some of those sawmills have closed, and the pellet mills are still going, processing beetle killed wood. Once the wood is in pellet form, transport is not an issue.An different example of a local energy market is the 50MW wood fired power plant at Williams Lake, in central BC ( I live in BC, in case you were wondering). This mill has, in it's three years, done too good a job at using up the (easily available) local lumber, as it is now having to source its supply from farther afield. Yes, it takes more energy to truck the raw logs further, but you can be sure the plant manager is just looking at the total cost, and probably isn't even doing an energy balance at all. So there is some merit there to what Kit P has said about building too big. If you build so big that you exhaust the local timber before it can replenish itself, then you are stuck with expensive long distance material. It is a microcosm of America – consume more energy than you have available locally, and you are faced with expensive imports from afar.The best proposal I have seen is actually to have small (mobile) pellet mills. These set up at a log landing and chip, crush and pellet the wood right there. It is the pellet equivalent of mobile quarrying equipment – you only transport the finished product.The finished pellets are at 10% moisture, so you are transporting much less weight, and you have upgraded it into a tradeable energy commodity.This is why the wood pellet business is the only part of the BC lumber industry that is both growing, and profitable today. I'll concede that if the operation is very energy intensive, it is less likely to be profitable, but a halving of fuel cost (say by switching trucks to CNG) would make it no less energy intensive but more profitable. And if there is a business to be had, someone will start doing it.For an interesting read on the current (Aug 09) status of the pellet industry, check out this report from the US forest products laboratory.http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplrp/fpl_rp656.pdfThe most interesting chart in there is the one that shows total pellet production capacity in N. America has quadrupled in the last five years, (while sawmill, pulp and plywood capacity have all been shrinking). Early days for the forest energy business to be sure, but a clear sign, I'd say, that at least part of the forest industry's future is in energy.

    Comment by paul | December 16, 2009

  25. INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana biotechnology company announced Tuesday that it has begun producing a genetically modified yeast that promises to make it easier and faster to turn corn cobs, wood chips and a host of agricultural wastes into ethanol. The yeast, which arose from research at Purdue University dating back three decades, is a modified form of common baker’s yeast that its creators made using recombinant DNA techniques. The genetically engineered microorganism allows cellulosic ethanol producers to make the fuel more quickly and with less energy than current methods, said Nancy Ho, a research professor at Purdue’s School of Chemical Engineering who’s also the company’s founder and president. “Our goal is to make ethanol production more profitable – as much as possible,” she said. “And this yeast makes it more cost-effective for them.” http://tinyurl.com/ycbhy26

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  26. Are you guys even considering that route?You should be a fly on my wall today. Lots of interesting developments around here.Are you guys even considering that route?Everything is on the table for me. Trees are problematic for cellulosic ethanol, though, because processing them tends to produce strong enzyme inhibitors.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  27. It is because there are not many local energy markets (yet) for this wood.But that's the whole point. Because there are no local energy markets, just getting them somewhere and processing them is only a part of the equation. You now have to get it to market. The general rule is that a biomass processing facility needs to have access to biomass within roughly 25 miles via road, or a bit longer via rail or water. But the farther out you go, the less energy you can afford to spend on processing before your net energy turns negative. Now add in the fact that you have to get it to market, and it is going to take an incredibly efficient process before you can make it work from an energy balance standpoint.That's why I say "net energy of harvesting and turning them into fuel would be negative in most situations." Oh, now I see I wasn't specific about including getting the fuel to market. Generally that's not a huge energy input, but it is if you are remote from your markets and don't have the infrastructure. But I say "most" because I can see some situations in which you might make it work. But not for most of that standing dead wood; at least not right now.But I am working on something. :-)RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  28. The best proposal I have seen is actually to have small (mobile) pellet mills.Hmm. Now I have to wonder if my office is bugged. ;)RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  29. "The general rule is that a biomass processing facility needs to have access to biomass within roughly 25 miles via road, or a bit longer via rail or water."I think we are in general agreement here, you do need to keep your supply train short. Interestingly, that is a pretty close approximation to the distance between sawmills dotted around BC.Transporting unprocessed material of any sort is a mug's game. You look at any successful commodity business, be it oil, mining, coal, even corn and grains, they all do pre-processing of their material at, or close to the primary production site. With forestry, it's probably harder than any other industry, and setting up a mobile sawmill is impractical for any production volume.In BC, at least, there is the start of change happening to create those local energy markets.Some schools and hospitals etc are putting in wood/pellet CHP systems, and the heating oil companies are getting pellet delivery trucks. These are indeed small markets, but it is a start, and it is a a local production and consumption model, which I like.I would take the on site pellet production one step further and do onsite torrefaction, using the bark and other stuff as the fuel, and then pellet or briquette, or whatever. Then your energy density, and product value increase further. Your finished product is impervious to water, won't rot, can be co-fired with coal, etc etc.However, that, so far, has been a bit too enterprising even for the pellet folks.I'm sure the wood energy market will develop, though what form(s) it will take remain to be seen. I will follow with interest what your company is doing here.

    Comment by paul | December 16, 2009

  30. “Those trees are still standing there because it is too energy intensive to collect them and turn them into energy.”Those trees are still standing there because there are lots of trees out in our semi-arid forests. RR has energy balances on the brain. Finding solutions to environmental problems takes lot of problems solving skills. You have to look for ways to succeed not reason for failure. “Difficult terrain, little infrastructure – and you want to build small power plants out there?”Well no, I would suppose that using a helo to pull waste wood out difficult terrain might be a bit energy intensive. However, there is massive amounts of biomass that do not take very much energy to recover.The primary purpose of removing the excess wood from the forest is to solve an environmental problems. Energy is just part of a bigger picture.

    Comment by Kit P | December 16, 2009

  31. I would take the on site pellet production one step further and do onsite torrefaction, using the bark and other stuff as the fuel, and then pellet or briquette, or whatever.OK, now you are really making me paranoid. I have been in meetings all day discussing technology, and it feels like you were in the same meetings!RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  32. A location on the Mississippi might solve some of the logistics. You'd have access to timber,refineries,and hydropower. You could even go eco-crazy and use steam power for transport down the river.

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  33. I saw that article when it first appeared but didn't read past the first few sentences because it was so poorly written.I believe the article in Science that it refers to talked about a carbon accounting error. If you burn a tree that takes three decades to regrow, that carbon will be in the atmosphere (although declining as the new tree grows) for three decades. Time is usually ignored by most people who are already cognitively overwhelmed with the first three dimensions.Burning waste, especially at the site of generation is a nobrainer.Next up will be a movement to define the Amazon forest as waste ; ) Governments today assume that burned biomass is carbon neutral (other than energy used to process it) regardless of where it came from. If it came from a forest that was never replanted, it is far from carbon neutral, and even if it comes from a forest that is replanted, it won't reach carbon neutrality for some period of time that could be years, decades, or even centuries, depending on source.The profit motive will spur people to replace natural forests with faster growing stands of monoculture tree crops. Half-assed ineffective attempts to stop the abuses will ensue, rinse, repeat and the extinction event will continue unabated.One can easily see how a push for biomass will wreak havoc on remaining ecosystems already being destroyed by other resource demands.

    Comment by Russ Finley | December 16, 2009

  34. RR wrote: The general rule is that a biomass processing facility needs to have access to biomass within roughly 25 miles via road, or a bit longer via rail or water. But the farther out you go, the less energy you can afford to spend on processing before your net energy turns negative. Now add in the fact that you have to get it to market, and it is going to take an incredibly efficient process before you can make it work from an energy balance standpoint.And yet the US and Canada are exporting wood pellets to Europe. Even though they are processed into pellets locally, the market is distant. The article doesn't talk about net energy. I wonder what an analysis would show.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124691728110402383.html

    Comment by Clee | December 16, 2009

  35. And yet the US and Canada are exporting wood pellets to Europe.Pellets on water can actually be shipped a long way for little energy input. I talked a lot today about the flow of pellets from North America to Europe – and why I expect that trend to continue growing. The net energy of that looks pretty good. There are two things working in your favor. The biomass has been densified, and shipping on water has a much lower energy requirement per mile.I have actually done some analysis that indicate that if you are going port to port, you could put biomass from Malaysia into Hawaii for less energy that you could move it from one island to the other in some cases. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  36. Here is a quick and dirty energy analysis for making and shipping the pellets, assuming diesel fuel for all processes (although the pellet mill in BC would be powered by hydropower)Harvesting 2 gal/1.5tons raw material=3galTruck to mill, 1.5 tons x 25 miles x 50ton.mpg = 0.75galGrinding and Pelleting 40kWhr/ton = 3 galTrain to port at Vancouver 1tonx400 miles x400ton.mpg = 1galShip to Europe via Panama canal, 11,000 miles at 1000 ton.mpg = 11 galTotal = 19 gal/tonEnergy in diesel is 137 MJ/gal, total is 2.6MJPellets are 20GJ/ton, so we have used 13% of their energy in fossil fuel to create and get them there, for an EROEI of 8:1What is more important is the fuel cost, at $2/gal, it has cost $38 per ton in fuel, and easily double that again in labour, equipment, shipping charges etc, so you are about $110 to produce and ship. With the bulk price of pellets, at the port in Europe being around $160, you can see there is still a business to be had. The pellet mills in BC work on a sell price of about $100/ton at the mill, and from this you can see the energy cost to that point is about 7gal of diesel, or about $14, so while a major cost of production, I think the labour and equipment would be greater, and it would be the labour cost, not the fuel cost, of difficult harvesting and trucking (slow, winding roads) that would make it marginal. To return to the article's comparison with coal, I would think the energy inputs for mining and shipping coal would not be much different, but you have only 3/4 the carbon for the same energy content with the pellets, and this, of course is renewable carbon.In any case, there is a good EROEI, even when shipping to Europe, though doing this while people here heat with oil is just plain wrong. Not listening in you Robert, but since I live here, heat my house with wood I chop, drive past fallen over and driftwood trees every day, and am also an engineer, I naturally spend a lot of time thinking of the best way to make use of them. Haven't put as much thought into this as you have, but good to know I'm on the right track.

    Comment by paul | December 16, 2009

  37. I thought the wood wasn't being harvested to avoid spreading the beetles. I believe there are legal restrictions. In Worchester MA, there is an asian bettle when seen they take down the whole tree quickly. This could ruin alot of our trees. Can one say that the pine beetle are problematic due to our limits on harvesting trees?

    Comment by takchess | December 16, 2009

  38. Thanks to Paul for the great comments, and RR's feedback. From what I've seen/read, most of the opposition to biomass burning is the classic NIMBY stuff, supplemented with the "Don't Kill Trees" crowd. Those folks tend to be big Al Gore fans, but they will distort science to support their selfish needs opposing clean energy like biomass as much as any climate deniers.I'm also curious to see how the DoE and USDA address potential forest biomass resources in the updated "Billion Ton Study" that should be out pretty soon. Anybody know when that will be out?1) If anybody understands forest resources, it's the timber industry. If they have not figured out a way to wring more $$ out of the forest yet, it can't be very easy? They do a pretty good job as is, and I'm sure they'd love to take advantage of biomass $$, but clearly it can't be profitable if they have not already figured out a way to do it? 2) Bring on the pellets and torrefaction. Those processes seem to be best suited to small scale (but scalable) projects that can truly take advantage of local wood. Of all the biomass energy utilization approaches, these seem to make most sense. I think this also works best and is the simplest pathway for energy crops like switchgrass or stover. Still some issues with upgrading the oils, though. When I saw an article earlier this year about BC shipping wood pellets to Europe, that made me a believer it can work (although it still won't be cheap). Once you can commoditize a product, potential uses really open up.

    Comment by OxyMaven | December 16, 2009

  39. The article in question makes me think of another green site 'organic consumers association'. İ recently ended up there due to a link and was surprised at the depth of the out and out wrong information.İt is also full of absolute garbage content. Very few facts and those used are distorted beyond belief.Both extremes in the discussions on environment operate beyond logic and science and both are equally guilty.

    Comment by Russ | December 16, 2009

  40. Speaking of wood pellets, this may be a better way to use corn stover. It doesn't directly say in this press release, but it sounds like this might be a portable pellet machine that travels inot the fields to turn stover into fuel pellets. It looks much better to me than collecting loose stover and hauling it to an ethanol plant: Power Pellets from Corn Stover

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 16, 2009

  41. "Can one say that the pine beetle are problematic due to our limits on harvesting trees?"Yes. It certainly is a forest (mis)management issue.There have been a number of Politically Correct "extremists on both sides" types of comments on this thread. Yet the only extremists around are the ones saying No! Where is the other end of the extremist axis? Has anyone ever heard an "extremist" assert that we should clear cut every forest, leave nothing standing, and not replant? Didn't think so. Yet there are lots of examples of extremists saying Cut Nothing.A lot of us are unwilling to look the truth in the face. The people harming the environment and creating the coming energy crisis are the greenie extremists — environmentalists, not conservationists.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 16, 2009

  42. "Bring on the pellets and torrefaction"It's pretty interesting that wood pellets,corn,and switchgrass all have about the same combustion factors and energy content. Wood pellets and corn are priced about the same. Switchgrass pellets must not be marketed yet,because I can't find any prices. I read where Canada is experimenting with them though. Biomass pellets seem like a no-brainer. Cheaper in most cases than fossil fuels,and trees and plants with extensive root systems sequester carbon to boot.

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  43. Cheaper in most cases than fossil fuels,With one very important exception. The price usually can't compete with North American natural gas prices, which is why the biomass flow is to Europe. They would rather diversify energy supplies than continue to have Putin holding them hostage on natural gas. Heating with pellets is generally economical versus heating oil, though.If they put in few LNG import terminals in Europe, it could be a big blow to the pellet industry. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  44. Biomass utilization would need to be done in a sustainable manner to be either CO2 neutral or carbon negative. This, however, has been done already in several northern European countries using the district heating model. What happens if the forestry waste is left, usually in large piles is not just the conversion to CO2 but significant amounts of anaerobic digestion to methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times worse than CO2. The minerals removed from the soil can be returned by proportional spreading of the ash remaining after energy generation onto the area the fuel was harvested from. Biomass fuel proponents have never promoted the destruction of old growth forests in the name of energy generation. So long as wood is harvested for timber to construct houses and furniture there is waste that can also be used more judiciously. Done correctly this harvesting can mimic the periodic forest fires that rejuvenate the forests, done incorrectly and it can wipe the forests out. Like anything else it depends more on how the idea is implemented rather than any inherent evil or good. I will point out that the extremes in almost any argument are bad.

    Comment by vacuum1313 | December 16, 2009

  45. Natural gas is cheaper,but it's surprising how many folks don't have access to it Robert. My dad lives in Missouri,where he says most people have propane tanks to fill for the winter. A large NG pipeline goes through town,but it just heads east. He chops several cords of wood each year,but still goes through several hundred gallons of propane. My sister in Montana also doesn't have access to natural gas. They use a wood pellet/corn stove and chop a lot of wood also. My daughter just bought a new construction home that's all electric. Nuts,because NG is cheaper than beans in southern Louisiana. It does have a fireplace though. I'm just saying NG might be cheap,but it ain't available everywhere. There's definately a market for pellets here in the states. Besides,I don't see NG staying cheap much longer. Either demand will rise,or production will fall. Maybe a combination of the two. Btu price disparities never last long.

    Comment by Maury | December 16, 2009

  46. I'm just saying NG might be cheap,but it ain't available everywhere. There's definately a market for pellets here in the states. Besides,I don't see NG staying cheap much longer.Couple of things. Yes, where they don't have access to natural gas, pellets may be able to compete. But in areas that do have natural gas, prices have to go over $12/MMBTU for pellet prices in the $200/ton range to compete on a $/BTU basis. Plus, natural gas is much more convenient for most people, so even if prices were exactly the same, pellets won't necessarily win out unless there are incentives, etc. Prices for natural gas may rise, but I don't think they will rise that much for a very long time.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  47. More on the biomass fraud.http://www.truthout.org/1214092

    Comment by Joshua | December 16, 2009

  48. Exxon claims it can make NG even cheaper. The "fracking" technology used to extract NG is relatively new. It may mark the apex of man's ingenuity, but more likely we will get better and better at fracking and related technologies.Better means more supply at lower prices.There is shale in Europe, and China says it is looking at shale now. China has a huge land mass, so who knows how much shale they have.And then, there the biggest gas wells of all time are being drilled right in in New Guinea.I expect lush NG supplies for decades and decades, providing a ceiling of sorts of all energy prices. Hence, the doom scenarios just do not make sense. To doomers, I say "The price mechanism says "frack you.'"

    Comment by Benny BND Cole | December 16, 2009

  49. More on the biomass fraud.http://www.truthout.org/1214092May I assume, Joshua, that you are the author of this article as well as the original article? If so, I would like to ask you a few questions. As I said, there is a wrong way to do lots of things. And I have written loads on what I think is wrong with many biomass approaches. But that doesn't mean that it can't be done correctly, which is what your articles seem to indicate.As Searchinger said about the renewable aspect of biomass in the article you quoted – "Not necessarily." I agree with that. But I guarantee you that you he could tell you how to do it such that it is.It can be done sustainably. That doesn't mean that it will be done sustainably, but to imply that it can't be done (or even that nobody is doing it sustainably) is flat wrong.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  50. Welcome to the Club. Now Searchinger has gone after Biomass.Did you think he would stop with ethanol?

    Comment by rufus | December 16, 2009

  51. Searchinger is Not a Scientist. He is a lawyer/advocate with strong ties to big-oil funded organizations.And, as I've said before: The journlal "Science" has become a bad joke.

    Comment by rufus | December 16, 2009

  52. Welcome to the Club. Now Searchinger has gone after Biomass.Did you think he would stop with ethanol?I don't have any issues with what Searchinger wrote. I agree with him that if you start converting all of your virgin forest into fuels (and that is clearly the thrust of his argument) then the carbon emission equation is much different than using managed forests and waste biomass as your feedstock. I don't think Joshua Frank understands that Searchinger's brush isn't quite as broad as his own, which was extrapolated from what Searchinger is actually (and correctly, IMO) arguing.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 16, 2009

  53. We'll see how his article gets quoted around the "science-o-sphere." Remember, his article on biofuels was all "might bes," "could bes," and "maybes." You see how that got spread around.

    Comment by rufus | December 16, 2009

  54. As Bill Clinton might have said, it all depends on the meaning of "new".From Section 1.1 of the Society of Petroleum Engineer's Monograph 'Recent Advances in Hydraulic Fracturing' (1989):"The fracturing process, introduced to the industry in 1947, is a standard operating practice."Why has the natural gas industry only recently got round to adapting a half-century old process?Everyone's favorite President, Jimmy Carter, imposed regulations essentially prohibiting the use of natural gas in processes such as power generation, because there was a 'consensus' we were going to run out of natural gas. The loss of the market led to a decades-long 'gas bubble', during which gas supplies exceeded demand. Consequently, the price of gas was low and there was no incentive to look for new sources of natural gas.Now they tell us there is a 'consensus' that humans producing carbon dioxide will result in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Ho hum.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 16, 2009

  55. Silly me. Above was a reaction to Benny's comment that:"The "fracking" technology used to extract NG is relatively new."

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 16, 2009

  56. imposed regulations essentially prohibiting the use of natural gas in processes such as power generation…Wait until someone figures out the main component of NG is methane — a serious greenhouse gas. They'll start clamping down on the NG industry again.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | December 16, 2009

  57. The PDF link to the Science article that Joshua refers to (and I referred to earlier) is here (Paid Subscription)."..Several recent studies estimate that this error, applied globally, would create strong incentives to clear land as carbon caps tighten. One study ( 2) estimated that a global CO2 target of 450 ppm under this accounting would cause bioenergy crops to expand to displace virtually all the world’s natural forests and savannahs by 2065.."It's cheaper to raze a forest than to raise a forest. Without wise government regulation and enforcement of those regulations we may very well make matters worse. Wise is the last word I'd use to describe our present state of democracy.

    Comment by Russ Finley | December 16, 2009

  58. Interesting to see those comments about pelleting corn stover and switchgrass. You can actually pellet almost any fibrous biomass, including things like waste paper and cardboard. You could probably even make them out of food waste, if they were going to be used promptly.The pellet industry has set two standards for pellets, Premium, which is to be less than 1 % ash, and standard, which is less than 3% ash. And then you can make "utility" grade pellets, which can have any amount of ash (often made from tree bark). They are all to be around 8-12% moisture. Corn stover and switchgrass have more ash than wood, so you would probably be making "standard" grade pellets. This process could be done in the field, by towing a combined hammer and pellet mill. For corn stover, or any crop stubble, it is already standing and dry. For switchgrass you would need to cut and windrow it, to air dry, then pellet it. This of course, is almost and identical process to baling hay, something farmers are well used to. Having grown up on a farm myself, I can tell you I'd rather handle bulk pellets than bales of hay anyday. So for the farming areas, they can turn their "crop waste" into a saleable, commodity fuel fairly easily. A good corn crop yields five tons of corn to the acre (at $150/ton farmgate, for $750/ac) and three tons of stover. Converted into pellets, at say $100 ton at the farm gate, the stover will increase the value of their crop by 40%. Of course, those pellets would provide more than enough heat to distill the ethanol, dramatically improving the EROEI.I think I would divide the biofuel industry along two streams. "Dry" fuels, like wood and grass are ideal for pellets, and hard for ethanol, and "wet" fuels are easier for ethanol and harder for pellets. A comment in response to Takchess about the beetle killed trees. By the time the trees are dead, the beetles are long gone. To combat the spread, they were cutting and burning living infested trees, but you can imagine how ineffective that was, unless you are prepared to torch the whole forest.If they get the tree within three years of dying, they can still mill the lumber. If you see any 2×4's that seem to have a bluish streaks in them, that's beetle kill wood (it is just as good as ordinary wood, just discoloured).The main reasons for the large outbreak are put as being a series or warmer and drier than usual winters, and large areas of old, same age trees (grown back after logging or fire). Young trees can fight the beetle with sap, but older dry ones can't.There are often young healthy trees in the middle of a sea of red, dead ones.And as for the comments about natural gas, North America has about the cheapest NG in the world. We will see a lot more of it being used, and if we start to see a shift to using NG to fuel vehicles (which I think is the best large scale alternative to oil) then the NG price will start to go up. More LNG terminals would link us to the world market, but finding a place to build them is not easy. They are tagged as being an easy "terrorist target", making them the ultimate NIMBY. Problem is, there are only so many deep water ports, and almost all of them are near major population centres. With the ever increasing amount of reserves in the ground, why would any NG company go through the public pain of trying to build an LNG terminal. Meanwhile, most of the world's LNG is going to China, where NIMBYism just doesn't exist – one of the (few) benefits of an unelected, authoritarian government.

    Comment by paul | December 16, 2009

  59. “In any case, there is a good EROEI, even when shipping to Europe, though doing this while people here heat with oil is just plain wrong.” The problem I have with the discussion here is that it is all over the place. Everyone want s cheap and clean. Investors want low risk. The first question I would ask is what do you want for your children? If you want your children to breath clean air, do not heat your house with biomass. If you want to save money while risking burning down your house, please do not tell me that you think nuke plants are dangerous. “North America has about the cheapest NG in the world.”Sorry Paul, the correct verb is 'was' unless you happen to live in northern BC and do not need to build a new pipeline. I certainly think wood pellets can be produced to improve forest health and used to reduce the environmental impact of other fuels.

    Comment by Kit P | December 16, 2009

  60. "More LNG terminals would link us to the world market, but finding a place to build them is not easy. They are tagged as being an easy "terrorist target", making them the ultimate NIMBY."Paul — Just for your entertainment: A guy has a patent on a combined nuclear power plant & LNG regasification plant! A smart idea technically. By rejecting heat from the nuclear power plant at LNG temperature, the thermodynmaic efficiency of the nuclear power plant approaches 100%. And since the rejected heat is used constructively for regasification, the economic efficiency is unbeatable.Of course, getting a permit would be something else!As a practical matter, last time I checked, there was several times more regasification capacity (existing & planned) worldwide than liquefaction capacity. Since natural gas prices are lower in North America than in Japan, Korea, Europe, there was discussion about a year ago on converting planned regasification (import) terminals in the US & Mexico into liquefaction (export) terminals. Then the markets went into turmoil, and I have not heard anything about that idea since.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | December 17, 2009

  61. Rufus, I don't know Searchinger from Adam, but I would love to have you provide us any information linking Searchinger and the oil industry. If you can't, don't toss around baseless accusations like that. The guy was a lawyer for EDF for god's sake, and hardly qualifies as a friend of Big Oil. And he doesn't write his stuff alone – he has had a handful of different co-authors, almost all Ph.D's with ag or economic or engineering backgrounds. Do you think he is some kind of a Pied Piper who can fool all those scientists (and numerous peer-reviewers) with his evil analysis of biofuels? Sure, he doesn't get everything right, but he lays out some thoughtful arguments about the full impacts of biomass / biofuels. I'm fine with anyone criticizing his conceptual models and conclusions but it's a cheap shot to try to dismiss his work because of rumor with little if any factual basis.

    Comment by OxyMaven | December 17, 2009

  62. "Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized? It decomposes and ends up as the same CO2 it would end up as if you burned it."Actually, burning releases slightly less as some charcoal is formed (more than some, if the burning is optimised for a higher proportion) – which effectively removes it from the cycle if it isn't exposed to weathering/sun bleaching, as it isn't biodegradable. There's a cumulative CO2 reduction.Jeff Gibbs's quotation of "Look, wood produces 50 percent more CO2 than coal, for the same amount of energy output" may be referring to the amounts relative to useful power output, since the burning is typically not as hot and so it is less efficient in the heat engine side.Bill Henry wrote "There's little doubt that the act of converting biomass to electricity or another useful fuel creates a net carbon benefit. But the act of harvesting it is another matter; if it's energy intensive to gather biomass and transport it to both processing and end use, that benefit will collapse quickly. [Then he quoted] Do you know what happens to waste biomass that isn't utilized? Yeah, you don’t consume fuel driving equipment around to gather it."But that presumes that outside fuel inputs, often from fossil fuels, are used for that. However, it's actually quite practical to use producer gas for that too, particularly since there are no additional logistical overheads getting the fuel. Whether the final net product is economic to make is a separate question, but there is no carbon economy problem.GreenEngineer replied to that, "Not necessarily. Some of it turns into soil…" and so on.Unfortunately, apart from under the rare and slow circumstances that form fossil fuels, that reaches a steady state in a time scale that doesn't help a lot. On the other hand, it takes the geological cycle or deliberate human intervention to release sequestered charcoal (and even exposed charcoal gets weathered and sun bleached very slowly).Just as a thought experiment, I have recently been musing on what would happen if a country took cap and trade style carbon licences to a logical extreme and adopted a carbon standard currency, among other things to see what would be needed to stop it being gamed. Fossil fuel sources within the country would need to pay royalties, and there would have to be tariffs on imports from countries not doing similar things (including tariffs on "embedded carbon" in other imports, which would be hard to assess). People would make and sell charcoal to the treasury which would sequester it, but that wouldn't be gaming it, it would be part of the objective. What else? I'm still thinking it through.

    Comment by P.M.Lawrence | December 17, 2009

  63. By my count, this is the fifth time Searchinger has posted material in Science.Interesting debate between Searchinger and Sheehan on the biomass accounting topic found here.

    Comment by Russ Finley | December 17, 2009

  64. Here's the bottom line, according to Searchinger's most recent Science article:Essentially, if we are to cut and burn existing forests (or trees within them), those forestslose their capacity to absorb more carbon in the future. By eliminating this potential, we are actually increasing CO2 by burningthe trees and decreasing the EXISTING forest's ability to serve as a carbon sink.We'd be far better off promoting real renewable (decentralized) energy sources than biomass, especially from trees (although the same can be said regarding the carbon sink theory for switchgrasses etc). Our forests are simply too mismanaged and damaged to proceed with this logic.Another point, rarely discussed, is that in order to produce vast quantities of trees for biomass use, genetic engineering will likely be used. A whole host of issues comes along with this.Lastly, most plants in the US that use biomass are also burning many other things (since trees are actually not very energy dense), such as coal and garbage. This is not the future of renewable energy that will help curb climate change.

    Comment by Joshua | December 17, 2009

  65. Isn't the key to wood burning energy to make the power plant mobile? Couldn't it be made to move at a slow pace along a high voltage line built for that purpose in a purpose – grown forest? Couldn't be a very large power plant, so maybe impossible to turn a profit out of. Then again, it could be less energy spent on transport than having to carry the wood.PS: still far from sure controlling CO2 emission makes any sense at all of course. Latest news today is about the cherry picking of the surface stations in Russia by CRU, I suppose it's too fresh to be considered confirmed news, but let's keep an eye on that development, shan't we?

    Comment by Nick de Cusa | December 17, 2009

  66. Here's the bottom line, according to Searchinger's most recent Science article:Essentially, if we are to cut and burn existing forests (or trees within them), those forestslose their capacity to absorb more carbon in the future. By eliminating this potential, we are actually increasing CO2 by burningthe trees and decreasing the EXISTING forest's ability to serve as a carbon sink.I understand that argument. And if you burn an existing forest and do not replant it, then the situation you describe can be accurate. But here is an actual example contrary to that. There is an existing forest that was planted, and has been managed, on land that was previously used to grow sugar cane. As a result of the proper management of that forest, the quality of the soil is better, and erosion due to the sugar cane cultivation (the land was sloped) has stopped (which has had multiple environmental benefits). Now if we harvest that forest, convert it to energy with the appropriate technology, and then replant and manage the forest, the entire argument above is null and void. In fact, not only are you not “increasing CO2”, you are in fact sequestering CO2 because a portion of the tree ends up as carbon in the soil. And if that forest had never been planted, what exactly would the situation be? If using it for fuels is bad, it is lying fallow, eroding into the sea. Is that preferable?So the point is, Searchinger’s arguments come with all kinds of caveats, which you have not applied. I agree with Searchinger. There are ways of doing this that would be harmful to the environment. But where I disagree sharply with you is that you seem to believe that this is the case by definition. That is simply wrong.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 17, 2009

  67. You are under the assumption that trees grow at the same rate they are burned. You do not even mention the CO2 emitted during harvesting, hauling etc, or the PM emitted.A large tree that took 20 years to go (GE trees would be less) may burn in 17 seconds (after chopped to fine pieces).That is not a zero sum game and the outcome is far from carbon neutral. Trees will be burned at a far quicker rate than it takes to replace them.Frankly, if you think our national forests have ever been managed correctly, I have a couple bridges I'd love to sell you.

    Comment by Joshua | December 17, 2009

  68. “And here are some links on biomass health effects:”The links that Joshua do not discuss health effects. They discuss emissions.Removing excess biomass improves forest health and can be used to produce energy with insignificant impact on air quality and thus insignificant health impact. On the other hand, wild fires result in huge air quality issues and fill up emergency rooms with those with breathing problems. I bet $5 that Joshua is a city boy whose idea of protecting the forests is driving his car to a national forest and camping.

    Comment by Kit P | December 17, 2009

  69. You are under the assumption that trees grow at the same rate they are burned. You do not even mention the CO2 emitted during harvesting, hauling etc, or the PM emitted.Really? You think that I – a chemical engineer whose bread and butter is mass and energy balances – don't understand mass and energy balances? What is your background again? Do you wish to get into a discussion around these topics? The problem is that you don’t understand the carbon flows in the system, and so you make conclusions based in incomplete information. As I try to fill in the gaps, you are then grasping at things like “but it takes energy to harvest trees.” Believe it or not, we know that. Believe it or not, we have LCAs that take all of the energy flows into account; even things you have never thought of. I am keenly aware of differences in energy balances (which leads to differences in CO2 emission profiles) given a particular set of conditions. I know where it works and doesn't work. You are aware that in Situation A, the environmental impact may be worse than the status quo. The problem is that you don’t understand that there are Situations B, C, D, etc. Some of these do work. The world is not black and white. Your Situation A is your entire world, and thus you make the conclusions that you do. But some of use who do this for a living – and having written reams on both responsible and irresponsible usage of biofuels – the world is a much bigger place.A large tree that took 20 years to go (GE trees would be less) may burn in 17 seconds (after chopped to fine pieces). Well thank you for sharing that with me. As you alluded to in the opening paragraph, I was under the impression that the tree could be grown in 17 seconds. Frankly, if you think our national forests have ever been managed correctly, I have a couple bridges I'd love to sell you. I am not talking about our national forests. But you are taking an example of deforestation and then painting with the broadest brush. You are operating under a number of misconceptions, which you have you are unfortunately spreading as truth.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 17, 2009

  70. "There are ways of doing this that would be harmful to the environment. But where I disagree sharply with you is that you seem to believe that this is the case by definition. That is simply wrong."I'll second RR's point of view here, and this brings us full circle, back to the original article. The author, and some of his interviewees, all appear to be using the absolute worst case scenario.Biomass, like anything else, can be done well, or badly. And given the requirements of the north american forest industry for replanting and rehabilitation, I would expect it to be done well, here. And I don't think the forest industry would try to get away with anything less.What is happening in some parts of Indonesia – burning forest to make way for palm oil plantations, is a different storyThe article quotes Ellen Moyer from Greenvironment (though their link goes to the wrong place) ,who is a professional civil engineer, and environmental consultant. A little bit of searching reveals what she is railing against is three biomass power plants planned for western Massachusetts, which would have a total of 140MW capacity between them. This would require about 140 tons of wood per hour, or 1.2 million tons per year, and between 150,000 and 250,000 acres of forest for a sustainable supply. According to the US Forest Service, there is 3.2m ac of forest in the state, so there is plenty to go around. It would seem that she, and many western Mass. people, do not trust the companies behind these projects (I don't know who they are) to manage the forest properly. It may also be that much of the forest is on public land, and they don't want to see it clear cut for corporate profit, and I can see their point of view on that one. Faced with a large power plant starving for wood, with a power delivery contract, trees will come down somewhere. But this doesn't mean it can't be managed properly, just look at the way Sweden and Finland do it. Personally, I think doing these large biomass plants to displace coal in Massachusetts should be the second priority. The biomass would be better used, and more economically beneficial, displacing heating oil, of which Massachusetts and nearby states consume large volumes. 1.2 m tons of wood will displace about 0.8m tons of coal, or 3.6 million barrels of oil. The environmental benefits of either are probably similar but the country is much better off displacing the oil.

    Comment by paul | December 17, 2009

  71. Paul I can correctly assume that you have never heated with wood in a place like Massachusetts. It is a lot of work. Heating with wood is not for most people. So you are correct, heating with wood would reduce oil use but wood was around long before oil and coal. There is a reason people switched. I like to heat with a wood boiler in a utility room that does not affect the air quality of the rest of the house. There is plenty of wood for a 50 MWe biomass plant every 25 miles.

    Comment by Kit P | December 18, 2009

  72. A total of 140MW capacity between them. This would require about 140 tons of wood per hour, or 1.2 million tons per year, and between 150,000 and 250,000 acres of forest for a sustainable supply.Am I missing something here? with this area to supply 3 biomass generators, what is the average transport distance? Without doing any math, I'd say it could go above 25 miles. How large can an area used to source biomass fuel get before the energy balance turns?

    Comment by Bill Henry | December 18, 2009

  73. Are you guys stuck on energy balance again? Just as corn will be grown whether it's used for ethanol or not,the same is true for trees. Forests need pruning. Dead or dying trees must be removed from yards. Unless a tree is specifically grown for its biomass,the question of energy balance is moot imo. Millions of tons of wood are disposed of at lanfills each year. It won't take a bit more energy to take that wood somewhere else in the area.

    Comment by Maury | December 18, 2009

  74. The 100 MW wood-fired biomass power plant being developed in Sacul, located in Nacogdoches County, will use logging residue as its main fuel source, but also could use urban wood waste. Nacogdoches Power estimates that the plant will require 1 million tons of biomass per year.28 It will be the largest wood-fired power plant in the nation, according to Nacogdoches Power.http://tinyurl.com/yzzv3nkSince this plant will use wood waste that would have to be transported regardless of its fate,it makes no sense to count transportation against the energy balance.

    Comment by Maury | December 18, 2009

  75. I live in the reality based world. If we are to pursue woody biomass in the states, and call it renewable, we are essentially fucked. Biomass in the US means deforestation in our national forests. Period. While you say you understand mass and energy, it is clear that you do not understand biodiversity, or so-called forest management.Issues you seem to refuse to address:1) that almost 99% of biomass to electricity plants in the US are also burning coal or trash. That's a huge problem.2) if we are going to promote biomass as a renewable, we are looking at large scale deforestation. We will be ruining our carbon sinks. In theory, biomass may support a VERY minimal part of our energy production. But this is not how it would play out in the real, profit motivated world. We don't have enough native forests to supply such energy. And we cannot deal with the CO2 output. As you must know, since you are a "chemical engineer", burning wood produces CO2. Trees are burned at a much faster rate than they grow. We cannot replace these carbon sinks at the same rate we are losing them. No models I've seen suggest otherwise.3) Trees simply do NOT make for good sources of biomass for electricity. Woody debris is not a dense energy source like coal (I'm not suggesting coal is the alternative). That's why, as you know, power plants are using other fuels with biomass to produce energy. In the future, as biomass grows in popularity (stimulus $ etc), we are likely to see large scale GE tree farms sprouting up across the country. Again, apparently you do not know the threat GE trees have on biodiversity or our ecological systems. Or that this is a very real threat if biomass continues to be branded as a "renewable" energy.4) Burning woody biomass produces PM25, the most deadly form of particulate matter. This is a serious public health threat. Even if you believe that biomass is carbon neutral, you cannot skate around this important, well-documented fact.Lastly, as Jeff Gibbs wrote recently, "Turns out as long as trees are alive they are growing and storing CO2 in roots, branches, trunks and leaves. It makes sense that a one-ounce seedling cannot replicate the carbon uptake of a multi-ton tree, not for centuries anyway. Second growth can seem vigorous because the replacement trees mine the nutrients from pervious generations of trees stored in the soil. And after the third or fourth cutting? All bets are off."http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-gibbs/green-nightmare-burning-b_b_395553.htmlFYI, I hold a grad degree in enviro conservation.

    Comment by Joshua | December 18, 2009

  76. No doubt that Searchinger's epiphany, that a tree will take decades to absorb carbon, and that burning that tree creates a large time lag between GHG emission and absorption, is valid. In the meantime that gas will be heating the atmosphere for decades.Planting a tree today and harvesting it in twenty years to make fuel might be sound, but burning a twenty year old tree for energy today may not be so sound.Time is no longer on our side.Plants like cane avoid the time lag issue. As far as biofuels go, sugarcane is amazingly efficient both in terms of energy and low GHG footprint, especially when grown on land already denuded of its natural carbon sink and when the bagasse is used for energy co-generation.The magic plants that we seek for making liquid fuels are probably already here, assuming you live in a tropical region capable of growing oil palm and or cane. I doubt if either can be much improved upon.Expansion of both is already destroying natural carbon sinks. Forcing the expansion onto already denuded unproductive land (assuming that can be done) will decrease profitability.Because of my education in mechanical engineering and training, I gravitate towards solutions that involve machines that put energy to more efficient use (electrification of transport and more use of solar), but I realize that the seeking of solutions has to be done in parallel, and the search for sustainable energy sources needs to continue apace. If I were a chemical engineer my interests would of course lie elsewhere.The problem is greatly complicated by global warming and the urge to put one's hands over one's ears, to shut one's eyes, and chant is hard to resist by most, and not resisted by the rest.The main source of profit for railroads is the hauling of coal to power plants. Recent studies have shown that burning biomass for direct heat or even to make electricity utilizes far more of its energy than converting it to a liquid fuel.Envision those millions of train car loads hauling chipped logs instead of coal. I've read that only 5% of America's original forests remain. We are going to power modern society with logs?Has humanity finally placed itself between a rock and a hard place? Are we running out of "time?"Are tree farms better than cane? Sure, in some ways, and in some ways not. All of this harping environmentalists, conservationists, and biologists have been doing over the last four decades about the need to leave ecosystems in place has suddenly come to a head.They did not know what would break first as the tapestry unraveled but now we are starting to document systemic changes resulting from our massive alteration of those ecosystems. What breaks next will be illuminating but not likely good.Tasmanian devils are being wiped out by a contagious mouth cancer, koalas by aids, frogs by a fungus, a river dolphin just went extinct, and there are now over a billion hungry human beings, of which about 25 million have already perished from aids. I'm not describing potential doom and gloom, I'm just describing our present situation.Extrapolation is easy.I'm all for making a profit. I'd just like to see better innovation that lets that happen without unraveling more of the biosphere's tapestry.I don't see how tree farms fit that bill, but I could be wrong. How can a company that decreases profitability to maintain sustainability compete with companies that slash and burn?Without a level playing field, one can't consistently win.

    Comment by Russ Finley | December 18, 2009

  77. “Are you guys stuck on energy balance again?”Maury us correct. EROI is not part of a business plan for a biomass power plant. All power plants must ensure that an adequate supply of fuel exists to get funding. Also all power plants must use best available technologies (BAT) for pollution control to get an air permit.So nobody is going to be deforesting anything or cause a heath hazard from air pollution. I will repeat, biomass power plants will help forest health and reduce air emissions for waste wood. “This is a serious public health threat.”Where Joshua? Tell em where in the US there is a serious health hazard related to PM2.5 caused by wood burning power plants. I think some lives in a “reality based world” invented by journalist. “Prior to becoming a filmmaker Jeff wrote environmental stories for the Detroit Free Press and other outlets.” “FYI, I hold a grad degree in enviro conservation.”So Joshua. It should be very easy for you to find a smoking gun not an invention of some fear mongering journalist.

    Comment by Kit P | December 18, 2009

  78. I live in the reality based world.I would venture a guess that most irrational people say the same thing. But you live in a black and white world. The reality-based world is gray. If we are to pursue woody biomass in the states, and call it renewable, we are essentially fucked. That is simply a ludicrous argument. Back to square one with you: Because something can be done wrong, it is by definition wrong. This is your black and white world, based on a superficial analysis. It is like arguing that because some countries have irresponsibly developed their oil resources, that all countries have. Then I point you to a country like Norway, and you just repeat your initial assertion.Biomass in the US means deforestation in our national forests. Period.It is the “period” that keeps destroying your argument. Repeating a false statement does not make it become true. I utilize biomass. It is biomass that we planted and that has improved the quality of the land. We harvest some of it, and plant more. So I have a clear example of biomass that does not involve deforestation. Your black and white world can’t conceive of that, so you simply continue to insist there is no gray.While you say you understand mass and energy, it is clear that you do not understand biodiversity, or so-called forest management.I work with an entire team of foresters whose careers are based on responsible forest management. Not “so-called”, whatever that means in your black and white world. Real people who are foresters because they love trees, but who also recognize the proper way to use trees.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  79. Issues you seem to refuse to address:I was not asked to address these issues. But if you want to get into issues that someone seems to be refusing to address, there is a long list of counter-arguments above that you have simply ignored. Issues like the usage of forestry to reclaim marginal land. Usage of forestry to sequester carbon in the soil AND produce energy. It is being done every day, despite your apparent complete ignorance of that topic. Managed forestry sequesters carbon at a much greater rate than does marginal or fallow land.1) that almost 99% of biomass to electricity plants in the US are also burning coal or trash. That's a huge problem. Is this like the hysterical tale in the original story, where you were upset that a plant that had been burning 100% coal was now supplementing with biomass? My expectation is that you made that number up, but if you have a literature source for it I would appreciate it.2) if we are going to promote biomass as a renewable, we are looking at large scale deforestation. We will be ruining our carbon sinks. In theory, biomass may support a VERY minimal part of our energy production. Now we are making progress. I, for one, have long beat the drum that the amount of biomass we can sustainably harvest is quite limited. So at times you have been preaching to the choir.But this is not how it would play out in the real, profit motivated world. We don't have enough native forests to supply such energy. Again, you seem to be under the impression that we will be clear-cutting native forests to supply biofuels. Can you provide some examples of that in the U.S.? I am not saying it never happens (or never will), but I think your visions of seeing Olympic National Forest turned into ethanol are not grounded in reality.As you must know, since you are a "chemical engineer", burning wood produces CO2. Trees are burned at a much faster rate than they grow. First, I am a chemical engineer, not a “chemical engineer.” The second statement, as was addressed in the previous post, is acknowledged to be accurate. Likewise, I consume food at a much faster rate than it grows. I have done this my entire life. But of course I don’t have to plant a single plant, wait for it to grow, and then eat it. I can plant a wide variety of plants, stagger the plantings, and then harvest and replant as needed. Now if I fail to replant, and this is my sole source of food, I will die. So naturally I replant. Responsible foresters understand this model.We cannot replace these carbon sinks at the same rate we are losing them. Actually, my company is creating carbon sinks from agricultural land. We of course are not the entire world, and we are not being driven by the profit motive. So I can’t say that the rest of the world will do things the right way. But our mission is to show that there is a right way, so if the world comes to their senses, there is a model for how that is done.3) Trees simply do NOT make for good sources of biomass for electricity. Woody debris is not a dense energy source like coal (I'm not suggesting coal is the alternative). That's why, as you know, power plants are using other fuels with biomass to produce energy. No, that’s not why. The grindability of biomass is limited, which is why coal plants can’t displace all of their coal with trees. But there are energy densification technologies that exist for wood. Look up torrefaction.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  80. Again, apparently you do not know the threat GE trees have on biodiversity or our ecological systems. Or that this is a very real threat if biomass continues to be branded as a "renewable" energy. We don’t use genetically modified trees, but I am not opposed to them in principle. Everything we eat has been genetically modified in one way or another over the centuries. Someone told me today about a farmer in Canada being asked to sign a petition against Roundup Ready corn. He said he was too much of an environmentalist to do that, and explained that he now applies a fraction of the herbicides that he had prior to Roundup Ready.4) Burning woody biomass produces PM25, the most deadly form of particulate matter. This is a serious public health threat. Even if you believe that biomass is carbon neutral, you cannot skate around this important, well-documented fact. No, I already addressed it. Particulate matter is not an inherent quality of a biomass plant. It is a quality of the pollution controls that you have on your plant. If you believe it is impossible to avoid carbon emissions spewing out of the top of your plant, you should get out more and maybe visit some real companies working on things like this.Lastly, as Jeff Gibbs wrote recently, "Turns out as long as trees are alive they are growing and storing CO2 in roots, branches, trunks and leaves. OK, now Jeff Gibbs is making the argument for our model. When we turn agricultural land into managed forests, we start accumulating carbon in the soil. You see the leaves, branches, bark, and slash end up in the soil, where they build up the soil quality. This is true even if we harvest and replant.It makes sense that a one-ounce seedling cannot replicate the carbon uptake of a multi-ton tree, not for centuries anyway. The carbon uptake is much greater when the tree is in the fast growth phase, not when it is mature. Where does Jeff (and you) think all of the carbon in the tree came from in the first place? It didn’t come from the soil, it came from the CO2 in the air.Second growth can seem vigorous because the replacement trees mine the nutrients from pervious generations of trees stored in the soil. And after the third or fourth cutting? All bets are off." I will take that bet. What you and Jeff don’t seem to understand is that tree species are very different. Some can concentrate their nutrients in the leaves. They bring them up from the subsoil, and they get recycled into the top layers of soil. After the 3rd or 4th cutting, there are trees that will increase – not decrease – the fertility of the soil. On the other hand, there are trees that don’t. That’s why it is important to have people who really understand forestry working with you.FYI, I hold a grad degree in enviro conservation.Let me guess. You had more classes on policy than on science. You never had to take any engineering classes. You probably took some biology classes, but at some point you were taught that soil fertility only increases by adding fertilizer, and removing any biomass depletes the soil. Seriously, you seem to be completely unaware of important relationships between trees, soil, and the air.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  81. Here are some articles related to health effects related to biomass emissions:Yes, and people who don't wear seat belts sometimes get ejected from vehicles. That is not an argument not to drive. It is an argument to wear seat belts.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  82. How can a company that decreases profitability to maintain sustainability compete with companies that slash and burn?Without a level playing field, one can't consistently win.I agree with that, and I don't believe that because we may do things the right way, others will follow. I think we will need to have strong regulations in place to provide incentives against environmental irresponsibility.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  83. I get it now. It's your job to promote biomass. You get paid to do it. Makes much more sense why you will not address the real dangers of biomass production.1) You don't understand forest ecology or that our forests are all but gone in the US. These don't have to be old-growth forests mind you, they can be second growth forest that are home to lots of biodiversity. There is no such thing as good forest management when profit is involved.2) Wood is far less energy dense than coal. Mainly because of its water content. In order to use woody debris for electricity, biomass will typically be burned with coal. This is not an answer to global warming.3) You can't rewrite the health effects of biomass production/burning. You can't just blame pollution controls as the sole source of the problem. It is a fact that biomass produces CO2. It is a fact that forests grow and absorb CO2. There are no models that indicate we can burn millions of pounds of trees a year and not contribute net carbon to the air at a rate faster than it can be absorbed by carbon sinks. You miss the fundamental fact that burning trees to produce energy is not a zero sum equation. We simply cannot grow trees at the exact rate we burn them to produce electricity. It simply does not work out. Show me one example where it has. Show me one example where woody biomass (burned without coal) is producing electricity at the same rate that trees are growing to replace them. It doesn't exist.4) If you are not opposed to GE (and no, cross-breeding and hybridized plants are not genetically engineered, stick to engineering because your biology stinks) then I can't help you. GE is new to the cycle of evolution. We are actually changing the ability of organisms to adapt. They are being changed at the molecular level and can have huge, lasting effects on forest ecology. This is a whole other debate, however, and one biomass proponents (well intentioned ones) should educate themselves about because the potential damage GE trees can have on biodiversity is exponential.Finally, I don't need to debate this topic further here. You are motivated by factors other than hard science. Biomass = paycheck. I get it.

    Comment by Joshua | December 19, 2009

  84. I get it now. It's your job to promote biomass. You get paid to do it. Makes much more sense why you will not address the real dangers of biomass production.Joshua is preparing his exit now, so here come the ad homs. Let me see if I can reciprocate. It is your job to promote yourself and sell books. That is why you have addressed none of my arguments while continue to insist that I address yours again and again. You must not acknowledge that the world is gray, or you shall end up on a slippery slope. So you chant again and again, the world is black and white, arguing against biomass which would ensure that we continue to use more coal. Are you sure you aren’t paid to promote coal?There is no such thing as good forest management when profit is involved. Yes, I think you have said this about a dozen times, and I have countered it a dozen times. You respond by repeating yourself. Do you know any actual foresters?2) Wood is far less energy dense than coal. Mainly because of its water content. In order to use woody debris for electricity, biomass will typically be burned with coal. This is not an answer to global warming.Well, no. Ideally woody debris will be torrefied, in which case it could completely displace coal.3) You can't rewrite the health effects of biomass production/burning. You can't just blame pollution controls as the sole source of the problem. You have it backwards. Pollution controls are the answer to a problem, just as seat belts are for people being ejected out of cars. Your solution to that problem is “Stop driving.” Believe it or not, the dangers associated with burning biomass are well known. I just wrote a book chapter in which I discussed them. But there are ways of controlling those emissions. See the response to acid rain. It is a fact that biomass produces CO2. It is a fact that forests grow and absorb CO2. OK, um I think we have established that biomass stores CO2 when it is growing, and releases it when it decomposes or is burned.There are no models that indicate we can burn millions of pounds of trees a year and not contribute net carbon to the air at a rate faster than it can be absorbed by carbon sinks. Let me give you one, then. I have 10,000 acres of trees. Each year I cut down 300 acres, replant them, and then move on to a different section the next year. My net impact is to sequester carbon because as the trees are growing they are contributing biomass to the soil, yet when I burned them I only released the fraction that was removed. And because I constantly replant them, they are constantly growing.We simply cannot grow trees at the exact rate we burn them to produce electricity. It simply does not work out. Like I said, I don’t grow food at the same rate I eat it. Your example is flawed logic from the start.4) If you are not opposed to GE (and no, cross-breeding and hybridized plants are not genetically engineered, stick to engineering because your biology stinks) then I can't help you. GE is new to the cycle of evolution. Nature has been genetically engineering things since evolution begin. That’s the only reason we are even here to argue about it.Finally, I don't need to debate this topic further here. You are motivated by factors other than hard science. Biomass = paycheck. I get it.And he throws out more ad homs and runs out the door, leaving many questions unanswered. I don’t have to do what I do. I do what I do because I chose to do it, and because I want to make sure my children grow up in a world in which opportunities have not been snuffed out because we used up the earth’s resources irresponsibly. If it makes you feel better to suggest that I am being motivated to do what I am doing for $$$, then knock yourself out. But don’t bring that weak smack back around here if those are the games you want to play.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  85. “I think we will need to have strong regulations in place to provide incentives against environmental irresponsibility.”We already have tough regulation in place in the US. RR will find this out if any of his projects get to the permitting phase.As a matter of disclosure, my company has plans for 12 – 50 MWe wood waste biomass plants. Since I am working in a different area no, I only know what I read in the media. One plant has a power purchase agreement, permits in hand and is scheduled to start construction in 2010. “Here are some articles related to health effects related to biomass emissions:”Yes, Josh, I am aware that burning cow patties in an open pit in your hut is bad for the health. However, if you burn biomass in a power plant with pollution controls and then use electricity to cook food, the pollution for cooking with biomass is eliminated. Maybe your education did not involve actually solving environmental problems. For example, many years a ago air quality was bad around timber mills because wood waste was burned without controls just to get rid of it. The Kettle Falls Washington wood waste plant (40MWe) was built in the 80s to correct this source of pollution. . It does not cause air pollution. Josh this is the second time I have identified this plant. So why do you not investigate it and see what you think. Now Josh if you would like to address air quality in the US please do so. Josh said there 'is a serious public health threat'. I do not think Josh know the difference between insignificant health risk and a health treat. The US electricity industry provides energy with insignificant health risk to its customers from generation. It is a regulatory requirements. It is not hard to find serious public health threat. For example, I claim that carbon monoxide is such a risk. Only in America could people not pay their electric bill but afford a generator to make their own electricity. Unfortunately, they did not close the door to the garage where the generator was running allowing CO to diffuse to the house. Mom died. Dad sued the utility. http://www.centredaily.com/news/local/story/1681819.htmlWinter storms are here. If you loose electricity make sure you are not keeping warm by exposing your family to CO.

    Comment by Kit P | December 19, 2009

  86. "I do what I do because I chose to do it,"Furthermore, RR, if you make a profit reducing the environmental impact of producing energy; then you can hire more people and do more projects. If you make protecting the environment profitable, more people will be able to do it.

    Comment by Kit P | December 19, 2009

  87. We already have tough regulation in place in the US. RR will find this out if any of his projects get to the permitting phase.You just can't help yourself, can you? I have had plenty of projects actually started up, smart ass. I didn't start working last week. But we don't have tough regulations for lots of things. There are some places that we might need stricter protections in the future.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  88. "I have had plenty of projects actually started up,"What might be the names of the electric generating stations you have started up?

    Comment by Kit P | December 19, 2009

  89. What might be the names of the electric generating stations you have started up?Do you think electrical generating stations are the only ones that require permits? But I am curious, what might be the names of any you started up? And by started up, I mean had an actual role of some responsibility – not a role where you took direction from those with the responsibility.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  90. Nice try RR, that was a good attempt at deflecting your lack of knowledge of permitting electricity generating plants. You made a statement that was unfounded and I corrected it.I will repeat my point. Regulations for permitting electricity generating plants are sufficiently robust to protect the public and environment.“Do you think electrical generating stations are the only ones that require permits?”No, but does RR understand the additional hoops that a large power plant entails? Making electricity is fundamentally different than making liquid transportation fuel.

    Comment by Kit P | December 19, 2009

  91. Nice try RR, that was a good attempt at deflecting your lack of knowledge of permitting electricity generating plants. You made a statement that was unfounded and I corrected it.And yours here is a good attempt at trying to turn what you actually wrote into what you wish you had written. I made a comment on regulations, and you responded with “We already have tough regulation in place in the US. RR will find this out if any of his projects get to the permitting phase.” What you did not say – was “The U.S. electrical industry has tough regulations in place. If any of RR’s electrical projects get to the permitting phase…” I should have read between the lines, knowing what a one-trick pony you are that you would presume the regulations within your own industry could address the need that I am talking about.But had you said that, my response would have been different, and you wouldn’t have had to try to recover in your follow-ups. But here is what my response would have been had you said that. The electrical industry may very well have tough regulations. Some of those regulations do not touch some of the concerns we are talking about here. So when I say tougher regulations may be needed, that doesn’t mean that the existing regulations in place in the “electrical generating industry” offer those protections. Can you point me to the regulation that prevents the import and use of biomass sourced from illegal Malaysian clear-cutting? No, of course you can’t. Do your regulations prevent the use of biomass that was procured in an environmentally irresponsible way in a liquid fuels plant? Of course not. But once again, in your haste to offer a reply, you didn’t bother to understand the actual question, and we once again were treated to a myopic view from you. The original comment from me stands, despite your hand-waving attempts to suggest it is a non-issue.Finally, I will note that you didn’t answer the question on which plants you have started up. So nice try at feigning authority on these topics.RR P.S. I think in the future, if I have to get up and spend the first 10 minutes of my morning answering posts from you that started off with insults, I will just delete the posts. I have given you more than enough leeway here, and yet you consistently behave as a rude guest.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  92. “Some of those regulations do not touch some of the concerns we are talking about here.”That is correct RR. Regulations are in place to people and the environment not address concerns such as 'import and use of biomass sourced from illegal Malaysian clear-cutting?'. The regulatory process does take into account valid concerns with the public meeting process. For example if RR brought a up a concern that the biomass power plant would create traffic hazards with 300 trucks a day going by his children's school then it would be explained to him that it is 5 trucks a day that use truck routes that do not go by the school.

    Comment by Kit P | December 19, 2009

  93. Very nice posting, thanks Robert. Like you say, there are right ways and wrong ways to use biomass. Economic shakeouts usually eliminate many of the bad ways in a market economy. In a government-diddled economy all bets are off, of course.Robert, do you have a searchable FAQs? It seems that rather than taking the time to address people like Josh's arguments point by point, you could send them to the FAQs where you answered that argument long ago.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 19, 2009

  94. Oh, this guy is a real fraud. His answer to Joshua is that if wood goes through the torrecfaction process that it can replace coal? What a nut. First, prolyzed wood takes a lot of energy to be made. If you are going to promote biomass (like any other energy source be it solar, geothermal, or wind) you have to account for all stages of procurement and development.So let's get at the heart of the biomass carbon neutral argument.When a root system decomposes, it releases carbon, probably at a rate somewhat more rapidly than it was stored as it developed. If a tree which took twenty years to grow is harvested by a diesel-engined feller-buncher, hauled to the landing by a diesel-engined grapple skidder, chipped by a diesel-engined machine at the landing, and then trucked by diesel powered transport to the mill to be burned, it is already using carbon in excess of that it sequestered as it grew. Releasing fifteen or twenty years of growth, say 800 pounds of green chips (about 200 pounds of carbon in the form of as much as 600 pounds of CO2) in a few minutes, multiplied thousands of times for the thousands of trees a biomass operation consumes per day, is not atmospherically carbon neutral. And that's not even throwing torrecfaction into the process.We are adding carbon to the air at a rate that exceeds that at which it was sequestered, just like burning coal, and for which it is hard to compensate with credible offsets on the ground. This is the fly in the ointment with Cap & Trade. An emission is an emission, and offsetting it with theoretical sequestration elsewhere is voodooecology and I am very afraid it will not be sufficient and, worse, be a distraction from meaningful solutions that could while precious time is lost.And this guy clearly has no idea was genetic modification even entails. Scary that he is involved in energy development. But not surprising.Here's a primer:http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_genetic_engineering/risks-of-genetic-engineering.htmlAnd as for food not being replaced at the same rate it is eaten. If not we would starve.

    Comment by Jackson B. | December 19, 2009

  95. Oh, this guy is a real fraud. His answer to Joshua is that if wood goes through the torrecfaction process that it can replace coal? What a nut.Try to follow along now, Jackson. That’s not what I said. If you have to start throwing out straw men to debunk, you have picked the wrong place to pick a fight. It might make you feel like you have the upper hand, but that illusion won’t last long as I don’t let sleeping straw men lie.There are a couple of things that Joshua has claimed. One is that to produce electricity, biomass will typically be fed with coal. Then he went on to make comments bout the low energy density, hygroscopic nature of biomass, etc. My comment about torrefaction – which Joshua seems to be wholly unaware – is that it makes it where the processed biomass can be blended in any ratio with coal because the chemical and physical properties are changed. It also eliminates many of the emission issues, because the tars are burned off. First, prolyzed wood takes a lot of energy to be made. You clearly don’t know the first thing about torrefaction or pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is in fact fairly energy intensive; you end up using about 30% of the energy content of the wood to turn it into an oil. But the efficiency of torrefaction is around 90%. Did you know that? Or are you just parroting “takes a lot of energy” as something you have heard?When a root system decomposes, it releases carbon, probably at a rate somewhat more rapidly than it was stored as it developed. If a tree which took twenty years to grow is harvested by a diesel-engined feller-buncher, hauled to the landing by a diesel-engined grapple skidder, chipped by a diesel-engined machine at the landing, and then trucked by diesel powered transport to the mill to be burned, it is already using carbon in excess of that it sequestered as it grew.Actually, I have real numbers on all of this. The statement can be true, but there are cases in which it is not true. My whole job is to develop those latter cases. And before you start lecturing me on energy inputs, perhaps you should spend some time actually trying to understand what I have written on it. I know these things above very well, because I deal with them every single day. I can tell you about the energy inputs into any step of the process. Not just generically, but real inputs based on real measurements and life cycle assessments. We are adding carbon to the air at a rate that exceeds that at which it was sequestered, just like burning coal, and for which it is hard to compensate with credible offsets on the ground.You are just repeating a lot of what Josh said that was never in dispute.And this guy clearly has no idea was genetic modification even entails. Scary that he is involved in energy development. But not surprising.Actually, I know quite a bit about genetic modification. I have written quite a bit about mutations, and have had lots of correspondence with names like Keightley, Nachman, Crow, and Kimura. Perhaps you have heard of them? I have been a peer-reviewer on some of the literature on different aspects of molecular biology, and I have been asked to review papers prior to submission. So your opinion is not shared by actual experts in the field. I know plenty about genetic modification. But I am not such an alarmist to dismiss it out of hand. Genetic modification has saved a lot of people’s lives. But that is a tangent here to the discussion.And as for food not being replaced at the same rate it is eaten. If not we would starve.You have misunderstood Josh’s point. He is alarmed that a tree can be burned faster than it grows. As I said, I can eat a tomato faster than it grows. The point is I don’t have to eat it at the speed that it grows, and I don’t have to grow the tree at the rate it burns. But I do have to manage that process, as there are plenty of other factors in play. Now, if you would like to try again, I am all ears.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 19, 2009

  96. Seems to me that alarmists like Frank don't analyze using numbers. Now we have Jackson showing up with 'it takes a lot of energy.' In God I trust. You need to bring data.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 19, 2009

  97. RR, let's see the actual numbers of your work then, or CO2 produced (at all stages) for biomass and CO2 absorbed by replacement trees. You work on it everyday, you should have them. Where are they?Please give them to me for the following plant: Reid Gardner.Thank you.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  98. RR, let's see the actual numbers of your work then, or CO2 produced (at all stages) for biomass and CO2 absorbed by replacement trees. A professor over at the University of Hawaii is compiling all of that in a report for us now. Should be available to the public, and I will link to it because that is the only way to have a comprehensive look. It may be already published; need to check with our foresters.You work on it everyday, you should have them. Where are they?Some of them are in a spreadsheet on the computer I am using right now. We have a great deal of information around the emissions required to harvest, transport, and convert biomass. We also have data around carbon accumulation in the soil from tree plots grown on reclaimed agricultural land. Please give them to me for the following plant: Reid Gardner.That's not how LCAs work. You don't plug in the name of a plant and get the answer. You establish where they are sourcing their biomass, what the source is, what the conversion technology is, what the land use change was, etc. Not only is it not "one size fits all", but it's more like "no two sizes are the same." So the answers you are asking for are entirely dependent upon any number of factors. If a plant changes the source of biomass, their emissions profile can change drastically. I spend quite a bit of time looking at those emissions profiles and understanding where it can be improved.What I can give you are numbers like emissions per ton mile of transport and emissions per ton of biomass harvested. But I am not digging that out tonight. I am going to bed. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  99. RR, let's see the actual numbers of your work then, or CO2 produced (at all stages) for biomass and CO2 absorbed by replacement trees.OK, do you wish to see some real numbers? You are going to have to do some footwork yourself on the plant you referred to above. I don't know where they are sourcing their biomass or exactly what it is. But you should be in contact with them if you are really interested in figuring out what their carbon footprint looks like when they swap out coal for biomass. Here are some things to get you started, though (but this is not a really good format for data in tables): Harvest, Forward, Load & Unload – Total energy usage is 115,000 BTU/BDMTTransport – 1988 BTU/BDMT MileYou can round that up if you wish, but it is a measured number. You can easily convert that into CO2 emissions by using a diesel value of 139,000 BTU/gal and a diesel density of 7 lbs/gal. Conversion – this is where it gets tricky. Depends on whether you are pelletizing, torrefying, pyrolyzing, gasifying, or just combusting – and whether the product is liquid fuels, electricity, or CHP. Each one has a different answer, and even that depends on distance from the customer.As far as accumulation of biomass in the trees, about 7 BDMT above ground that is harvested and a similar amount below ground. I can get the actual measured numbers on that as well, but don't have it here with me. Other pertinent information is duration of sequestration in the soil. Some is very short-term, but some of the deep roots are sequestered for much longer. (This is actually an area of active research).Now, let's stop there. If you are really interested in this – and were not just trying to prove that I don't actually have them, please show some work at this point to demonstrate your competence. You have the information above to calculate CO2 emitted during the harvesting and transport phase (you will have to look up one more factor for diesel, but if you know what you are doing then you know what that is). Please tell me your answer in CO2 emitted per BDMT. (If you are unable to do this, then you are not qualified to actually critique any of this; once you do it, though, we can move on to the next step).Others who know how to do this, please refrain and let's check the competence of a critic (and his interest in getting to the real heart of the matter).RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  100. Please show us one woody biomass to electricity plant (either 100% biomass or other) and it's CO2 output compared to replacement trees ability to absorb that CO2. Thank you.Good Op/Ed in the NY Times today on biomass.http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/opinion/20heinrich.html?_r=1

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  101. I will take the next step as soon as you show me your competence in evaluating this information. My suspicion is that your objections are all qualitative, yet quantitative data exist to put your objections to the test. But you must have the ability to understand the quantitative data. I can't teach calculus to someone who doesn't know how to do algebra – and especially not to someone who isn't really interested in understanding calculus in the first place.So if you please, and we will move on from there. I think this is far more complex than you realize – with many elements. Your argument is "The CO2 emissions are too high." My approach here is to say "Let's look at the numbers and see what they say."I can spit out numbers for you given a set of parameters. But if I do that, you will just say "But, but, but…" or "What about…?" I will teach you how to turn your qualitative arguments into quantitative arguments.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  102. From your Op-Ed:Biofuels are the indirect use of solar energy packaged into plants by the best solar-panel technology that has ever been invented, and it is far easier to grow green power than to build nuclear plants, dam our waterways and put windmills on our scenic mountaintops.The first part of that statement is patently false. The solar-panel technology of plants is pretty inefficient. Direct solar PV has a far greater efficiency. The biomass advantage is the built-in storage mechanism.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  103. Another objection from the Op-Ed:Instead, planting trees invariably means using them as a sustainable crop, which leads not only to a continuous cycle of carbon releases, but also to the increased destruction of our natural environment.The first and second half of that are inconsistent. If you are using them as a "sustainable crop", then by definition the 2nd portion is not true. If the 2nd portion is true, then you aren't using properly managed biomass and sustainable becomes unsustainable. The true statement is that it is possible to practice sustainable forestry and harvest some of that biomass – but forestry is only sustainable if you practice it that way.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  104. A couple of final observations from the Op-Ed:On the other hand, I admit that those of us who really do care about forests have not exactly been helpful. We have not encouraged selective harvesting from naturally occurring stands, which may be necessary.Yes, I know people like that.We need either vastly fewer people or vastly more forests, along with a new definition of earth-friendly reforestation.That's the rub, isn't it? It really doesn't matter how hard you try to protect the forests; if population continues to grow, it will encroach upon the forests. If they are not cut for fuel, they will be cut to make way for food production unless population growth comes under control. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  105. From Searchinger of Princeton:Why isn’t all bioenergy carbon neutral merely because it comes from plants? "If the earth had no plants already, and all plants were grown for bioenergy, all bioenergy would be carbon neutral because the carbon absorbed form the atmosphere by the plants would equal the carbon released by burning the plants or the fuels they make. But the earth has abundant plants already, and these plants continue to grow. Simply burning fuels from plants that would already remain in place and store carbon transfers carbon to the atmosphere in the same way as using coal or oil that would otherwise store carbon underground? Bioenergy can also result from new plants, but if those plants are grown on otherwise productive forest, that means clearing the forest first with large losses of carbon. If bioenergy uses cropland, the carbon in crops, which feeds us, has to be replaced and may cause forest clearing and other land use change as farmers replace the crops elsewhere. To reduce greenhouse gases, bioenergy production has to make available 'additional carbon' above and beyond what the earth would store anyway."

    Comment by Jackson B. | December 20, 2009

  106. From Searchinger of Princeton:I am very familiar with – and in fact agree strongly with – Searchinger's work. These systems are complex, and lots of things have to be taken into account. But if you pose a different question to Searchinger – "Are any biomass to energy schemes carbon neutral or carbon negative?" – then you will get a different answer.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  107. Then do you agree with Searchinger (which Joshua references) that burning biomass contributes "net carbon" into the atmosphere?I think that is what is at the heart of his argument against using biomass for energy.

    Comment by Jackson B. | December 20, 2009

  108. Then do you agree with Searchinger (which Joshua references) that burning biomass contributes "net carbon" into the atmosphere?That's not what Searchinger said. He said that this can be the case. It may be that in most cases that this is the case. But that is not to say that the exact opposite isn't also true if one properly understands and manages the system. For instance, the sugar business in this area is going under, and land is being idled. That land can either lay fallow, in which case it grows some grass and weeds and stores a limited amount of carbon. It also be planted in managed forests, in which case the sequestration potential is much higher. When the above-ground biomass is burned, it gives back the CO2 that was stored while growing. The underground biomass, however, decomposes at a much slower rate. Large tap roots can take decades to decompose, depending on the specific soil conditions. In the case where the carbon emissions from harvesting, transporting, converting, and yes, even land use changes are lower than what is stored in the soil via the roots, leaves, bark, slash, etc. which is recycled in the soil – you have the opposite case from what Searchinger describes. And I can assure you that he will tell you the same.His position is a good case of "You better understand the entire life cycle of the process before jumping to conclusions about carbon sequestration, because you may have not considered X, Y, and Z." Heck, I have been saying the same thing for years. But Joshua's argument was to take Searchinger and say "Because it can be done in a wrong way, it is therefore wrong." We may find that like many other things it does get done in the wrong way, but it can be done in the right way (but again, as I have pointed out numerous times, we can't possibly replace more than a fraction of our fossil fuel usage with biomass – but we can replace some and do it in a sustainable manner).RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  109. Your counter to the good professor from UV is not that well articulated. It is little wonder why he, and not you are writing op/eds for the NY Times on the issue.Where is your criticism of GE trees? Or his argument that, "In the end, what was originally intended as a mechanism for slowing global warming [ie biomass] has created huge economic pressure for ecocide."I think this has a great deal to do with the argument against using biomass to produce electricity, a vantage point I have not seen you adequately address.As for my math credentials. I have an MA from RIT in applied mathematics with an emphasis in calculus. I currently teach at the graduate level at a top research school. So bring on your "data". I, and many working to bring the biomass fraud to light, are anxious to see it.Where are your published works anyway? Oh right, usually when you are a shill for the oil and gas cartel you don't have a lot of good academic street cred, just a fat paycheck.Bottom line: you can not show us ONE real world example of a biomass electricity plant that is "carbon neutral". They simply do not exist, and they even have a tough time existing in your computer modeling.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  110. PS: my own academic works focuses on stochastic control theory, in my personal life I work on environmental energy issues like biomass.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  111. You write, "It also be planted [sic] in managed forests, in which case the sequestration potential is much higher. When the above-ground biomass is burned, it gives back the CO2 that was stored while growing."So, while the world continues to produce excessive CO2 (global CO2 output is actually increasing, not decreasing as you know), from a climate change perspective, would it not actually be better to leave regrown forests in tact, instead of harvesting them in a manner you believe to be managed (or at a rate that regrows at the same pace trees are burned)?

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  112. Your counter to the good professor from UV is not that well articulated.Perhaps you did not understand that it wasn’t intended as a counter? I agree with much of what he wrote. He is making the same arguments I am for the most part, but some of the details are wrong (like biomass being the most efficient solar converter). So, any more ad homs from you? Is this really the route you want to go?Where is your criticism of GE trees? When I criticize something, I try to know what I am talking about and criticize specifics. I don’t have a broad generic criticism of GE trees. Show me the case, and we can debate it. This is the same reason I don’t criticize GE in general. GE has saved a lot of lives. That does not mean it is without risk. Or his argument that, "In the end, what was originally intended as a mechanism for slowing global warming [ie biomass] has created huge economic pressure for ecocide." You really should spend some time trying to understand what I have written on this very topic before asking me to criticize an argument that I myself have made many times.I think this has a great deal to do with the argument against using biomass to produce electricity, a vantage point I have not seen you adequately address. We have to address specifics, not some broad, sweeping generalizations.As for my math credentials. I have an MA from RIT in applied mathematics with an emphasis in calculus. I currently teach at the graduate level at a top research school. So bring on your "data". I, and many working to bring the biomass fraud to light, are anxious to see it. Well, as noted I have put data out there for you to see if you understand any of this. Telling me to bring on the data when I am waiting to see if you understand how to use it is just blowing smoke. Where are your published works anyway? Oh right, usually when you are a shill for the oil and gas cartel you don't have a lot of good academic street cred, just a fat paycheck. I have more requests to write than I can possibly keep up with. I have been an invited speaker on the topic of bioenergy at many conferences; academic, government, and industry. I have been asked by two different publishers to write a book, but have no time right now. I have written the chapter on Renewable Diesel for a book edited by Professor Pimentel. He is publishing another next year and has asked me to write the chapter on algae and jatropha. I just finished submitting a chapter on Bioenergy from Woody Biomass for a book that will be published next year. And I have a deadline for a book chapter on December 23rd on the global energy picture, so I don’t really have a lot of time for this right now. Google Scholar is your friend. If you are asking about my published works – with the simple intent of trying to discredit me – I have no confidence that you are qualified to even discuss this intelligently. If you know how to do research, you aren’t asking about my published works. You are looking at them to see what I have written or spoken about.The shill comment is funny. Yesterday I was a shill for biomass, now I am a shill for oil and gas. I am used to that, I am often called a liberal by conservatives and a conservative by liberals. Bottom line: you can not show us ONE real world example of a biomass electricity plant that is "carbon neutral". They simply do not exist, and they even have a tough time existing in your computer modeling. I am not the one who is resisting the challenge to take up the data to show that I know how to use it. So I am not the one have a tough time. As soon as you can show me that you are willing to spend some time trying to understand this from a quantitative basis, we can step forward. If you are only interested in ignoring the data to throw out ad homs, then we are pretty much done.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  113. PS: my own academic works focuses on stochastic control theory, in my personal life I work on environmental energy issues like biomass.So where are you relevant publications? And if you have none, shall I just dismiss you out of hand? Or would you prefer that I address your actual arguments?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  114. So, while the world continues to produce excessive CO2 (global CO2 output is actually increasing, not decreasing as you know), from a climate change perspective, would it not actually be better to leave regrown forests in tact, instead of harvesting them in a manner you believe to be managed (or at a rate that regrows at the same pace trees are burned)?Better from a carbon sequestration POV? No. With a properly managed forest, when you harvest the trees, you have left behind some sequestered biomass. When you plant more trees, you start to sequester more biomass. The fastest accumulation occurs during the first 7-10 years of growth. So if you are harvesting on a 10 year cycle – i.e. farming trees instead of corn, let's say – you can build up the soil with the right trees and the right program.Now, use the wrong trees or the wrong program (i.e., take old growth forest and turn it into tree plantations – not a model I support) and everything Searchinger wrote is correct.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  115. A couple more questions for you, anon. First, I have a stat counter and can work this out if I spend some time doing it, but easier to just ask. Are you the same person as either Joshua or Jackson? Or both? I just like to know who is making which arguments.Second, are you letting the data drive your conclusions? Or are you letting conviction drive your conclusions? If the former, then the place you will come to is "Yes, I see that this can be done in a correct way." Then you can either continue to spend your time arguing against the incorrect way, or you can spend some time telling people "If you are going to do it, here is how you should do it."If you are being driven by convictions, then there is no point in discussing the data.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  116. Please give me the name of just ONE biomass plant that you could consider "carbon neutral". Just one. You have plenty to pick from. Show me one you believe is managing biomass to electricity in the correct way.Thanks.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 20, 2009

  117. Please give me the name of just ONE biomass plant that you could consider "carbon neutral".Our Choren plant in Freiberg, Germany. We are using waste wood right now, but the intent will be to use sustainably managed (existing) plantation forests that we own and operate. By owning and operating, the sustainability criteria are on our shoulders, not someone else's.You can go there and look through the LCA that was ordered by Volkswagen AG and DaimlerChrysler AG to your heart's content. After you have done so – if you are really interested in getting to the bottom of the issue of whether biomass can be sustainable – I am sure you will have lots of questions.No one – especially me – is arguing that perverse incentives have not been put in place. My argument is do you scrap the system so you fall back on the status quo? Or do you analyze the system to see if you can do it right?I have tried to put the ball in your court several times, but you have consistently deflected my questions to you.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 20, 2009

  118. No, I think you scrap the system and decentralize the energy industry. You can scrap the status quo along the way.I'm somewhat familiar with the Carbo-V technology. There are plenty of issues I have with this however.First, as you admit, the wood being used in this particular biomass plant comes from woody waste. Second, as the website states:"Initially, most of the biomass will come from forests and the wood-processing industry. Plans for supplies of specially grown biomass still have to be prepared. In the long term, however, the raw materials will increasingly come from agricultural sources, as it is easiest to expand biomass production on farmland." Okay. So 1) biomass is also coming from forests, which depletes that forests ability to absorb carbon. Even Searchinger, who you agree with, admits that existing forests ability to absorb carbon is eliminated once harvested from existing stocks (that alone means this plant is not carbon neutral). 2) agricultural land will be used to produce biomass.Question on #2. Will this agricultural land require the use of GE seeds and practices to continue fast growth in the future? Will chemicals (petro-based) be used during this process?Question 3) does this particular plant emit PM? Furans? Dioxins? There was also no mention that CO2 was being captured.Also it wasn't clear from my brief research on this whether or not other items (non-biomass) were used in this plant. Are there?Thanks. In theory biomass might be able to be carbon neutral. But in reality, we've yet to see that actually be the case. In fact, your example is carbon positive.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 21, 2009

  119. No, I think you scrap the system and decentralize the energy industry. You can scrap the status quo along the way.You might evolve the system, but you won’t scrap it. I work on the basis of what is likely to happen given that politicians are involved.First, as you admit, the wood being used in this particular biomass plant comes from woody waste.Which if we weren’t using for fuel, would be landfilled or combusted as waste.Okay. So 1) biomass is also coming from forests, which depletes that forests ability to absorb carbon. No, you are mentally injecting “virgin forest” instead of forest, and then presuming that it isn’t replanted. If you are farming trees, then you are planting another batch after harvesting the first, constantly putting more carbon in the soil.Question on #2. Will this agricultural land require the use of GE seeds and practices to continue fast growth in the future? Will chemicals (petro-based) be used during this process?We haven’t used GE seeds, but again I am not opposed to this in principle. As is so often the case, it depends on the specifics. If I was broadly against GE, I would be against a technology that has saved many lives. But that’s not for this debate. We aren’t using GE.As for chemicals, that is one beauty of trees. Once established, they don’t require the annual applications that annual crops do. There is no annual fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide run-off (although there may be some species with higher demands than the species we are focused on). There may need to be a fertilizer application initially, but then the taproots can go down and pull up subsoil nutrients.Question 3) does this particular plant emit PM? Furans? Dioxins? There was also no mention that CO2 was being captured. No emissions like that, because the gasification process occurs at a high temperature that destroys everything like that. CO2 can be captured in principle, but my assumption is that all of the wood that comes in will ultimately be emitted as the CO2 that was used to grow it – either through the process or when the resulting fuel is consumed. (The emission profile of the fuel, by the way, is far superior to petroleum diesel). Then the question boils down to whether the carbon sequestered by the trees during growth exceeds the carbon it took to grow the trees and convert them.Also it wasn't clear from my brief research on this whether or not other items (non-biomass) were used in this plant. Are there? The plant starts up on natural gas and then switches to 100% wood. But this is gasification, will work with other carbon sources. But we haven’t sanctioned anything like that. In fact, I got involved to prevent usage of a specific carbon source due to environmental implications. (Someone wanted to use peat; I said “No way.”)In fact, your example is carbon positive.Well, like all other things, it depends. If I was shipping the wood waste from halfway around the world, then that is one case. If I am getting wood waste from next door, and previously it was being hauled away to a landfill, that is a different case. Carbon positive or negative here comes down to the sourcing of the feedstock. The blueprint is that plants will be fed from managed forests grown on rotated agriculture land. In fact, our tree plots are scattered around ag land and cattle pasture, and we measure the impact on the soil. As I have said during recent presentations, “My metric for soil quality is 500 years. I want a process that won’t degrade the soil over 500 years. Better yet I want a process that builds up carbon in the soil.” It is possible. Think of how soil forms in the first place.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 21, 2009

  120. “Please give me the name of just ONE biomass plant that you could consider "carbon neutral". Just one. You have plenty to pick from. Show me one you believe is managing biomass to electricity in the correct way.”Kettle Fallshttp://www.industcards.com/biomass-usa-western.htmThis plant improved air quality and generating cost are lower than natural gas. What is not to like?

    Comment by Kit P | December 21, 2009

  121. I live in WA state. The wood used in Kettle Falls is NOT harvested sustainably. It's leftover from the local mills (which are far from carbon neutral) there. A lot of this wood is coming from our national and state forests, which cannot handle anymore logging, selective or otherwise (this wood is not being selectively harvested). We have less than 10% of these forests left in the NW.RR, so the plant in Germany starts on Natural Gas (which emits CO2, albeit less than coal – and also emits CO2 during drilling) and burns leftover woody debris that comes from an existing carbon sink (native or otherwise).Again, you still have to account for the all the diesel burned in the process at the mill (I am assuming the mill doesn't capture its CO2) where the wood chips are coming from – the machines that are dragging them out, of the fields, chopping them etc. We'd have to see the hard numbers on all of this of course, but I think it is very safe to say that 1)using natural gas as the starter is not carbon neutral 2) the existing mill is not a sustainable one (given the CO2 emitted during every single stage of the process) and 3) that an existing carbon sink is being depleted through the harvesting. I understand why you have to be on the defensive. Biomass takes a lot of defending because it is not a carbon neutral energy source. Good luck.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 21, 2009

  122. RR, so the plant in Germany starts on Natural Gas (which emits CO2, albeit less than coal – and also emits CO2 during drilling)Sure, but the point is that 1). It doesn’t have to; 2). Natural gas can be produced from anaerobic digestion. This is a demonstration scale facility. The key question for me is whether we have the ability to conduct the process without fossil fuel inputs. The answer is yes. But we are not going to handicap the project economically just to demonstrate a point. The second important question, though, is how it compares to the status quo.and burns leftover woody debris that comes from an existing carbon sink (native or otherwise).I don’t know which part of this is not getting through. The woody debris ends up emitting either CO2 or methane (if land-filled) anyway. If the carbon sink that you are referring to is the forest itself, those are replanted. So no carbon sink vanishes as a result of using this wood. Again, you still have to account for the all the diesel burned in the process at the millThat is what LCAs do. They look at all of the inputs in all parts of the chain.1)using natural gas as the starter is not carbon neutral 2) the existing mill is not a sustainable one (given the CO2 emitted during every single stage of the process) and 3) that an existing carbon sink is being depleted through the harvesting.Actually, it isn’t safe to say any of those things, especially the 3rd. How do you come up with that? Tell me about the land use change that you envision that results in that conclusion.I understand why you have to be on the defensive. Biomass takes a lot of defending because it is not a carbon neutral energy source.It takes a lot of defending because there are so many uninformed comments that are driven more by passion than data.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 21, 2009

  123. A lot of this wood is coming from our national and state forests,This is an argument against the logging of national forests; an argument against the use of this wood for biofuels. It is not an argument against using wood in general for biofuels.The analogy is the genetic engineering issue. A blanket condemnation of GE would condemn a lot of people to death. A blanket condemnation of biomass has the potential to do the same.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 21, 2009

  124. Burning wood debris that comes from a mill, simply because this wood is would decompose in a landfill, does not mean burning it is carbon neutral. This wood would decompose at a MUCH different rate than it when it is burned.As for the plant in WA state that uses wood harvested in our public forests, these trees are NOT replanted first off. And I can give you many examples of very poor forest management in the area.In order for biomass to "work" everything has to be perfect: forest management, transport, milling, burning, etc. The WA plant noted above goes awry at the forest management stage.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 21, 2009

  125. Burning wood debris that comes from a mill, simply because this wood is would decompose in a landfill, does not mean burning it is carbon neutral. This wood would decompose at a MUCH different rate than it when it is burned.Of course as it decomposes at the landfill, it produces methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. So there are trade-offs. You have to ask if A is better than B. But if you are already doing "B", and your metric is immediate perfection for "A", then you need to satisfy yourself that continued "B" is a good thing, because that's exactly what you will get.And to your first comment, burning waste wood is definitely carbon neutral. The CO2 that is going into the air is the CO2 that was stored during growth. It is the other considerations that make a process carbon negative or positive (transport, land use, etc.)RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 21, 2009

  126. “I live in WA state. The wood used in Kettle Falls is NOT harvested sustainably.”ANON you first asked, “Please give me the name of just ONE biomass plant that you could consider "carbon neutral". ”The name is Kettle Falls. This is not the only one but one I have in my notebook from a series of sustainable forestry meetings. Since ANON does not know much Washington State (a US leader) wood powered plants, I suspect that it would be too much to ask for a reference. It is carbon neutral because the wood waste was burned without energy recover and now electricity is being produced.

    Comment by Kit P | December 21, 2009

  127. "The CO2 that is going into the air is the CO2 that was stored during growth."Not exactly. The trees that are used for energy have lost their potential to absorb carbon. Therefore you have actually decreased the carbon sink's ability to absorb CO2 while contributing more CO2 to the atmosphere. Allowing forests to naturally decompose does not always mean methane or CO2 is released. Sometimes, depending on conditions, those the forests form layers of debris, which can over millions of years, produce coal.

    Comment by Anonymous | December 22, 2009

  128. The trees that are used for energy have lost their potential to absorb carbon.I don't think you are hearing a word I am saying. Those trees, sure. But then you plant more. The cycle continues. That is part of what managed forestry is all about.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 22, 2009

  129. Sometimes, depending on conditions, those the forests form layers of debris, which can over millions of years, produce coal.Probably not. Coal was formed before the evolution of wood-eating insects. I read a paper that suggested that we would probably never again see the conditions that would allow coal formation.On the other hand, managed forests are capable of building up carbon in the soil. But the only thing that is getting through seems to be "We cut down trees." Yeah, trees we planted, and then replanted after they were cut down.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | December 22, 2009

  130. Thinning trees and collecting wood waste can be used for energy or termites can produce methane.

    Comment by Kit P | December 22, 2009


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