Skip to content

New Study Finds Biomass Harms The Climate

February 23, 2017

By Paul Homewood


h/t Joe Public/Philip Bratby




From The Times:


Britain is wasting hundreds of millions of pounds subsidising power stations to burn American wood pellets that do more harm to the climate than the coal they replaced, a study has found.

Chopping down trees and transporting wood across the Atlantic Ocean to feed power stations produces more greenhouse gases than much cheaper coal, according to the report. It blames the rush to meet EU renewable energy targets, which resulted in ministers making the false assumption that burning trees was carbon-neutral.

Green subsidies for wood pellets and other biomass were championed by Chris Huhne when he was Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary in the coalition government. Mr Huhne, 62, who was jailed in 2013 for perverting the course of justice, is now European chairman of Zilkha Biomass, a US supplier of wood pellets.

The report was written by Duncan Brack, a former special adviser to Mr Huhne, for Chatham House, the respected international affairs think tank. Britain is by far the biggest importer of wood pellets for heat and power in the EU, shipping in 7.5 million tonnes last year, mostly from the US and Canada.

Drax, Britain’s biggest power station, received more than £450 million in subsidies in 2015 for burning biomass, which was mostly American wood pellets. The report says that the government’s assessment of the impact on the climate of switching from coal to wood pellets is flawed because it ignores emissions from burning pellets in power stations. The assessment counts only emissions from harvesting, processing and transporting wood pellets.

Wood pellets are claimed to be carbon-neutral partly because the forests from which they come are replanted. New trees would eventually absorb as much carbon as was emitted when mature trees were harvested and burnt. However, the report says that this process could take centuries — too late to contribute to preventing climate change over coming decades.

Mr Brack said: “It is ridiculous for the same kind of subsidies that go to genuine zero-carbon technologies, like solar and wind, to go to biomass use that might be increasing carbon emissions. It’s not a good use of money.

“For any biomass facility that is burning wood for energy, unless they are only burning stuff like saw-mill residues or post-consumer waste, their activities will be increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere for decades or centuries. We shouldn’t be subsidising that.”

Pellet companies and power stations using them tended to claim that most of their wood was residues, Mr Brack said. In fact, about three quarters of the pellets from the southern US came from whole trees and residues accounted for only a quarter. “Whole trees can sometimes be misclassified as residues,” the report said. Mr Brack called on the EU to use its present review of energy policies to restrict subsidies to biomass that actually reduced emissions.


Readers will know I have been banging on about this for ages. The significant point here though is that the report is written by Duncan Brack, the former special advisor to Chris Huhne. Far from being a sceptic, he clearly believes in doing the utmost to promote renewable energy.

  1. February 23, 2017 11:31 am

    From the great mind of Dellers “Greens, killing the Earth to save it”

  2. AlecM permalink
    February 23, 2017 11:45 am

    Huhne is employed by a company providing biomass feedstock.

    His successor, Davey, is Chairman of Mongoose Energy..

    Past under minister Barker works for a Russian company; Hendry works for a windmill corporation.

    All these people were privately educated. Who would have thunk it?

  3. February 23, 2017 11:54 am

    The scam goes on and on. Wood pellets that increase emissions, The NI RHI scandal. Useless wind and solar power that increase emissions. Anaerobic digesters that increase emissions and destroy crops. All highly subsidised and thus increasing fuel poverty and destroying industry and jobs. The Government carries on with its useless and hugely damaging energy policy regardless of the evidence that is constantly provided to it. Only massive blackouts and civil unrest will (might) result in a change to the UK having a sensible policy.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 23, 2017 4:25 pm

      Phillip, don’t forget that badly run anaerobic digesters also pollute watercourses and kill fish.

      Not to mention the need to grow unsuitable crops like maize which, I understand, can fairly soon make the soil barren.

      And most of the consents were on the basis that these things would run on waste, only there isn’t enough of that to make them profitable so out come the subsidies again.

      Can’t we get back to the simple principle that if your idea can’t make you money, don’t do it? All these untried and untested theories about alternative energy sources should be given five years to prove they can compete on a level playing field with traditional systems after which you pull the plug.

  4. February 23, 2017 11:56 am

    I will throw this one in again. The burning of wood, even though you call it pellets, puts more carcinogenic materials into the atmosphere than does the burning of coal. However, I notice the hysterical left has now left cancer for CO2.

    • TinyCO2 permalink
      February 23, 2017 2:26 pm

      They’re content to blame diesel engines for that. Which became popular because the government promoted them as better for CO2. Sigh.

  5. Gamecock permalink
    February 23, 2017 11:59 am

    ‘New Study Finds Biomass Harms The Climate’

    Not really. Doesn’t help it either. Climate (sic) doesn’t care what we do.

  6. nigel permalink
    February 23, 2017 12:13 pm

    “Whole trees can sometimes be misclassified as residues.”

    Not by an honest man with normal eyesight.

  7. A C Osborn permalink
    February 23, 2017 12:16 pm

    Paul, I emailed you about the fact that even the BBC has picked up on this on their website.
    But of course nothing on the actual TV.

    • February 23, 2017 4:03 pm

      It was mentioned, if only in passing, on radio 5.

  8. February 23, 2017 1:50 pm

    I believe the coal supplied to Drax was sent to the power station on a dedicated rail link direct from the colliery, much less polluting than shipping pellets thousands of miles.
    Members of Parliament in my experience as a business man of many years standing, most
    MPs and especially the ones mentioned the article have never run anything which involves
    using their own money!!!

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 23, 2017 11:13 pm

      It’s called ‘Merry-go-Round”. Coal is poured into the wagon at the colliery and poured out of the bottom at the power station. Basically the train doesn’t need to stop, hence the name.

      Drax, Ferrybridge, Longannet, Cockenzie were all, as far as I know, built where they are because they are virtually on top of the coal. I think they were all built or adapted to handle Merry-go-Round.

      As were others, of course.

      • Athelstan permalink
        February 24, 2017 12:12 am

        Aye Mike, yeah it was all some daft idea………… about cutting transport costs and distance to primary hydrocarbon source cuz twas more efficient – stupid huh?

        Those daft bastards “old fogey’s”……………coal – super provision of efficient base load ‘n’ all………………….. really understood nothing did they?

  9. Robert Fairless permalink
    February 23, 2017 2:00 pm

    How can anyone be well educated but remain stupid.? Both Huhne and Davey have Phds which gives them an inflated sense of their worth and unfortunately provides them with a supposed qualification to deceive prospective employers. The activities and decisions of both when Government Ministers will reveal all. The public are paying dearly and will be for many years to come from the folly of employing these men.

    • mikewaite permalink
      February 23, 2017 2:17 pm

      I would have thought that when hiring the chairman of a public company that is involved, as a supplier, in taking millions of pounds of taxpayer ‘s money (as subsidies to the Drax operators) a PhD was little defence against a criminal record, especially when that criminal record was obtained by lying to public bodies like the Courts and the Police.
      Britain increasingly disgusts me.

  10. Joe Public permalink
    February 23, 2017 2:36 pm

    The Renewable Energy Association is up in arms, claiming

    “Misleading statements in Chatham House report on biomass, answered”

    1. The report claims that carbon emissions from biomass energy production are “generally at higher levels than from fossil fuels.”

    This misses the entire point of the use of biomass. Carbon contained in woody biomass is already part of the atmospheric cycle, whereas burning fossil fuels is adding carbon to the natural carbon cycle. Biomass is low-carbon because the carbon released during combustion is reabsorbed by the growing forests where it was sourced.

    It is noted that REA unable to explain how that released CO2 ‘knows’ manages to be “reabsorbed by the growing forests” rather than contribute to ocean acidification.

    • mikewaite permalink
      February 23, 2017 4:04 pm

      Re: your last paragraph: It should, with the supercomputers available to climate scientists,be possible to model the fate of CO2 emission from major sources such as Drax . The CO2 will presumably be confined mainly to the Northern hemisphere in which case little will be reabsorbed in deciduous woods to create new wood during the dormant winter season when there are no leaves to act as entry points for the CO2. It presumably drifts across the North sea in the prevailing Westerlies and crosses the Siberian forests of conifers , then the Pacific Ocean and the western deserts of US before arriving at the woods “where it was sourced” as REA say. So yes it should capable of being modelled and the sea appears to be as effective a receptor as any NH forest , especially in winter.
      The modelling results could then be compared to the OCO2 satellite CO2 anomaly charts .
      Nice little exercise for an ambitious postgraduate student. But something so obvious must have already been done and published.

      • auralay permalink
        February 23, 2017 5:28 pm

        Is that the same supercomputer that modelled the nonexistent ash cloud from an Iceland volcano?

    • Athelstan permalink
      February 24, 2017 12:13 am

      REA – green fuckwits.

  11. Jack Broughton permalink
    February 23, 2017 2:57 pm

    The public health and economic costs of the “Fear of carbon” campaign are rapidly coming home to roost. The well-known advocates will soon disappear behind “expert advice” and bank their ill-gotten gains, before jumping on the next band-wagon, probably gaseous emissions.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      February 23, 2017 4:30 pm

      Well, gaseous emissions are something both Huhne and Davey are experts in, Jack.

  12. Simon Allnutt permalink
    February 23, 2017 4:20 pm

    As Joan has pointed out above, wood smoke is dangerous for health. The disconnect is total since the greens will trumpet the health advantages of solar stoves in the developing world because it stops women and children indoors suffering the harmful effects of wood smoke whilst cooking food.

  13. Bitter&twisted permalink
    February 23, 2017 6:38 pm

    Ex-con and current con-artist is responsible for this scam.
    He and his fellow scamsters should be prosecuted for fraud.

  14. February 23, 2017 8:23 pm

    Huhne was defending his policy and his position as an “expert”, on the Channel 4 News. I narrowly avoided putting a foot through the screen.

    • February 23, 2017 10:00 pm

      @Philip Note how in the interview Duncan Brack said the alternatives like solar/wind should be pushed (not mentioning nuclear !)

      Huhne pushed wind/solar. Also refusing to name hydro as a renewable he used the Post-Truth “Wind is the cheapest renewable)
      Never mind that in present conditions nuclear is the cheapest low* emission energy.
      *(nothing is zero emission)

  15. Joe Public permalink
    February 23, 2017 10:56 pm

    Ffffffffucking hell:

  16. catweazle666 permalink
    February 23, 2017 11:45 pm

    I seem to remember from history lessons at school that one of the reasons that we moved to coal burning was because we’d run out of trees to burn…

    • Athelstan permalink
      February 24, 2017 12:15 am

      Er………………. I say old chap and windmills became such old hat – I mean who, what idiot………………………. would ever think of going back to wind power? It is the Stuff of nonsense Sir!

  17. CheshireRed permalink
    February 25, 2017 10:52 am

    As far as I can see the Guardian – ‘the UK’s leading environmental newspaper’ STILL hasn’t covered this news report at all. They’ve found space for yet another hysterical bullsh!t report of potential sea level rise catastrophe by the end of the millennium, but not for something of the moment. Lying by omission. Amazing.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: