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Australia Rejects Forest Biomass

December 23, 2022

By Paul Homewood


h/t Ian Magness


From Mongabay:



  • On December 15, Australia became the first major economy worldwide to reverse itself on its renewable classification for woody biomass burned to make energy. Under the nation’s new policy, wood harvested from native forests and burned to produce energy cannot be classified as a renewable energy source.
  • That decision comes as the U.S., Canada, Eastern Europe, Vietnam and other forest nations continue gearing up to harvest their woodlands to make massive amounts of wood pellets, in order to supply biomass-fired power plants in the UK, EU, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere.
  • In the EU, forest advocates continue with last-ditch lobbying efforts to have woody biomass stripped of its renewable energy designation, and end the ongoing practice of providing large subsidies to the biomass industry for wood pellets.
  • Science has found that biomass burning releases more carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy produced than coal. Australia’s decision, and the EU’s continued commitment to biomass, creates a conundrum for policymakers: How can major economies have different definitions of renewable energy when it comes to biomass?

Forest advocates in Australia — the world’s 13th largest economy — say they scored a major environmental victory on December 15 when the ruling Labor Party revised a key regulation, rejecting the renewable energy classification of wood harvested from native forests and burned to make energy. Previously, under the country’s renewable energy policy, woody biomass had been classified as a renewable energy source.

The impact of this regulatory change is perhaps most significant for the setback it may pose to the biomass industry globally, hindering the multibillion-dollar wood pellet industry from getting started Down Under at a time when pellet production is rising in the U.S. Southeast and British Columbia in order to supply growing demand to the EU, UK and Asia.

“The changes [in Australia] mean that native forest biomass is no longer considered an ‘eligible renewable energy source’ for the purposes of [the nation’s] Renewable Energy Target, and electricity it generates cannot be used to create tradable Large-scale Generation Certificates [for replacing coal],” Chris Bowen, Australia’s minister of climate change and energy, said in a statement. “We have listened to the community and acted to address their concerns.”

Australia, by its decision, is taking a very different course than the European Union, where woody biomass — despite growing public opposition — remains defined as a renewable energy source, is heavily government subsidized as a result, and makes up 60% of the EU’s renewable energy mix. Australia is among the few G20 countries without a thriving biomass industry; at present it neither produces nor burns wood pellets at any scale.

But that situation was poised to change, according to Virginia Young, a forest advocate with Wilderness Australia, an NGO.

“Two big power stations in Queensland were on the verge of converting from coal to biomass,” Young told Mongabay in an interview from Montreal, where she was attending the United Nations COP15 biodiversity conference. “There are [coal] plants in Victoria and New South Wales that were looking to convert. They were talking with Drax [the world’s largest consumer of wood pellets for energy based in the United Kingdom] about how to make it happen. All this was about to start.”

But without the renewable designation, biomass development in Australia is all but dead in the water.

Part of the policy change appears to be driven by the new government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, which is intent on quickly hitting its 43% carbon emissions reduction target by 2030, meeting its Paris Agreement pledge. Young said that when forest advocates recognized the short timetable available for accomplishing that commitment, they “flew into action” to lobby intensely for the renewable energy policy change.

Scientists note that it requires many decades for woody biomass to qualify as a renewable energy source and truly help a nation achieve its net zero carbon emissions goals; that’s because it takes a decades for the carbon released into the atmosphere from burned trees to be reabsorbed by newly planted, slow-growing replacement trees.


An Enviva wood pellet manufacturing facility in Sampson County, North Carolina, U.S., where thousands of whole trees are stacked in a ring, destined to become wood pellets and be shipped abroad. In 2021, the EU imported 3.7 million tons of pellets mostly from the U.S. Image courtesy of the Dogwood Alliance.


“This is a big win for the community, who want the electricity sector decarbonized as quickly as possible and do not want to see native forests logged to enable coal-fired generators to switch to burning forests instead of coal,” Bob Debus, chairman of Wilderness Australia, an NGO, said in a statement.

Australia’s reluctance to embrace woody biomass has led it to invest more heavily in zero-carbon renewable energy.

In 2021, 29% of Australia’s total energy mix came from renewables such as solar, wind and hydro; just 1% came from burning biogas and nonwoody biomass. By comparison, the 27-country EU got 22% of its total energy mix from what it calls renewables in 2020. But when wood pellets are removed from that calculation, the EU’s zero-carbon renewables are closer to 9% of total energy.

  1. John Palmer permalink
    December 23, 2022 1:10 pm

    They’re making a correct judgement and decision, but for the wrong reasons. Still, let us be thankful that someone has spoken out against this ‘Alice-in-wonderland’ policy.

  2. December 23, 2022 1:31 pm

    Well, it comes to something when a totally GangGreen pillock like Albanese has a bit more gumption than our own Beloved Leaders (Who have been told all about this scam for a decade).

    Brown envelopes, once again?

    • 2hmp permalink
      December 23, 2022 3:13 pm

      Red envelopes ?

    • catweazle666 permalink
      December 23, 2022 8:23 pm

      More like brown shipping containers.

  3. December 23, 2022 2:00 pm

    Brilliant for whatever reason. A touch of sanity. I feel like going out to hug tree.

  4. December 23, 2022 2:20 pm

    I don’t see why they can’t cut down swathes of the eucalypt and burn that. It will burn anyway if they leave it standing, but in an uncontrollable way.

    • bobn permalink
      December 23, 2022 4:52 pm

      They will. The key here is that its only NATIVE forests that are spared the chop. The non-native be it man planted or self spread is fair game for wood pelleting. Alot of the Aussie Eucalypts, like the UK pine, aspen, larch and ash will not get the NATIVE forest stamp.
      While cutting good trees that can be used for lumber for pelleting is rank stupidity, i do support using lumber production offcuts and prunings for biomass fuel. The key is – burn the waste not the pristine and useful.

      • Douglas Dragonfly permalink
        December 23, 2022 5:39 pm

        Many many mature English deciduous trees have been felled recently to clear the way for HS 2. Trees like magnificent oaks for example.
        What happened to the timber ? Did it go to the building trade or maybe furniture ?
        No it ALL went into the chipper. Seen with my own eyes.
        Criminal vandalism and no mistake

      • catweazle666 permalink
        December 23, 2022 8:26 pm

        “The key is – burn the waste not the pristine and useful.”

        Been tried.

        Problem was, it deprived the chipboard industry of raw materials and put the price of furniture up.

  5. wheewiz permalink
    December 23, 2022 2:32 pm

    Until officialdumb recognises that CO2 is beneficial, and say as much, this whole convoluted decarbonization nonsense will continue.

  6. John Hultquist permalink
    December 23, 2022 3:03 pm

    Under the Enviva photo: “whole trees are stacked in a ring
    What is shown are “butts’, not whole trees.

    From the ‘thoughtco . Com’ site:
    The butt of a tree is its bottom portion and this basal portion of the trunk is distinctively different from a tree’s branches, roots, and upper trunk . A tree’s “butt” is above the roots but separated from the trunk which continues upward toward the terminal bud. A tree’s butt is often referred to by loggers as the bottom log of a felled tree.

    Some areas have rows of trees – planted in sandy soil – and others the plot is more random with naturally reseeding. Some are harvested with a machine that cuts near the ground. Others are pulled like carrots. That is, a machine is wrapped around the trunk near ground level and the root and all is hoisted like one would pull a garden carrot.
    Here is a link to a short video of the “cutting” type:

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      December 23, 2022 11:03 pm

      Having watched orchards and other trees being uprooted by machinery I know there are machines that simply strip the tree of its branches. The longer the salable portions of trunk the greater the profits.

    • John Palmer permalink
      December 24, 2022 10:28 am

      Thanks for the clip, JH. Assume that this is for regular ‘lumber’ use and not for pellet biomass as it just takes the ‘large’ wood section? It’s efficient to the point of being near frightening!

  7. Mad Mike permalink
    December 23, 2022 3:04 pm

    And this my friends is why, apart from lobbying by Drax, the EU hasn’t reclassified wood pellets.

    “By comparison, the 27-country EU got 22% of its total energy mix from what it calls renewables in 2020. But when wood pellets are removed from that calculation, the EU’s zero-carbon renewables are closer to 9% of total energy.”

    Which politician is going to vote to reduce the EU’s renewables’ percentage of it’s energy mix by such an amount? Just imagine how the Greens, who are strong politically in Europe, would react to such a move. It’s never reality with them, just virtuous spouting.

  8. bobn permalink
    December 23, 2022 4:59 pm

    Aus hasnt reclassified Biomass or wood pellets. Its still classed as renewable. They’ve just banned ‘Native’ forests from being cut for pellets. The manmade and other ‘non-native’ forests (who and how defined?) are still fair game for pellets. So they UK, USA, EU can and should put the same protection on native forests.

  9. Gamecock permalink
    December 23, 2022 6:08 pm

    ‘How can major economies have different definitions of renewable energy when it comes to biomass?’

    Because it’s a parlour game for elites.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      December 23, 2022 10:50 pm

      Hi Gamecock, I’m guessing you are in the US. If so, is the weather really as bad as being reported?

      • Gamecock permalink
        December 24, 2022 1:32 am

        Yes, I’m in South Carolina. It’s bad. Hovered around freezing all day. Very windy earlier. Sposed to get down to 11F tonight. North and west of here up into Canada setting records. I’ve seen 11 here before, but not in December.

        Let me tell you about “Gamecock.” It is the mascot of my alma mater, the University of South Carolina.

        It has British origins. During the Revolutionary War, the hated British Colonel Banastre Tarleton called South Carolina militia General Thomas Sumter “that fighting gamecock.” We’ve been using it ever since.

  10. MrGrimNasty permalink
    December 23, 2022 9:00 pm

    What a garbled mess, what a lie. Wind and solar just saved us billions apparently.

    • Joel Leonard Hammer permalink
      December 24, 2022 3:35 am

      Well, when you look at what the UK has when the wind doesn’t blow, it is only natural gas, really. Nuclear is a steady 5GW, but NG is their go to fuel. Coal is almost non-existent now. So, they pols have made them entirely dependent on NG (much of it imported), and imported electricity. So, yeah, they raised the price of fossil fuels (NG). Not noted is that the NG burners have to subsidize the wind farms by buying carbong credits from them. These people need to be removed from power.

  11. It doesn't add up... permalink
    December 23, 2022 10:19 pm

    The old energy lie again.

    In 2021, 29% of Australia’s total energy mix came from renewables such as solar, wind and hydro; just 1% came from burning biogas and nonwoody biomass. By comparison, the 27-country EU got 22% of its total energy mix from what it calls renewables in 2020. But when wood pellets are removed from that calculation, the EU’s zero-carbon renewables are closer to 9% of total energy

    BP figures for Australia:

    Oil 33.76%
    Gas 24.80%
    Coal 28.51%
    Nuclear 0.00%
    Hydro 2.63%
    Renewables 10.30%

    And for the EU

    Oil 35.46%
    Gas 23.75%
    Coal 11.21%
    Nuclear 11.01%
    Hydro 5.40%
    Renewables 13.17%

    The best change Australia could make would be to embrace nuclear.

  12. ancientpopeye permalink
    December 24, 2022 8:54 am

    Too many in the EU reaping benefits from this netzero farce, ergo they are for it, always follow the money. Incidentally is that French crook in prison for her proven crimes yet?

  13. Max Beran permalink
    December 24, 2022 10:55 am

    I disagree with almost all the comments and the general tenor of the article.

    First, since when is the time taken to rebuild the burnt carbon stock relevant to its renewability? The carbon cycle is in continuous dynamic equilibrium – trees elsewhere at all stages of their growth balance the continuous harvesting

  14. Max Beran permalink
    December 24, 2022 11:02 am

    I disagree with almost all the comments and the general tenor of the article.

    First, since when is the time taken to rebuild the burnt carbon stock relevant to its renewability? The carbon cycle is in continuous dynamic equilibrium – trees are growing and being harvested on a continuing basis. It’s a mistake to see it from the viewpoint of an individual stand of trees.
    Secondly, and more importantly, we need every kWh of energy in the ongoing crisis. If wood pellets burn at a sufficient heat to raise steam then burn them. Efficiency is a side issue.

    • bobn permalink
      December 24, 2022 2:31 pm

      Max – It is a matter of efficiencies. Without subsidies most wood pellets are far more expensive as fuel than coal or gas. And opportunity costs. Coal has few uses other than burning and steel making. Good mature woods have multiple other uses, with construction and furniture being the obvious ones. The wood also as standing forests have many environmental and social benefits (not so coal and gas beds). So subsidised tree burning is not economically or environmentally sensible.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        December 24, 2022 3:56 pm

        “Coal has few uses other than burning and steel making”

        It was coal tar from the early gas works that was the basis for the whole chemical industry that started with aniline dyes and expanded from there.

      • December 25, 2022 12:03 am

        It’s a matter of priorities and priorities trump efficiencies in the current (no pun intended) situation. We can’t lose Drax’s 4% while we restore its pellet burning units back to coal firing. Also supply diversity is no bad thing so a couple more Draxes would not be amiss.

  15. catweazle666 permalink
    December 25, 2022 3:28 pm

    “a couple more Draxes would not be amiss.”

    A couple more Draxes = or even a dozen or twenty – burning coal, certainly.

    I think you’ll find that the notion of burning trees is starting to lose favour.

    The ideal solution is to frack, of course, CCGT plant on the old power station sites would be sensible.

    • Max Beran permalink
      December 26, 2022 9:49 am

      Going out of fashion? Yes; Michael Moore has got a lot to answer for!

      Drax generates 6% of the country’s electrical energy so we couldn’t cope with more than a few like it.

      • catweazle666 permalink
        December 26, 2022 2:42 pm

        Have you seen how much electricity we’ve been selling to Europe recently?

      • Max Beran permalink
        December 26, 2022 5:32 pm

        To catweazle 2:42 pm: Right now we’re importing 6GW (so similar to one total Drax) which is 80% of the capacity of the interconnectors. But I realise the boot has been on the other foot lately which I understood had a lot to do with UK having the infrastructure to accept and process the large amount of LNG coming into European ports. Anyway, you’d need massive upgrades to the interconnectors to cope with as many Drax’s as you were suggesting.

  16. Nick permalink
    December 25, 2022 10:01 pm

    The above article is misleading in talking about “percentage of total energy mix”.
    What it should say is percentage of total electricity generation mix! They are very different and essential to understanding how effective renewables are . Electricity is only 20% of total global energy use.

  17. December 26, 2022 7:04 pm

    ?Fullest ranging cost benefit analysis of burning trees converted to wood chips? Taking into account the loss of decades long established fauna and flora habitats – read Peter Wohlleben for his seminal work citing many decades long research across the globe – loss of amenity value to millions who enjoy the oxygen rich atmosphere, peace and tranquility forests of all descriptions and types. Nah, too difficult.
    Shame some of these green commissars forget that Fossil fuels were trees and vegetation once; would they have demonised the dense idyllic animal rich environments, in their original form, cursing the progenitor of the very fuel they profess to hate? And then they convince themselves that renewables are green , just like the toxically produced eccentric vehicles they drive ( or are they so wedded to their social media recorded continent wide treks in a non ULEZ complaint oil burner?)

    • December 26, 2022 7:05 pm

      for ‘eccentric” read “electric”….but then again

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