Biofuels: Making the climate crisis worse, not better
NEW: In Febuary 2017, a study was published concerning the sustainability of biofuels. The author, Duncan Brack, who is a former special adviser at the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, states that emissions from pellets are higher than coal, and that the UK's government substantial subsides for biomass should be reviewed urgently. For more information see this article by New Scientist.
Agrofuels (biofuels from intensive agriculture) are increasingly being burned as a supposedly 'green' alternative to fossil fuels. However, because of emissions from deforestation and intensive agriculture, they can be at least as damaging to the climate as coal, oil and gas.
Palm oil is one of the most notorious - as well as an ingredient in food, it is also being used in biodiesel in the EU, ironically in an attempt to lower carbon emissions, despite the devastation palm oil plantations have caused, being linked to mass burning of Indonesian forests which have made Indonesia the third largest carbon emitter in the world.
The climate impacts of wood burning are less well known, but can be significant, both because of the links to deforestation and because the rate of CO2 emissions are not matched by forest regrowth: it can take between thirty five to fifty years for new trees planted now to offset the carbon released by harvesting and burning the forests that preceeded them, nor is this regrowth guaranteed in many cases.
The largest burner of biomass in the UK, and in fact in the world, is Drax power station in Yorkshire, which burnt pellets made from 12 million tonnes of wood last year - a million more tonnes than the UK produces in a single year. Far from being offcuts, as Drax claims, most of the wood pellets are imported from North America, with a significant proportion coming from clear-cutting highly biodiverse coastal wetland forests. Others come from pine monocultures which have replaced what were once biodiverse and thriving forests.
Drax is only able to survive due to large renewable energy subsidies of over £1 million a day, which enables it to continue being the largest burner of coal and emitter of CO2 in the UK. Through their #AxeDrax campaign, Biofuelwatch are working to end these damaging biomass subsidies, campaigning for proper support for truly renewable technologies such as wind and solar, and energy efficiency.
For more information, see http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/axedrax-campaign/
Biofuel burning is not a clean alternative to dirty energy production that it is so commonly argued to be, as this RSPB report explains.
In addition to Drax, Biofuelwatch continues to support local campaigns against proposed and existing biomass power stations in the UK. In recent months, they have supported campaigners in West Thurrock, in Andover, in Milford Haven, and in Norwich. They would love to hear from people who live close to other biomass power station sites, in particular anyone living in Anglesey or Neath and Port Talbot (where Orthios Energy are proposing two huge biomass power stations), in Teesside (where MGT Power wants to build a large plant) and near Lynemouth (where Czech energy company EPH is converting the mothballed Lynemouth Power Station to biomass). For a roundup of news on those campaigns, please see biofuelwatch.org.uk/local-campaigns-uk.
Find out more about biofuels and climate change here and one of Biofuelwatch's reports.
You can also watch this short clip of Biofuelwatch's Pete Deane speaking at our Time to Act march (07/03/15).
You can also view our past biofuel campaigns page here.