bioenergy

Comment: Yes, Scientists Say we Need to Plant Trees and Eat Less Meat ⁠— But Not as a Replacement for Cutting Fossil Fuels

Read time: 6 mins
Timber in New Zealand

After a three year wait, the UN’s official scientific advisory panel’s verdict on land and climate is here. The report is about as glum as you might have come to expect from a body tasked with documenting humanity’s ongoing descent into climate-induced havoc.

The UN is right to highlight the crucial importance of land in both causing and curbing climate change — it has been neglected for far too long. In particular, the report’s conclusions on just how much our current food system threatens the climate, as well as how much climate impacts threaten our food supply, need a huge and sustained conversation.

Introducing Biochar: Climate Change Solution or Greenwash Nightmare?

Read time: 4 mins
Person holding biochar in hand

After years of investigating biochar, which promoters have touted as a potential climate change fix, DeSmog is releasing its findings on the science, claims, and controversy surrounding this approach to sequestering carbon. 

Biochar is the product of plant or animal products (biomass) undergoing pyrolysis, a high-heat chemical reaction, to convert the carbon-containing biomass to a stable, non-decomposing form of charcoal. Introduced to mainstream audiences in a Time Magazine article from December 2008, biochar as a climate geoengineering technology has hit a number of peaks and valleys since then. In that time, its best chances at reaching commercial scales so far have failed, according to a new DeSmog report, Biochar: Climate Change Solution or False Hope?

Biochar's failure to date is due to a number of reasons, such as the lack of scientific consensus surrounding its ability to sequester carbon indefinitely, the vast amounts of land needed to produce biochar at a large enough scale to affect the climate, and the lack of legislative or regulatory frameworks required for investment in commercial-level production. 

Biochar Lobby's Protocol Receives Blistering Peer Review, Casts Doubts on Serving as Climate Solution

For biochar's fiercest promoters, the sky's the limit for the seemingly mystical product — or at least that's been the pitch for years, ever since TIME Magazine referred to it as “black gold” in a December 2008 feature story. To some, it could do it all: pull carbon out of the atmosphere, enrich the soil, and be refined into a clean and green fuel source.

Yet a peer-reviewed study conducted by the American Carbon Registry (ACR) analyzing the science bolstering the biochar lobby's business plan calls all of these claims into question. Released in March 2015, the review concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide sufficient evidence of the stability of soil carbon sequestration in fields.”

Read time: 12 mins

Biochar: A Geoengineering 'Shock Doctrine'

Biochar may be many things, such as a crop yield improvement tool and reclamation device for damaged land. But a climate change panacea, DeSmog's investigation has shown, is probably not among them.

Despite a lack of scientific proof supporting biochar as a long-term solution to sequestering carbon, a niche but fervent group has continued to push the so-called “black gold” to combat today's ever-worsening climate change crisis. The push continued despite the American Carbon Registry rejecting the biochar lobby's carbon sequestration business protocol, after a peer review found its underlying science lacked sufficient rigor.

Upon failing the scientific peer review, funding levels dropped for the main biochar advocacy group, International Biochar Initiative (IBI). This means for now, on a macro-level, biochar has hit a stand still.

Read time: 4 mins

Why the Biomass Industry’s Carbon Arguments Should Make You Spit Out Your Coffee

Read time: 4 mins

This is a guest post by Mary Booth from Partnership for Policy Integrity

Recently, Senate friends of industrial bioenergy proposed – and passed – an amendment to the Senate version of the Murkowski Energy Bill that compels EPA to treat burning biomass as “carbon neutral.”

Bioenergy isn’t carbon neutral, of course, at least not in any timeframe we care about for addressing climate change. Wood-burning power plants emit more CO2 than coal plants, per megawatt-hour, and re-growing trees to sequester that carbon takes decades. Even when the wood fuel comes from “waste,” the emissions from burning it exceed those from coal.

Biomass Industry Intensifies Fight For Carbon-Neutral Status As Obama Admin Carbon Rules Draw Near

Read time: 4 mins

The science is fairly convoluted but also entirely clear: Bioenergy — burning wood and other forest biomass as a fuel source — produces more carbon emissions than coal.

Even if all the forests we fed into power plants were to one day regrow, in theory sucking all that carbon back out of the Earth’s atmosphere, it would be far too late to be any kind of solution to the global climate crisis.

Yet 21 members of Congress recently wrote a letter urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to “take action to remove regulatory ambiguities in the treatment of utility-scale biomass power as a renewable resource.”

Biomass Is Not A Zero-Carbon Fuel Source, So Why Does The Clean Power Plan Propose To Treat It That Way?

Read time: 8 mins

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is the foundation of President Obama’s climate strategy. The plan, which is to be finalized later this year, sets state-by-state targets for reducing emissions from existing power plants, especially coal-fired power plants, which will be essential to meeting the commitments made in the climate deal President Obama struck with China late last year.

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