After Oil, The Extreme Risk of Biofuel Dependency


Logging debris or "slash" of the sort often proposed to burned in centralized biomass-fueled power plants. Image credit:Athens Online

I have cleared small plots with axe and saw, and afterward felt a sense of accomplishment. Probably that feeling is not too different if you are a deep-water drilling rig operator feeling you are doing your part to keep the traffic moving and homes heated in winter. So begins my analogy between the risk of extreme oil dependency and the coming growth in biomass fuel dependency - in the Rechargeable Future.My biomass nightmare.
Clear cutting vast acreages of forest to recharge electric vehicles is what I worry about on a hot, sleepless night, dreaming of what my grandchildren will behold when I am gone.

The BP gusher, a harbinger of the coming era of "peak oil," mirrors a possible future in which clear cutting of forests on a vast scale may be needed to charge electric vehicles. There is a common presumption that this would be 'better' for the climate than would be coal- or oil-burning power plants charging our car batteries. This may not be so. Now is the time to think critically and debate openly, this issue. From Boston.com: "Burning wood to generate electricity can be worse for global warming than burning coal, according to a Massachusetts-sponsored study... That surprising conclusion immediately prompted state officials to reconsider substantial financial incentives provided to wood-burning plants."

Here is the kernel of the study's conclusion:

...the Manomet study shows that wood burning releases more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per unit of energy than oil, coal, or natural gas.

What's more, that increase in greenhouse gases can take a far longer time for forests to absorb than previously thought -- a generation or more in many cases. If a wood-burning power plant replaces a coal-fired one, it can take about 20 years before any net benefits are realized. It can take more than 90 years if a wood-burning plant replaces a natural gas plant.

The referenced report dispenses with the straw-man argument that centralized biomass-fueled power plants will burn only debris left by loggers (until demand soars), and, yet, concludes that unlike a centralized power plant, wood burning in the home can be efficient and climate-protecting choice.

It would be worthwhile for you 'read all about it' over at Boston.com.

Tags: Electricity | Hybrid Cars | United States