Last update : 28.10.2010
Joanneum Research, 2010
The upfront carbon debt of bioenergy
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In the current climate change policy framework, the use of biomass for energy is considered a carbon neutral source. According to the principle of carbon neutrality, the GHG emissions produced by combustion of plant biomass are assumed to be recaptured instantaneously by new growing plants. This assumption is acceptable when the same amount of biomass that was burned will re-grow in a very short time as for annual crops. When the raw material is wood, the time needed to re-absorb the CO2 emitted in the atmosphere can be long, depending very much on the source of wood. This delay can create an upfront "carbon debt" that would substantially reduce the capability of bioenergy to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the atmosphere in the short to medium term. This report, by Joanneum Research, identifies a major flaw in the way carbon savings from forest-derived biomass are calculated in EU law as well as under UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol mechanisms. It concludes that harvesting trees for energy creates a "carbon debt": the carbon contained in the trees is emitted upfront while trees grow back over many years. The true climate impact of so-called woody biomass in the short to medium term can, as a result, be worse than the fossil fuels it is designed to replace.
Added on 28 July 2010
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