Burning wood for power is misguided say climate experts

31st December 2017 | Commercial Energy

Policies aimed at limiting climate change by boosting the burning of biomass contain critical flaws that could actually damage attempts to avert dangerous levels of global warming in the future. That is the stark view of one of Britain’s chief climate experts, Professor John Beddington, who has warned that relying on the cutting down and burning of trees as a replacement for the use of fossil fuels could rebound dangerously.

Beddington, a former UK government chief scientific adviser, said there was now a real risk that increasing wood-burning in order to help European countries, including Britain, reach renewable energy targets could turn out to be misguided. “These policies may even lead to a situation, whereby global emissions [of carbon dioxide] accelerate,” he states in a blog on Carbon Brief, the UK-based website that covers climate and energy issues. He says wind and solar projects should dominate programmes to boost renewable energy generation in Europe.


Beddington, whose views are backed by several other eminent climate experts, said the burning of biomass – wood or other renewable organic materials – had the benefit of replacing fossil fuels, whose combustion raises carbon levels in the atmosphere, a process that is now warming the planet dangerously.

Biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then releases it in a relatively brief life-cycle which should, theoretically, have a restricted long-term impact on the atmosphere. As a result, giant power stations, including Britain’s Drax generators, are increasingly abandoning gas or cola as power sources and are instead turning to the burning of wood, usually in the form of pellets imported from other countries such as the United States or Canada.

But burning wood to produce electricity is a relatively inefficient process. In generating exactly the same amount of electricity, wood will release four times as much carbon into the atmosphere as gas would do, and one and half times as much as coal.

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