In the fight against climate change, simply adding new energy sources to the mix is not enough, explains a new report in Axios. To meet the challenge, we must actually reduce the use of fossil fuels “instead of merely ramping up cleaner forms of energy.”
Fortunately, renewable wood bioenergy is playing an increasingly vital role – both in supporting private landowners who grow trees, and in displacing dirty fossil fuels like coal.
“Like adding salad to your pasta doesn’t help you lose weight,” Axios explains, “adding cleaner energy to a world run on fossil fuels won’t cut greenhouse gas emissions. Yet that’s what we’re doing now.”
The problem is that as the world’s population rises and as developing countries gain wealth, “global energy demand keeps increasing, so wind and solar are being added on top of fossil fuels — just like you add salad on top of your pasta.”
This means that unless we directly reduce the use of carbon-spewing fossil fuels like coal, adding in wind and solar energy will make little difference.
But one renewable energy technology – wood bioenergy – is directly replacing coal in countries across the world, and is available to deploy at scale today.
Wood bioenergy is a low-carbon, renewable energy source that comes from one of America’s most plentiful and stable resources – our private working forests. It’s made from wood fiber that is unsuitable for, or a byproduct of, sawmilling and lumber industries including chips, sawdust and other low-value wood and parts of trees such as tops and limbs. These wood sources are dried and compressed into pellets in a no-chemical process. The pellets can be used as a drop-in substitute for coal in existing power plants and enable an orderly transition to a renewable economy.
This is happening in countries across the world. In the United Kingdom, Drax, once “the biggest polluter in western Europe,” has now “made a near-complete switch to renewable energy” by embracing wood bioenergy.
As CNN explains, Drax “used to spew out millions of tons of carbon dioxide a year by burning coal. But over the past eight years, it has overhauled its operations by converting four of its six coal-fired units to biomass. The plant’s owners say it now generates 15% of the country’s renewable power.”
Switching from coal to wood bioenergy produces significant net carbon savings, helping mitigate global climate change in line with recommendations from the United Nations IPCC. As researchers at the University of Illinois have found, switching from coal to wood biomass reduces emissions by between 74 to 85 percent on a life cycle basis. That’s why countries in the EU as well as Japan have embraced wood bioenergy.
The wood bioenergy industry in the U.S. also encourages private landowners to plant more trees through market incentives, which grows the carbon sink and sucks more CO2 out of the atmosphere. When those incentives are lost, the health of US forests are threatened, and forests become parking lots, strip malls, or land for agriculture. In fact, researchers at the University of Georgia and the US Forest Service found that nationwide, the absence of demand for wood biomass could actually result in deforestation up to 15,000 square kilometers (5,791 square miles), roughly the size of the entire state of Connecticut. Conversely, increased demand for wood pellets retains thousands more square kilometers in natural timberland area, the report found.
Wood bioenergy is a direct replacement for dirty fossil fuels like coal, and in the fight against climate change, every power plant converted away from coal and every new tree planted is a win for the environment and for future generations.