Biomass and Carbon Dioxide

Natasha Fast, Angela Manning, Allan Ricketts (Project Manager), Geraldine Fairell, Ken Klanicki, Brad Lofton (Executive Director)
Natasha Fast (SAVE), Pastor Angela Manning (New Life Ministries), Allan Ricketts (Project Manager), Geraldine Fairell, Ken Klanicki, Brad Lofton (Executive Director), picture by John S. Quarterman (LAKE)
Pictured is a group of concerned citizens meeting about the proposed biomass plant with Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority (VLCIA) Project Manager Allan Ricketts and Executive Director Brad Lofton. Ricketts and Lofton gave a two-hour presentation, took some action items, and have provided a schedule on which they will fulfill them. I thank them for that and look forward to the further materials.

Lying in the center of the table in the picture is this document:

Biomass carbon neutrality in the context of forest-based fuels and products
by Reid Miner, NCASI, Al Lucier, NCASI
The copy on the table is dated April 7, 2010; the online version is dated May 2010. It’s a powerpoint presentation that makes many good points, among them that coal doesn’t grow back, while trees do. So in theory it would be possible, by organizing harvesting of biomass over a region to make burning biomass for electricity carbon neutral.

The document comes right out and says:

At point of combustion, CO2 emissions per unit of energy produced are generally higher for biomass fuels than for fossil fuels.
The point of the document is that nonetheless burning fossil fuels such as coal continually pours more CO2 into the atmosphere while replanting trees absorbs some CO2. The devil is in the details. As the document says, it is necessary to construct scenarios and to estimate cumulative emissions for each scenario. The best scenario the document shows is one in which:
Land can be converted to higher carbon stocks to provide biomass energy (e.g., afforestation)
Reforestation could actually produce net biomass emissions below zero. But what will actually happen? The document also considers several other scenarios, including:
Convert land to much lower carbon stocks
Convert land to somewhat lower carbon stocks
Keep land in same general forest type
The first of these, converting land to much lower carbon stocks, is a euphemism for widespread clearcutting, which would not only not result in carbon neutrality, but would also (the document doesn’t mention these points) cause erosion, flooding, and changes in rainfall patterns. The document says that in the U.S. the national situation is best represented by the latter, keeping land in the same general forest type.

This document appears to depict clearcutting for biomass use and replanting. Some people might consider cutting down native piney woods and replacing by monoculture planted pines to be “keeping land in the same general forest type”, but I wouldn’t.

Also, while Allan Ricketts asserted that this particular plant will never burn whole trees because it would be economically unfeasible for it to do so, this document seems to depend for its analysis on harvesting whole trees for biomass. I’ll come back to that point in a later post.

The document says:

For many purposes, analysis on a regional scale or national scale may be most appropriate.
Where is that regional analysis? It’s not in the NCASI document, which incidentally depicts nice fall colors of a deciduous forest, not Georgia pine woods.

Not just for biomass. Also for solar, wind, wave, tides, and other renewable energies: where is the regional analysis? For south Georgia, or for Georgia, or for the southeast: where is it, and if it doesn’t exist, who is responsible for producing it?

I have asked VLCIA that question, with an example of what I’m looking for: see next post.