Biomass not low-carbon says AECB

12th September 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Energy ,
  • Construction ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Renewable ,
  • Conventional



Burning wood as biomass produces twice the amount of carbon dioxide as burning natural gas, according to AECB, the sustainable building association.

In a new report, it criticises accepted thinking that biomass fuels are carbon neutral or low-carbon arguing that if the emissions produced by burning biomass are examined separately from the carbon dioxide sequestered by the growth of the fuel, “even standard gas boilers burning fossil fuel, are lower emitters of carbon dioxide than biomass boilers”.

Biomass is presented as a low-carbon fuel because the trees grown for fuel absorb the same amount of carbon over their lifetime as they produce when they are burned.

However, according to the AECB report, a much better way of reducing carbon would be to grow biomass fuels and use them for another purpose, such as for wooden flooring or furniture, instead using natural gas as an energy source.

Natural gas releases only half the amount of CO2 when burned as the equivalent amount of biomass, and using wood rather than burning it locks up the CO2 that has been absorbed over the tree’s lifetime.

The proposed approach would mean that for every tonne of CO2 being sequestered by biomass plants only half a tonne would be produced by burning gas for energy (see diagram below).

CO2 savings available by burning natural gas instead of biomass

“Why should we assume that CO2 released from a gas boiler will cause climate change, while CO2 from a biomass boiler is simply food for trees? The trees can’t tell where the CO2 came from,” argues the paper.

The report’s authors conclude that promoting biomass as a renewable fuel key to cutting the UK’s carbon emissions is “fundamentally misguided” and that a better approach would be to provide incentives for planting more forest and making things from wood rather than burning it.

“Decoupling energy use from generation and biomass emissions from sequestration allows a more holistic approach to carbon accounting that is better suited to inform national climate change policy,” states the report.

It even goes as far as to warn that further uptake of biomass in the UK will not reduce carbon emissions, but significantly increase them.

The news came as the energy-sector watchdog Ofgem revealed that more than half of the biomass fuel used in the UK between April 2020 and March 2011 was not sourced using recognised environmental quality assurance schemes.

According to Ofgem’s annual sustainability report for the use of biomass under the Renewables Obligation, five million tonnes of solid biomass and energy crops were used in the UK, a 62% increase in energy crop use in 12 months.

The figures show that only 32% of the participating energy firms had sourced their feedstock using a recognised quality assurance scheme.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Is the sea big enough?

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

The UK’s major cities lag well behind their European counterparts in terms of public transport use. Linking development to transport routes might be the answer, argues Huw Morris

3rd April 2024

Read more

Tom Harris examines the supply chain constraints facing the growing number of interconnector projects

2nd April 2024

Read more

The UK government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) strategy is based on optimistic techno-economic assumptions that are now outdated, Carbon Tracker has warned.

13th March 2024

Read more

The UK government’s latest Public Attitudes Tracker has found broad support for efforts to tackle climate change, although there are significant concerns that bills will rise.

13th March 2024

Read more

A consortium including IEMA and the Good Homes Alliance have drafted a letter to UK government ministers expressing disappointment with the proposed Future Homes Standard.

26th February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

Three-quarters of UK adults are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their bills, according to polling commissioned by Positive Money.

13th February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close