An independent report has found that EU countries - including Britain - are throwing away money by paying subsidies for biomass projects. It concludes that whilst the burning of wood can lead to a reduction in damaging greenhouse gas emissions, the reality is that the EU is actually increasing its emissions by over-using it.
The use of burning wood for energy purposes is actually more damaging to the climate than burning coal and gas, but the researchers have found that the way in which emissions are calculated means that the total damage is concealed.
The report was written by Chatham House, the policy research group. Its spokesperson, Duncan Brack, said that the current subsidy schemes were generating incentives that couldn't be justified in climate terms, and that investment in solar or wind would be a better use of public money.
The burning of wood mass is viewed as being carbon-neutral, but the report denies this. It explains that wood burning generates more greenhouse gases per energy unit than coal. When logging is carried out, the soil also releases carbon over the next 10-20 years. Additional emissions are factored in from wood transport and processing.
Those forests which are allowed to grow will instead absorb carbon - even mature forest land. This is because older trees are able to absorb greater levels of carbon than young trees.
Although the carbon dioxide that is emitted upon burning is eventually re-absorbed when trees grow, this can take an incredible 450 years. Supporters of this type of energy would argue, however, that the use of waste wood from industry is still valuable. The problem may occur where demand exceeds the amount of waste wood available, necessitating the felling of trees to burn for energy.