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New EU Energy Directive Comes Under Criticism for Biomass Inclusion

18 Dec 13:00 by Steve Walia

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The EU is moving towards a target to double renewable energy output by 2030. Although positive in intention, the detail behind the plan has been criticised for its inclusion of biomass, which - if increased - could actually hasten climate change according to green groups. The existing version of the plan allows power plants, factories and countries to burn felled trees and claim this as a type of renewable energy.

Wood product manufacturers in the EU have long been able to generate power from their operations as positive by-products, using wood chips and other processing residues to provide fuel. The vast majority of this material would otherwise decompose naturally, so this usage is a net gain.

However, the new EU directive goes beyond the use of this by-product biomass and instead would credit businesses and countries for cutting down extra trees to incinerate them for fuel. This would have a significantly different effect because the carbon release would have otherwise been retained within living forests.

The argument would be that forest regrowth would ultimately reabsorb this carbon. But studies show that the net effect would be an increase in global warming for years to come, even where wood was replacing fossil fuel use. 

There would be a significant knock-on effect on the world's woods and forests because Europe's own wood harvest could only produce about 6pc of its total energy needs. This could lead to it buying wood from other countries such as Brazil and Indonesia to burn for energy - countries which have been encouraged to preserve their tropical forests.

Legislators will be able to vote to amend to the bill, and the hope is that they will do so to limit the bill to forest residues and waste for biomass burning.