Use Wood Wisely – Norbord’s campaign continues apace

Norbord’s Use Wood Wisely campaign continues apace; is a website which has been designed to tell you all you need to know about the biomass debate and government policies generally.

One point highlighted and explained is that burning woody biomass is not carbon neutral.

As part of the  Renewable Energy Directive, the UK Government is committed to ensuring that 15% of all our energy requirements are derived from renewable resources by 2020 in order to contribute to reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. For the period 2020 to 2030, the EU has since agreed a shared (EU wide) target of 27% by 2030.  Set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK’s aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% (from the 1990 baseline) by 2050. This has driven significant use of woody biomass harvested from forests for energy.

Due to the long growth cycle, forestry practice and energy required to convert and transport a useable fuel, some woody biomass that is burned for electricity generation could be failing to deliver its promised emissions reductions and could even be resulting in increased emissions. This practice undermines the UK’s emissions reduction achievements in other parts of the power sector and the economy.

Renewable energy sources such as wind, wave and solar are not comparable to relatively finite wood resource. Depending on the type and source, woody biomass used for energy could fail to deliver emissions reductions in the short to medium term, unlike other renewable energy technologies.

The use of woody biomass for electricity, whether from newly harvested trees or from wood that should be (re-)used in ways that retain the embedded carbon before being considered for burning, can fail to deliver emissions savings. Scientific evidence shows that as wood is less energy dense per unit at the point of combustion than fossil fuels, that in some cases the use of woody biomass for electricity results in emissions increases.  Emissions are also increased as a consequence of soil disturbance during harvesting activities and by the lost opportunity of continued carbon dioxide absorption by trees. This means that it can take decades or sometimes longer for the CO2 that has been released to be reabsorbed, resulting in a long carbon debt. This is a debt we cannot afford, since emissions need to be urgently reduced now.

Advocates of bioenergy claim that as long as the forest continues to grow or increase in size, then the released CO2 does not matter.  However, this is misleading.  In the absence of demand for bioenergy the forest may have grown even more; any loss in potential growth is a net CO2 cost.

Emissions from burning woody biomass for energy production are not correctly accounted for. It is also incorrectly assumed that biomass can be counted as carbon neutral in the energy sector because the emissions released will be fully accounted for in the land use sector.

However, due to gaps in the EU and international rules for land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions, many of these emissions are likely to go missing. For example, the UK imports large quantities of biomass from the US. It classifies this biomass as carbon neutral when accounting for emissions from the energy sector. However, the US is not party to the international rules on accounting for emissions from land use, and doesn’t count the emissions from the harvesting of the trees. Therefore, they will never be counted at all, effectively going “missing”, even though their harmful effect on the climate is very real.


Norbord continues to campaign for the best use of wood supplies via the Use Wood Wisely campaign – In the wood panels industry, among others, wood is made into into panels that lock up carbon for many decades.