#EUBioenergy Consultation: It’s time to look at the trees in the forest
. Today, most of the renewable energy produced in Europe is bio-energy, and there is no lack of controversy and controversy.
Bioenergy, which mainly comes from burning agricultural waste, forestry, and the organic part of municipal solid waste, or “urban biomass”, is regarded as a “wrong solution” by many NGOs, senior scientists and affected local communities. Now that the European Commission is preparing to review the legislation on renewable energy and has initiated public consultations on the issue of bioenergy, it is time to reforest the forest.
Bioenergy from "Urban Biomass"
Urban biomass is a commonly used term that refers to all food waste from restaurants, households, and farmers’ markets, as well as garden waste, textiles, clothing, paper, or anything from organic sources in municipal solid waste. We call it "urban biomass" because it originated in cities compared to other types of biomass from agriculture, forestry, or industry.
Ideally, municipalities committed to a zero-waste strategy will organize the separation and collection of this organic waste at the source, so that this extremely rich resource can be turned into compost (and returned to the soil as fertilizer), or biogas, through exhaustion. Oxygen digestion, both of which are basic technologies needed to play a key role in our low-carbon future.
However, although it sounds shocking, most cities in the European Union today are still mixing all this organic waste (urban biomass) with the remaining waste that will be landfilled and incinerated, causing considerable chaos.
Organic waste entering landfills will produce methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 72 times that of carbon dioxide within 20 years, and will use leachate to contaminate soil and groundwater. Similarly, the organic waste (and various fossil fuel-derived plastic products) that enters the incinerator to produce energy is also a waste of resources-to make matters worse, it is mistaken for "renewable energy."
Burning "urban biomass" renewable energy?
Urban biomass, such as food waste, paper or textiles, is a product of humans, which means that it would not exist without our intervention. In addition, it is usually the result of unsustainable industrial or agricultural production models, so it is definitely a challenging concept to treat it as a "renewable" resource. Of course, people may argue that as long as our civilization exists, food will continue to be produced, but this does not make it an infinite resource, like wind, solar, or geothermal energy.
Leading experts in the field have demonstrated this in detail, but the main EU institutions and policymakers still need to catch up.
To be precise, one of the main shortcomings of the current EU Renewable Energy Directive is the consideration of this "urban biomass" in renewable energy, which allows incinerators, biomass power plants or any other energy that uses biomass as a fuel Power plants receive financial incentives to do so.
In this way, subsidies that should be dedicated to clean, sustainable, and reliable energy are abused in the least efficient way to support burning resources that should be composted, recycled, reused, or never wasted in the first place. Today, harmful subsidies from renewable energy policies are one of the main obstacles to the full implementation of a circular economy, as they continue to fund and green the construction of waste incineration facilities throughout Europe.
Non-renewable, nor carbon neutral
The chaos caused by treating biomass waste as a renewable energy source is made worse, because the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from burning biomass can be considered zero or carbon neutral and further misleading.
This concept stems from the idea that, for example, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with felling trees will be compensated by another planted tree, thereby achieving a net balance in the carbon cycle of the atmosphere. Those who advocate large-scale biomass energy believe that even if you cut down these trees and burn them, greenhouse gas emissions will be compensated by appropriate forestry policies, and therefore are carbon neutral.
This may make sense in the abstract world-in fact, sustainable forestry practices that allow the proper supply of trees are very important, but through reality, it is easy to see the flaws of this concept. With proper practice on a small scale, the use of biomass as a fuel can ultimately be sustainable, but it will not be carbon neutral.
First, the activity of burning biomass itself generates greenhouse gas emissions, whether you plant one tree or 200 trees, the next day or next year. These emissions are unique and additional, and it is time to identify and calculate them.
As Eunomia said in our latest report: “It is wrong to assume that carbon dioxide from non-fossil sources is not important. It is assumed that the CO2 from these sources is short-cycle and therefore negligible. This is equivalent to assuming that the carbon dioxide in the carbon dioxide pool Fossil and non-fossil sources are separate. It seems that the argument is that climate changes only if emissions come from fossil sources. This is clearly wrong, so much so that this argument may be considered acceptable, which seems true Surprisingly: (...) The only correct way to deal with it is to consider all greenhouse gas emissions, because they all have "warming potential" regardless of their origin."
Second, how does carbon neutral reasoning apply to "urban biomass"? The concept it extends goes far beyond the reasonable assumption that the greenhouse gas emissions from burning food waste, paper and textiles can be "compensated over time" and can therefore be counted as zero.However, this is what incinerators, biomass energy and even cement plants will argue and apply in their accounting methods: the "urban biomass" they burn is carbon neutral and is a key climate mitigation strategy for the industry!
Third, the burning of urban biomass is actually a very inefficient and highly polluting energy source. The greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity even exceed those of coal. Even though paper and textiles can burn quite well, 70% of food waste is water, which makes it a rather inadequate fuel. Therefore, burning any kind of biomass is not only not carbon neutral, it is actually more carbon intensive than coal and causes a lot of air pollution, as pointed out in this and that report.
It must be pointed out that the IPCC guidelines for accounting for biomass energy greenhouse gas emissions in national inventories do require reporting these emissions, but they are only reported as information items, mainly for methodological reasons. This is an unfortunate solution to a methodological problem, because these emissions are often underestimated and often underestimated. Despite this, the IPCC is still aware of the carbon neutrality of bioenergy, and responded: “The IPCC’s method of not including these emissions in the total energy sector should not be construed as regarding the sustainability or carbon neutrality of bioenergy. Sexual conclusion."
The impact of harmful subsidies and accounting errors
In practice, accounting errors related to greenhouse gas emissions encourage and sustain the misuse of public funds that should support low-carbon solutions, rather than carbon-intensive, wasteful and polluting technologies.
The cement industry is one of the most carbon-intensive industries, especially benefiting from this accounting error. In Europe, the cement industry is obliged to achieve emission reduction targets through EU ETS. More and more cement plants use municipal solid waste as the main carbon neutral reason to burn municipal solid waste. This allows the industry to underreport its total emissions into the atmosphere and further utilize the already dysfunctional EU carbon trading system.
In the final analysis, at the level of EU policy, the contradiction is obvious. Although the circular economy package is all about resource efficiency and material recycling, renewable energy subsidies have ultimately become improper economic incentives and fundamentally wrong allocation of resources.
The right solution at the right scale
As mentioned earlier, urban biomass is a rich resource that can be composted or processed in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas. Paper can be recycled, textiles can be reused, and all measures to prevent these products from entering our trash cans are more sustainable than burning them to obtain the small amount of polluting energy we can get from them. The waste hierarchy recommends that waste should be burned only after the potential for reuse and recycling is fully explored. This is not in vain.
When forestry or agricultural biomass is used for energy purposes, the issue of scale is crucial. The use of agricultural or forestry biomass for energy purposes is sustainable on a small scale. In fact, communities around the world rely on it for daily heating and cooking.
However, in a world where land, food and forests are under increasing pressure, large-scale industrial biomass energy and its corresponding renewable energy subsidies should be questioned and avoided. Not only is there increasing evidence of deforestation associated with this practice, but the large amount of biomass required to operate the plant may require additional fuels, which are usually refuse-derived fuels-mixed wastes, including plastics and various Residual waste. This greatly increases the emissions of toxic mixtures and prevents proper management of this waste.
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