Biofuels and the Bush

forest furnace 1

Occasionally there is a strong push, usually from a vested interest associated with the timber industry, to use waste from timber mills to make bioenergy, and for this to be counted as renewable energy. There are huge problems with the carbon accounting of this – that is quantifying how much greenhouse gas this process creates. Currently the creation of biofuels is listed as ‘renewable energy’ by many European nations and is considered a carbon neutral process. This has recently been exposed as at best misleading and at worst fraudulent accounting in an article in the New Scientist by Michael Le Page entitled ‘The Great Carbon Scam’. (24.9.16)

Le Page noted: “The carbon balance sheets of developed countries hides a scam, one whose long-term effects could be far more damaging than the subprime mortgage scandal that led to the global recession of 2008.” This ‘bioenergy’ is made mainly from felled trees and to a lesser extent waste wood and accounts for 60% of all Europe’s current renewable energy. It may be “reducing emissions compared to fossil fuels” but definitely not as much as is claimed as they do not count the significant carbo dioxide produced when burning the biomass.

For many years the woodchip ‘tail’ has wagged the timber mill ‘dog’. Now there is a push to change that ‘tail’ to bioenergy – a push that must be resisted. In the long term (ie 100 years) this process may be carbon neutral but in the short term we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bioenergy is only part of the solution if it is made from true waste or from plantations grown specifically for that purpose.

Our native forests are a store of carbon and must be protected. Even mature forests still remove small amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Removing a 100 year old tree for bioenergy means that there is a carbon deficit for 100 years until a tree planted in its place matures – assuming of course that one is planted and that it survives. We do not have the time to even consider this. Currently I am aware of one ‘renewable energy project’ supported by Sustainability Victoria of this kind using waste from a timber mill. But our number one priority must be to preserve and protect what remains of our bush as best we can.

The logging of native forests must be phased out as quickly as possible with generous redundancy payments to the workers. All timber, whether sourced locally or imported, should be only from plantations. It will be seen that using renewable energy is only a partial solution and it does not solve the climate change problem on its own. Once 100% renewable energy is achieved then carbon drawdown is going to be increasingly important and become a priority. The tree remains our best option for capturing and storing carbon dioxide. A very good reason why the bush must be preserved and protected.