New Study Debunks Carbon Neutrality of Forest Biomass

Forest Biopower from Pellets Will Not Deliver Climate Benefits

WASHINGTON – A landmark new report shows that burning biomass for electricity will worsen climate change, rather than reduce carbon emissions as the industry claims. As American and global policymakers evaluate how to address their climate commitments, "A Bad Biomass Bet," details the immense climate impacts of using wood pellets sourced from forests in the Southeastern United States to fuel power plants, making clear that carbon emissions over the pellets' lifecycle far exceed the average emissions of power generation in the U.S., even if carbon capture and storage was added to power plants. 

"You have to look at all the pollution created in the lifecycle of creating these pellets - not just what goes out the stacks when they are burned,” said Sami Yassa, Senior Scientist at NRDC. “When you do that, you see clearly that despite what the industry says, burning these wood pellets for electricity are far from carbon neutral and will not help in the fight against climate change." 

The report by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) outlines the full lifecycle emissions associated with biomass power plants burning pellets made from pinewood plantations in the Southeastern US, including those from logging, pellet processing, and transport.  

The numbers shed light on the highly consequential error in recent congressional efforts to direct federal agency policies to uniformly “reflect the carbon neutrality” of forest biomass, through a long-running rider that has appeared in previous Senate Interior Appropriation bills. A congressional rider that continues to promote the carbon neutrality of forest biomass will set back our efforts to address climate change, in the short time we have to achieve true emissions reductions – precisely because the “carbon neutral” label could allow this type of feedstock to become subsidized as a clean energy source. 

“Policymakers must stop wasting their time betting on technologies and extractive industries that provide no promise of a better, cleaner planet,” said Nathanael Greene, Senior Renewable Energy Advocate at NRDC. “They should rely on science and focus on real climate solutions like solar and wind, which can benefit the economy, environment, and public health.” 

The report makes the following conclusions: 

  1. Standalone biomass power plants emit more carbon from power plant stacks than coal-fired power plants per megawatt hour. 
  1. The offsite, uncaptured emissions equal approximately 60% of the stack emissions at the site of the power plant.  

Biomass electricity is the process of burning wood from forests to produce electricity. Often, biomass comes from whole trees which are routinely sourced from clear-cuts of sensitive forests, mainly in the Southeastern United States. Proponents claim biomass is carbon-neutral, but scientists have found that burning wood in power stations to generate electricity:   

  • Exacerbates climate change and undermines the U.S. and U.K.’s climate goals.  
  • Degrades forests and threatens wildlife when protecting nature is paramount.  
  • Emits dangerous air pollution linked to an array of health harms, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Diverts public funds that could be better used for truly clean energy like wind and solar projects that guarantee real CO2 reductions and more UK jobs at a fraction of the cost.  

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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