Is the end of biomass as an energy supply near? This week, demissionary Secretary of State Yesilgöz (Economic Affairs and Climate) decided not to grant any new subsidies for the time being to generate energy from ‘woody biomass’, summoned by the previous House of Representatives.
On Monday, a court ruled that the planned Vattenfall biomass plant in Diemen may come there despite protest from local residents and environmental organisations, the company is still waiting until at least 2022 before it is built. If that‘s going to happen.
When it comes to environmental organisation Mobilisation for the Environment, biomass use is over, but experts think we can’t do without it.
“A Good Beginning”
Johan Vollenbroek believes that the decision not to grant new grants is a good start. Vollenbroek, with its action group Mobilisation for the Environment, is trying to stop the construction of biomass power plants in the Netherlands. His attempt to stop the power plant in Diemen has failed for the time being, but he appeals against that verdict.
And Vollenbroek draws hope from a statement by President Anna Borg of the Swedish company earlier this year. “If the Dutch don‘t want biomass centres,” she said, “it’s not going to go on. We are not a wood burning company, but an energy company.”
Like many environmental organisations, the Vollenbroek action group has a principal problem with the firing of wood (snippets), in order to generate energy. “The Romans did that too. Have we been able to think of anything better in 2000 years? In countries like Romania and Bulgaria, there is still logic behind it, because there is a lot of wood used in everyday life anyway. In the summer you collect it, in winter you‘ll get it up.”
But the Netherlands is too small for biomass, says Vollenbroek. “The Purmerend heat plant alone is burning up all the wood that Staatsforest management can deliver on its own. And so we have to get wood from other countries. We are getting emergency cries from Baltic countries: “They are demolish whole forests here, because you need to do climate-neutral if necessary.”
The solution, according to Vollenbroek and his supporters, is to remove all the money and energy from biomass and put it into other renewable energy sources, make more work of isolation and make efficient use of energy that already exists.
“We don’t have a choice”
“The suggestion that we have something to choose is a fearsome luxury,” says researcher Bart Strengers, who is working on the future of biomass at the Environmental Planning Bureau. “We agreed that the whole world should ‘decarbonise’. Europe in 2050 or earlier. When you start math, you come to the conclusion that you need everything very hard: wind, sun, geothermal, but also biomass.”
latter can be sustainable in principle, Strengers says. “Fossil fuels were in the ground for millions of years. If you burn it, it‘s gone; into the atmosphere. But forest grows basically. The frame we devoid of primeval forests in biomass plants is simply incorrect. They are mostly residual flows from forestry, agriculture and landscape management that are used. Sustainability criteria prohibit it from biodiverse forests.”
Now nearly 12 percent of the energy consumption in the Netherlands comes from a sustainable source, Strengers counts. More than half of them come from biomass, of which about half are wood: from households with fireplaces to biomass plants. “If you delete that rigorously, you’re further away from your goal.”
The political discussion in the House of Representatives is very much about emotion, as Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Professor of European Forestry at Wageningen University, adds. “The Dutch people quickly think of ‘tropical deforestation’ in biomass, but that is unjustifiably: most of the wood needed produces Europe itself, about 40 to 50 million tonnes a year.”
About 6 to 7 million tonnes come from the US across the EU, says Nabuurs. “But there‘s hardly any more primordial forest left since the time of the settlers. And what’s left is left alone, because there‘s plenty of production forest for housing, among others.”
says, says Nabuurs, more production forest is growing worldwide. “And most of it is sustainably certified. Something may go wrong in forest management, but not on a large scale.”
Ultimately, biomass is needed to reduce the use of fossil fuels over the next few decades, says Nabuurs. “The Teslas you see on the road are just driving coal. You shouldn’t have any illusions about that.”