Ryeview – June 2008

Analysis is key in burning issue of biofuels

John Clark writes…

First published: June 2008 – Gazette & Herald

There is no gain without pain. Neither climate change nor reducing fossil fuel use will be solved by a gimmick or some gutless government gesture. Fossil fuel reduction will not be achieved by chip fat in the petrol tank. Planting a tree may make a flight feel better but it doesn’t solve the problem or even help towards it.

Growing biofuels on land that could produce food is crazy. Some of us have been pointing out the futility of this approach for many years. When it is compulsory to use biofuels as part of the petrol or diesel at the filling station the problems become more obvious. Biofuels produce only a small reduction in greenhouse gasses because of the carbon used to produce the fuel. At the same time the growing of biofuels has exacerbated the world food shortage and resulted in a massive hike in the price of food.

Another ‘simplistic solution’ is the burning of biomass in coal fired power stations. The government has set a target of 10% from biomass. At Drax Power Station it is claimed that this will ‘help to cut its emissions of CO2 by more than 2million tonnes a year’. A little scratching below the surface and the weaknesses appear.

  • Drax doesn’t know where the 1.5 million tonnes of biomass / year will come from (other than N. America, S. America and Scandinavia).
  • No guarantee of sustainability (could be virgin forest or agricultural land)
  • How much heat is lost at Drax compared with a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant?
  • One third of the energy is lost in transmitting electricity from the power station to the user.

The burning of Renewable Energy at Drax Power Station looks good. It probably meets a target but does very little to reduce greenhouse gasses.

In this week’s Farmers Weekly Drax is advertising for farmers to grow fuel for the Power Station. It is now persuading farmers to grow energy crops not food. Even further down the wrong road.

How does this relate to Ryedale? A wood pellet plant is being proposed at Wombleton. How does this measure up?

The maximum use must be made out of any wood burning. My understanding is that the most efficient use of wood is wood chip in Combined Heat and Power. Unlike biofuels and Drax, fossil fuels must not be used to dry, process or transport materials to the site. A very careful carbon and fossil fuel analysis must be done before it is considered. Pellets must be accurately compared with wood chip. If pellets are to be made should they not be produced in or near to a forest? Could this save fossil fuel and greenhouse gasses in transporting wood (and water)? Alternatively could wood chip be burned in CHP plants near enough to centres of populations so that heat could be used for schools, factories or houses?

If we don’t do the analysis and make the right decisions we could turn the wrong road into a motorway.

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