Biomass may not be as sustainable as originally thought, especially as boosting demand for it is rapidly outpacing its sustainable supply; a new study by the Energy Transitions Commission has found.
Firstly, the fact that biomass demand could outstrip its sustainable supply may result in undermined climate efforts; it may also harm biodiversity, unless alternative zero-carbon options rapidly scale-up; and use of bioresources carefully prioritized, according to the Energy Transition Commission’s report.
Secondly, the report by the ETC calls “Bioresources Within a Net-Zero Emissions Economy: Making a Sustainable Approach Possible.” It plainly explains that, while bioresources are in principle renewable; not all forms of biomass use are beneficial from an environmental perspective. Not all biomass is ‘good’.
Thirdly, the study explains that this resource, in order to be sustainable, its production should have low lifecycle GHG emissions; it also should take into account the ‘opportunity cost’ related to carbon that could be sequestered without intervention.
Moreover, truly sustainable biomass should not compete with use of land for food production; trigger any land use change that could release carbon stocks into the atmosphere; negatively impact biodiversity and ecosystem health.
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Truly sustainable biomass is short in volume: ETC
Consequently, biomass sources for use as energy should be limited to waste & residues; dedicated energy crop production on degraded / marginal lands; or where current crop / pastureland can be released.
Furthermore, the ETC estimates that a prudent scenario for the quantity of clearly sustainable biomass available by mid-century; without major changes in land use, technology, and consumer behavior is c.40-60 EJ/year.
Additionally, the report reveals that current policies often fail to consider claims on bioresources holistically; incentivizing uses in sectors where alternatives exist, which jeopardizes a sustainable management of the resource.
Consequently, when they are available, solutions such as hydrogen, clean electricity should be used instead; however, in the sector of aviation, biofuels made from biomass will be a truly sustainable alternative.
Finally, Adair Turner, Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, said: “Biomass can make a really valuable contribution to the world’s decarbonization. But truly sustainable biomass is limited in volume; so, its use must be restricted to priority sectors where alternative decarbonization options don’t exist.”