If you’re reading a “scientific study” on bioenergy that says biomass is “worse than” coal or other fossil fuels, help yourself to a sensible chuckle. 

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Then put it down and walk away.

Because chances are the science is bad, the authors are trying to mislead you, or both.

Here’s the deal.

Activists groups have their own ideological agendas...

. . .and fundraising quotas.

And they know that claiming biomass is “dirtier than coal!” sounds shocking and dramatic!

After all, biomass is supposed to be part of a clean energy future, right?

What they aren’t telling you is they are comparing emissions only at the time of combustion.

What's wrong with that, you ask?

Well, according to leading scientists, it “ignore[s]” important context and “significantly distort[s]” the relative carbon impacts of biomass and fossil fuels in the long term. 

 See:

As you no doubt remember from middle-school science class, fossil fuels are called fossil fuels because they're basically dinosaur dust, right?

They are the product of MILLIONS of years of geologic processes, and once you extract and burn them for energy, that’s it. They’re gone.

In other words, coal does NOT grow on trees.

But you know what literally does grow on trees?

Biomass.

And this is the really neat part: As those trees grow, they will actually pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it.

That's called carbon sequestration, homes. 

Know what doesn't sequester carbon?

Coal.

Go ahead. Stare at this lump of coal for as long as you want. It’s not going to start pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere.

This crucial difference is why both forest scientists and climate experts agree: the carbon impacts of biomass and other fuels should be measured over appropriately long periods of time, scales that account for trees' ability to store carbon as they grow.

According to those same experts, 100-year timeframes, at least, are necessary to provide “a more accurate accounting” and to “more appropriately demonstrate the cumulative carbon benefits of biomass energy compared to fossil fuels.”

At appropriate scale, it becomes crystal clear that biomass really does have carbon benefits over fossil fuels.

See:

So, no, activists, biomass isn’t worse than fossil fuels. But it’s pretty bad for your narrative.