Woody Biomass for Energy

Logging and burning trees to generate electricity results in massive amounts of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, loss of of forests vital for carbon drawdown and sinking, devastated ecosystems, and displaced or dead wildlife.  It also has a big impact on public health, especially among underserved and overburdened communities as pellet factories are placed in 'opportunity zones.' In addition, forests located around low and middle income communities' often are the first to be destroyed, limiting access to shade, moisture, clean water, clean air, clean soils, recreation options, and exacerbating the cumulative impact of climate change on our most vulnerable communities. Our  forests have also been kept artificially young for centuries through intensive logging. Today, there is particularly high untapped potential for forests to accumulate more carbon over time if we simply allow them to continue to grow.

Despite all of this, the U.S.  government and other nations continue to wrongly define woody biomass for energy as a "clean and renewable"  source even when it pollutes as much as coal or more.  Currently around 5% of electricity in the U.S. comes from woody biomass, but companies and governments are seeking to expand this because  incentives for "clean and renewable" make it very profitable. Big biomass corporations such as DRAX and Enviva are clearcutting forests across the U.S. and mostly manufacturing pellets for export. You, the unwitting rate-payer, are paying for the incentives through your utility rates while weak elected officials look the other way. 

*Sources and additional information are embedded.

Woody Biomass for Energy is NOT CLEAN

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) unofficial* numbers put wood closest to coal in its emissions. The combustion Wood emits 206.74  pounds CO2 per Million Btu or 93.77 kg CO2 per million Btu.  The worst emission accelerating climate change is CO2. 

*The numbers are *unofficial* because the EIA is not officially supposed to count emissions of 'woody biomass' since it has been designated a clean source of energy. This is how our elected officials and industry are profiting from polluting our planet and logging our forests.

In fact, according to the Partnership for Policy Integrity, biomass burning power plants emit 150% the CO2 of coal, and 300 – 400% the CO2 of natural gas, per unit energy produced. 

In addition to the CO2 emissions from burning the wood, there are emissions from: 

Logging: Emissions associated with logging are comparable or higher than that of a wildfire.

Transportation (mainly trucks) of trees to a pellet factory AND of pellets across the globe.

Manufacturing: In a recent lawsuit, the Environmental Integrity Project lists hundreds of tons of illegal VOC pollution and dozens of tons of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) per year emitted by pellet manufacturing plants, all of which violate the Clean Air Act. 

In addition to CO2, burning wood emits benzene, benzo(a)pyrene and dibenz(a,h)anthracene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, organic gases (including aldehyde gases and other respiratory irritants), nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxin. 

We know we need to STOP BURNING STUFF and that includes wood in any form. 

The cost of this madness, is paid for by you! The consumer.  As the consumer automatically subsidizes 'clean energy' in their utility rate payments, we're inviting and accelerating the industry's destruction of our forests.   

Center for Biological Diversity:

“The idea that incinerating trees is good for the environment and public health is utterly absurd. Woody biomass energy is also extremely expensive, and through these ratepayer subsidies, the costs get passed on to consumers.” 

Click on any of the organizations  below to see their full statement against woody biomass:

Letter to President Biden signed by 150 + scientists:

"Governments must end subsidies and other incentives that today exist for burning wood . (...) Trees are more valuable alive than dead  for climate and biodiversity."

Sierra Club 


Native Forests are presently the largest source of fuel for projects defined as biomass. In keeping with our FOREST POLICY, we oppose all biomass energy generation processes including fuel production which contribute to the destruction of existing forests, including national or native forests as well as remaining old-growth or roadless areas.


WHEREAS, these industries,

mostly foreign based, appear to have a pattern of targeting economic deprived states

with lax environmental oversight, then skirting provisions of the Clean Air Act by grossly underestimating the amount of dangerous toxins they will be emitting, thereby avoiding more stringent EPA oversight and investing in installation of the required Best Available Control Technology;...

Partnership for Policy Integrity: 

Biomass burning power plants emit 150% the CO2 of coal, and 300 – 400% the CO2 of natural gas, per unit energy produced. 

SEC Case study on Enviva: If nothing is done to stop the proliferation of wood-fired power plants, we may look back in 15 years and wonder what the impact on climate might have been if forests had been restored, instead of liquidated for energy. Collectively, there is a very brief time horizon to get this right. Investors have an important role to play in ending over-exploitation of forests for biomass fuel. 

Chatham House: US sourced biomass in the UK.

Common myths about woody biomass

Woody Biomass for Energy is NOT RENEWABLE

The latest messaging by the industry states that a growing demand for woody biomass for energy will ensure that we plant more trees and faster, thereby increasing forest cover. New afforestation is not comparable to a forest- it's a tree plantation or a tree farm. And if all we'll be doing is log those trees in 40-80 years, and burn them, we're missing the point. Scientists call this a disaster: we need  mature trees and integral forest ecosystems for forest resiliency during climate change, for biodiversity, and draw down. 

1) We are planting 1 trillion trees worldwide with the hope to fend off the worst effects of climate change - not to bolster a polluting industry, which emits all the CO2 stored in a tree over decades or centuries, and more, back into the atmosphere.

2) Planting seedlings does not replace decades-old trees or centuries-old forests. It will take these seedlings decades to grow into the most effective tools for draw down and centuries to become integral self-balancing ecosystems. The best we can do right now, as recommended by the IPCC, is to preserve our old growth and mature forests intact. Any work we do on these forests should be to expand them to maximize draw down and connect them so that wildlife stands a chance.

3) Tree farms are not forests - a monocrop culture that is sprayed, managed, and eventually logged, simply destroys our soils. When these trees are burned, any stored pollutions is re-released. 

4) Logging disturbs the soil carbon and mycorrhizal networks releasing 'soil-c' (soil stored carbon) which can be up to 70% of all stored carbon in a forest.