In what could be the beginning of positive news for the biomass industry – as well as the energy industry as a whole – the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it is developing a framework by which it will evaluate biomass to see if there are any “climate policy benefits” to using the fuel source.
The move could open the door to government acceptance of biomass as a legitimate option to either reduce carbon emissions from energy production or create a carbon-neutral option that is preferable in some ways to coal, natural gas, and other fuels.
The Potential of Biomass
The EPA has at least considered biomass for several years, mainly due to the potential it possesses.
Biomass is derived from plants or plant-based materials. The most common form of biomass used as energy today comes from wood harvested from trees or from the forest in terms of dead branches and stumps. It also comes from lumberyards from yard clippings, wood chip, and other forms of forestry by-products.
The wood is formed into pellets that can be burned for energy, much like coal. The potential here, though, is that biomass could put out less carbon dioxide and other carbon-based emissions than coal or natural gas, once all factors are considered.
This could mean that biomass is a viable option for reducing carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.
The EPA’s Stance
Currently, the EPA is viewed as being cautious regarding biomass. In 2011, the agency agreed to delay its greenhouse gas standard for biomass plants for at least three years – which ended in July of this year. During that time, the agency didn’t find success for any large-scale ventures, but did see success from a variety of smaller-scaled projects throughout the country.
The EPA has included biomass as a part of its Clean Power Plan, which means it views biomass, at the very least, as a viable renewable resource for energy production.
This latest process will evaluate biomass and see if its carbon emissions are neutral or negative. If so, the agency could start to incorporate biomass more into its climate policy as a viable alternative to other fuels. Additionally, the agency could grant exemptions from its emission limits to biomass sources that come from sustainable forests.