Exploring the Carbon Benefits of Biomass Over Natural Gas


Biomass has definitive carbon benefits over coal, which isn’t debated. But what many in the industry may not understand is the carbon benefit biomass has over natural gas.

Last year, the Biomass Power Association released a study that explored the carbon produced by a forest residue-based biomass plant versus a traditional natural gas plant.

The results: within one year, the carbon-based emissions from the biomass-fueled power plant were 115% lower than those produced by the natural gas plant. And, over a span of 100 years, the estimated emissions from biomass would be 98% lower than natural gas.

The study, conducted by professors at the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is one of the first of its kind to directly compare forest residue fuel against natural gas when it comes to carbon emissions.

This comes at a time in which carbon emissions are still at the center of focus for the EPA, even in a regulation-adverse EPA of the Trump administration. If the U.S. intends to hit its targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change – an agreement to which the U.S. is bound until at least November 4, 2020 – then carbon emissions will have to be taken into consideration.

Biomass beats coal in that regard, but few have understood how biomass can also beat natural gas, even though natural gas is also cleaner than coal.

Note that the fuel tested in this study for biomass was forest residue, which consists of leftover material generated by forest thinning and logging. Similar studies still need to be conducted to compare other forms of biomass – such as agricultural and municipal biomass – to natural gas.

The results of the upcoming 2018 and 2020 federal elections in the U.S. will be a harbinger of things to come for utilities that may have to strongly consider meeting tougher carbon emissions guidelines, should Democrats regain power in Congress and the White House. This study and others like it will help inform industry decision-makers in crucial long-term strategic decisions in the decade to come.

ProcessBarron specializes in outfitting biomass power producers with the material handling equipment needed to produce electricity effectively and efficiently. Learn more about our biomass capabilities and contact the team for more information.