Biomass is fast becoming a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuels. In 2017 biomass accounted for approximately 17% of Great Britain’s renewable power.
The key is of course to ensure that its source is indeed a renewable and sustainable one. Biomass, unlike most other renewable energy resources, is unique in being able to perform in a similar way to coal. In that it can burn at a constant temperature, release energy in a steady and continuous way, allowing reliability of energy production.
There are new EU directives expected to classify more clearly the criteria that biomass fuel must meet in order to maintain its renewable status.
So, what are those criteria?
As with many EU directives, the full classification will be extremely long and ponderous, but the key points that a biomass forest must ensure are adhered to are relatively simple to understand.
The first key factor is that the sourcing of biomass fuel has a positive impact on the surrounding environment as well sociological and economical benefits for the region.
For example, a properly managed forest can boost carbon stock as the younger, faster growing trees that are replanted after felling absorb more CO2 than older, over-mature trees. Thinning operations also increase the growth of the biggest and best trees, ensuring more carbon is stored in longer term solid wood products.
Factors such as biodiversity loss and long-term replanting are also hugely important to maintaining sustainability.
Well managed forests are replanted as they are harvested with a select rotation of trees to be harvested verses those not to be. Meaning there is always growth and a maintained forest which ensures that the forest area is not reduced and carbon absorption is not effected.
Thinning a semi mature stand of trees allows the forest owner to maximise the production of higher value saw-timber trees, storing more carbon and generating more stable revenue streams. Having a variety of wood products markets from saw logs through to biomass incentivises land owners to maintain healthy forests and reduces the risk of conversion of forest to agriculture or urban development.
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