The problem with Biomass – it can emit more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels!


harvesting wood 2
Is wood a carbon-neutral energy source?

In February 2017, Chatham House published Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate, by Duncan Brack.  The report argues that policies promoting wood for renewable energy production are based on the flawed assumption that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source.  In fact, as reported, emissions from wood burning may be higher than the fossil fuels replaced.

Biomass in general emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. EU policies do not account for the emissions from bioenergy in the energy sector, because it is assumed that these emissions are accounted for at the point of harvest in the land use sector. However, whether these emissions can be recuperated by future growth of biomass is not only uncertain, but often unlikely.  The report finds that part of the emissions may never be accounted for, such as when EU countries use biomass imported from the United States.

Policies must distinguish between different types of feedstock

The report, in line with earlier recommendations by environmental groups, proposes that policies clearly distinguish between different types of feedstock and provide support only to those which reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, taking into account changes in forest carbon stocks. With regard to wood harvesting, only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

In principle, sustainability criteria can ensure that only biomass with the lowest impact on the climate are used; the current criteria in use in some EU member states and under development in the EU do not achieve this.

Long Wood Community Woodland

Alice and Del were present at the launch of the visitor centre building of the Long Wood Community Woodland (CGLWCW) in Wales, a useful opportunity for Alice to see how communities in Wales are dealing with biomass and to talk with the volunteers that worked for the place.



We got to know Long Wood, a 300 acre mixed, community-owned woodland which includes over 9 miles of footpaths and bridleways to enjoy and explore.

It was established in 2003 as a social enterprise in West Wales, originally owned by the Forestry Commission. The directors successfully applied for grants allowing the directors to purchase the woodland and employ a project manager and support staff to begin to develop it as a sustainable business and community leisure facility.

Forest School

Forest School

During the years that followed the place was converted, with the help of the community to an educational and volunteer centre. It sales sustainable timber and promotes the use of it.

The best example they provided is the building of the visiting centre whose opening we attended. Entirely made from timber from the land and with the help of the volunteers, it is ready to serve as a centre for operations, offer a warm dry base for volunteers working there and be available to groups both local and from further afield.

Some technical details about the building: the frame is made from larch and the cladding boards are larch and douglas fir. The roof is larch cladding inside and out and insulated with sheep wool. All the joints are manually carved using traditional techniques and are held in place with wooden pegs. Internally the walls are built from straw bales. Recent research confirms that straw bales are extremely insulating and also low cost with a neutral carbon footprint. Taking in consideration that the electricity comes from the solar panels installed on the roof, we can truly say it’s a sustainable building with a minimum impact.

The feeling of being inside the building was very cosy – outside was light rain, inside the warmth of the wood welcomed us. The stove (using logs, of course) was not needed since the good insulation and the number of people inside made it comfortable enough.

Solar panels

Solar panels

Near it there is a compost toilet that uses sawdust.

Compost toilet

Compost toilet

As a personal impression this is a much efficient way of using biomass that should be considered more in rural communities. This building passed all the regulations and it’s low-cost and low-impact. I was impressed to see how united the community was to get to the point.

Unfortunately, wood has been forgotten in countries like UK and Ireland and people don’t build with it even though this type of resource is more eco-friendly. Biomass is versatile and can work to achieve a cleaner environment in more ways.

Our GEAI member, Del, previously volunteered in the construction of this building and was delighted to be invited to the launch. He was impressed with the final result, especially with the fact that its construction was undertaken by volunteers who were interested in sustainable buildings.

Congratulations and good luck in setting an example for other communities!

Unique approach to community ownership of renewable energy


Renewable Energies – Prosperous Communities is a unique event, combining presentations, workshops and discussions, taking place in Manorhamilton on June 24th. The day-long gathering will raise awareness of the opportunities open to local communities to benefit from renewable energies, look at the potential of wind energy and biomass to generate income and jobs for the community and identify local champions of renewable energy sources and uses.

The event is organised by Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) and Love Leitrim, both environmental NGOs. Eamon Ryan, Green Party leader, and Pauline Gallacher from the Neilston Trust (Scotland), will be the main speakers, but this is not going to be the usual conference where local people simply listen to experts. The aim is that everyone attending will get a chance to speak and be heard.

“We hear a lot about climate change and how renewable energies coRuld lower our carbon emissions”, said Dr Aedín McLoughlin, Director, GEAI. “What we don’t hear enough of is the potential of renewable energies to generate income and jobs for local communities if they are in community ownership. Scotland has 72 times more community-owned energy than Ireland, with roughly the same population!

“How is it that developers are allowed to build massive wind farms in rural areas, make fortunes from them and only give token “benefits” to local communities?” she asked. “Currently, rural communities are in decline and lack sustainable employment. Rural communities have no idea of the potential of renewable energies to generate local income and jobs and it is time that this situation changed.”

Speakers and Volunteers

GEAI rejects decision to extent peat burning plants lifetime

Good Energies Alliance Ireland joins the Environmental Pillar in condemning the decision to extend the lifetime of two peat-burning power stations in the Midlands beyond the present agreement of ceasing operation in 2019. The stations are located in west Offaly and at Lough Ree. The decision to extend their operation was revealed a letter to Bord na Móna workers from the company’s chief executive Mike Quinn.

“The present generation of electricity by burning peat goes completely against Ireland’s requirement to reduce carbon emissions and choose renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels. Ireland’s energy generators do not seem to realise that business as usual is not an option any longer”, GEAI spokesperson Aedín McLoughlin said.

“This decision demonstrates clearly the result of not having definite targets in the current Climate Bill. There is no requirement on companies to meet the challenges of reducing our carbon emissions and no alternative plans put forward”, GEAI spokesperson stated.

Good Energies Alliance has advocated since its creation in 2012 for a transition towards a carbon neutral Ireland. “We have the solution at hand, we can power ourselves without endangering the planet. Ireland has a great potential for wind, solar energy and biomass power. We are a small country but we can become a great example for the rest of the world. Continuing to burn peat sends out all the wrong signals,” Aedín McLoughlin concluded.

Fracking is not the way to reduce Ireland’s energy imports


Ireland imports 89% of the energy it consumes during a year according to the last data release by Eurostat and 98% of this is supplied by fossil fuels. It is the 4th highest energy importer in the EU, after Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus. Ireland’s high dependency on imported fossil fuels makes her vulnerable, because she has no control over her energy supply. Problems in other parts of the world can have a huge impact on Ireland.

However, drilling for local sources of gas or oil is the wrong answer. Using renewable energy sources, e.g. wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, is the only way to reduce Ireland’s energy imports.

“We depend on fossil fuels to generate electricity, heat our homes and drive our cars. We need to change that and the right way is by generating energy from renewable sources”, said GEAI director Aedín McLoughlin. “Recent studies confirm that 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to stop climate change and keep conditions on Earth suitable for humans. Fracking is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem.”

“Business as usual is not an option, we need to reduce our energy use and move towards a low carbon economy”, the GEAI director remarked.

”We have the solution at hand, we can power ourselves without endangering the planet. Ireland has great potential for wind, solar energy and biomass power. We are a small country but we can become a great example for the rest of the world. Our politicians must rise to the challenge and transform the current dull Climate Action Bill by including targets that will contribute towards a low-carbon world.”


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