Bioenergy: Carbon accounting

Not all biomass is created equal

Establishing a solid policy framework for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy will help reduce U.S. GHGs over the coming decades. Unlike fossil fuels, bioenergy has the potential to dramatically alter the cycle of carbon sequestration and emissions that naturally occurs in a landscape.

Harvesting biomass removes carbon that has been stored in farm and forest land, but growing biomass may recapture carbon to varying degrees over time. What's lacking is a thorough framework based on the science of carbon cycling to ensure that reliance on biomass resources for energy generation achieves greenhouse gas and climate goals.

The EPA is developing a set of carbon accounting rules for bioenergy. In a letter to the agency, EDF documented how some forms of bioenergy can reduce greenhouse gas pollution when compared with fossil fuels — but other forms will not.

Impacts vary greatly depending on many factors, including the feedstock source, type and production practices.

For example, paper mill residue and logging debris decompose rapidly and burning creates short-lived or no net climate impacts. On the other hand, mature forests store carbon for a long time, and harvesting this biomass source to generate energy will reduce carbon storage and increase greenhouse gas pollution.

Carbon accounting, based on sound science, will encourage the use of bioenergy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not increase them — and will preserve the Earth’s biodiversity.

Our bioenergy experts

Ruben Lubowski Chief Natural Resource Economist Contact Ruben

Will McDow Manager, Southeast Center for Conservation Incentives Contact Will

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