Is Biopower Carbon Neutral? [July 6, 2011]   [open pdf - 359KB]

"Congress has been increasingly interested in biopower--electricity generated from biomass. Biopower, a baseload power source, has the potential to strengthen rural economies, enhance energy security, and improve the environment, proponents say. Biopower could be produced from a large range of biomass feedstocks nationwide (e.g., urban, agricultural, and forestry wastes and residues). One challenge to biopower production is a readily available feedstock supply. At present, biopower requires tax incentives to be competitive with conventional fossil fuels. Congressional support for biopower has aimed to promote energy security, and has generally assumed that biopower is carbon neutral. An energy production activity is typically classified as carbon neutral if it produces no net increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a life-cycle basis. The premise that biopower is carbon neutral has come under scrutiny as its potential to help meet U.S. energy demands and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is more closely examined. […] In addition, the June 2010 release of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study led to a noteworthy discussion in the media and the scientific community about biomass energy and its GHG impacts. The study centered on substituting forest biomass for fossil fuels in the Massachusetts energy sector. The study found that, using conventional combustion, more GHGs are emitted per unit of energy produced from forest biomass than from fossil fuels. The study's assumptions and parameters, including the time frame necessary to pay off the carbon debt (i.e., the excess GHG emissions) and the single biomass feedstock, would need to be changed to have application to the national carbon-neutrality debate."

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CRS Report for Congress, R41603
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