Carbon neutral

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Bioenergy > Issues > Climate change > Carbon neutral


The term "carbon-neutral" refers to a product having a balance of zero between the amount of carbon absorbed and the amount of carbon released from / to the atmosphere during the production of the product. This balance may be influenced by considering a "carbon-offset" in addition to the product itself. In the case of biofuels "the only carbon released is the carbon that was captured from the atmosphere when the biofuel was growing" as per the definition given on What_is_bioenergy. However, the production of the feedstocks, the conversion of land for producing the feedstocks, as well as the production process may not be carbon neutral. Therefore, A life-cycle analysis of the whole production chain for biofuels is needed to determine how carbon-neutral any form of bioenergy is.

Whenever more carbon is removed by a product than released, the product can be considered carbon negative.

A Carbon Footprint, usually expressed in tonnes of carbon, can be calculated for products, companies or entire societies.

Projects

The Climate Group, London, http://theclimategroup.org , is developing a definition as part of its project Carbon Stewardship Council. Currently it gives a starting definition of “carbon neutrality” as the “net zero carbon footprint obtained through a combination of direct emission reductions and offsets”. Whether enough direct emission reductions are used is controversial.[1]

The Carbon Trust, London, explains its project on “carbon neutrality”, Link to movie.

The connection between sustainable biofuels and standards for carbon neutrality is evident in this biomass power plant project in India. It is run on sugar cane waste and its credits are sold as the first Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) from a Gold Standard validated and verified project.Link to movie.

News

  • EU carbon target threatened by biomass 'insanity' 2 April 2012 by Arthur Neslen for EurActiv: "The EU's emissions reduction target for 2020 could be facing an unlikely but grave obstacle, according to a growing number of scientists, EU officials and NGOs: the contribution of biomass to the EU's renewable energy objectives for 2020."
    • "On 29 March, a call was launched at the European Parliament for Brussels to reconsider its carbon accounting rules for biomass emissions, and EurActiv has learned that the issue is provoking widespread alarm in policy-making circles."
    • "Around half of the EU's target for providing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 will be made up by biomass energy from sources such as wood, waste and agricultural crops and residues, according to EU member states' national action plans... Wood makes up the bulk of this target and is counted by the EU as 'carbon neutral', giving it access to subsidies, feed-in tariffs and electricity premiums at national level."
    • "But because there is a time lag between the carbon debt that is created when a tree is cut down, transported and combusted – and the carbon credit that occurs when a new tree has grown to absorb as much carbon as the old one – biomass will increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the interim." [1]
  • Environmental burden shifting and sustainability criteria for biofuels, 26 March 2012 by Anil Baral for ICCT blog: "Biofuels are here for three reasons – climate change mitigation, energy security and to increase rural incomes. The supposed climate change mitigation potential of biofuels comes with the idea that renewability implies carbon neutrality. However, with the introduction of the systems approach of analyzing environmental costs and benefits, it has emerged that biofuels, especially first generation biofuels, do not offer environmental and human health benefits on all fronts. The systems approach, such as life cycle analysis (LCA), looks into far ranging impacts including GHG emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC). We find that in many cases we may not expect to achieve net greenhouse gas reductions from biofuel policies – but also that even where climate change mitigation might be effective, there can be other tradeoffs in choosing biofuels, indicating a potential risk of environmental burden shifting for policies that solely focus on GHG mitigation." [2]
  • Bioenergy’s Carbon Neutrality Dismissed by Coalition of NGOs, 20 October 2010 by the Energy Collective: "A coalition of environmental organizations has warned that bioenergy is far from being carbon neutral and that related carbon accounting systems currently in place are deceptive."
    • "According to Ecosystems Climate Alliance, an alliance of NGOs committed to 'keeping natural terrestrial ecosystems intact and their carbon out of the atmosphere', zero-emission bioenergy is a myth. It blames the loopholes in LULUCF’s (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry) accounting rules for the misconception."
    • "The fact that emissions from logging and burning of biomass are left out of Kyoto Protocol accounting systems, ECA says, creates an 'attractive but misleading way for industrialized countries to appear to be achieving their national emissions reduction targets under the Protocol through substituting bioenergy for fossil fuels. In reality, such substitution results in higher emissions than those from fossil fuel for the same amount of useable energy.'"[3]
  • Alaska Airlines, Boeing, & Airports Partner on Biofuels, 14 July 2010 by Bill DiBenedetto: "Their endeavor, called the “Sustainable Aviation Fuel Northwest” project, is the first regional assessment of its kind in the U.S., according to a joint announcement from the group this week."
    • "The assessment will examine all phases of developing a sustainable biofuel industry, including biomass production and harvest, refining, transport infrastructure and actual use by airlines. It will include an analysis of potential biomass sources that are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, including algae, agriculturally based oilseeds such as camelina, wood byproducts and others. The project is jointly funded by the participating parties and is expected to be completed in about six months."
    • "Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh added, 'Developing a sustainable aviation fuel supply now is a top priority both to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity at regional levels and to support the broader aim of achieving carbon-neutral growth across the industry by 2020.'"
    • "The assessment process will be managed by Climate Solutions, an Olympia, WA, environmental nonprofit organization, which will align the effort to sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. The project’s objective is to identify potential pathways and necessary actions to make aviation biofuel commercially available to airline operators serving the region."[4]
  • New Rules May Cloud the Outlook for Biomass, 9 July 2010 by New York Times: "An energy technology that has long been viewed as a clean and climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels is facing tough new regulatory hurdles that could ultimately hamper its ability to compete with renewable power sources like wind and solar."
    • Biomass power, "a $1 billion industry in the United States...has long been considered both renewable and carbon-neutral on its most basic level."
    • "But many environmental groups say that the benefits of biomass power — and all forms of energy derived from organic sources, including biofuels — are realized only in carefully controlled circumstances. The cycle of carbon emission and absorption also unfolds over long periods of time that need to be carefully monitored."[5]
  • Magically carbon neutral biomass, evil EPA rules and other myths, 18 June 2010 by Nathanael Greene on the NRDC Switchboard blog: "The [biomass] industry has convinced policymakers that no matter how much carbon is 'spent' when biomass is burned for energy, there will magically be enough income in the form of regrowth to cover all expenses. Because of this magic, the industry would have us categorically exclude their emissions when we do our carbon accounting."
    • Recent climate and energy bills "buy into this magically carbon neutral source of energy. The European Union has done it too."
    • A recent Massachusetts report "makes it very clear that most forest biomass is not carbon neutral."
    • "The ultimate solution is a comprehensive climate and energy bill that requires careful accounting of all carbon, including the carbon released and absorbed by biomass."[6]
  • Biomass Industry Sees 'Chilling Message' in EPA's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rule, 14 May 2010 by Greenwire/New York Times: "U.S. EPA's final rule determining which sources will be subject to greenhouse gas permitting requirements does not exempt biomass power, a decision that has raised concern in the biomass industry."
    • "Issued yesterday, EPA's final 'tailoring' rule determines which polluters will be required to account for their greenhouse gas emissions in Clean Air Act permits when the agency begins to formally regulate the heat-trapping gases next January."
    • "Emissions from biomass or biogenic sources are treated the same as other sources of greenhouse gases in the final rule, EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn said."
    • "That decision 'came as a bit of a surprise to us,' said David Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners....Tenny's organization and other forestry groups had urged EPA to exclude biomass combustion from the requirements, arguing that the process is 'carbon neutral.'"[8]
  • BC Hydro seeks biomass projects, 21 April 2010 by Northern Sentinel (Canada): "BC Hydro has issued a request for qualifications for innovative, community-based biomass projects."
    • "The utility is seeking projects no larger than five megawatts that produce electricity from carbon-neutral biomass sources and create local or regional economic benefits."[9]

Notes

  1. Thomas Ruddy - personal observation (See relevant edit history)
Climate change edit

Carbon/Carbon dioxide (CO2)/Carbon balance: Carbon emissions/Net (carbon) emissions | Carbon footprint | Carbon negative biofuels | Carbon neutrality
Carbon offsets | Carbon sequestration/Carbon storage | Life-cycle analysis (Models) | Low carbon | Low Carbon Fuel Standard
Land - Desertification | Erosion | Deforestation (REDD)
Policy: UNFCCC: Kyoto Protocol (Clean Development Mechanism), Copenhagen COP15 (Copenhagen Accord) | American Clean Energy and Security Act


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