Burning wood for electricity instead of using fossil fuels might increase levels of atmospheric carbon, a study of the U.S. Southeast determined
A study conducted for the National Wildlife Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center concluded that using wood for large-scale power plants could lead to higher levels of atmospheric carbon for the next half century.
"This study brings us to the crux of the matter regarding biomass electric power and atmospheric carbon, which is that consideration of near-term tipping points versus long-term carbon reductions must be assessed as we develop climate and energy policy," Andrea Colnes, policy director for the Biomass Energy Resource Center, said in a statement.
U.S. states in the region are seeing a boom in the use of woody biomass to produce electricity. This trend is compounded by the export of wood pellets to European markets.
The study said that, as this boom continues, the biomass industry will start cutting standing trees instead of using residue from sawmills and other sources.
"Just because wood is a renewable resource doesn't mean it's automatically carbon neutral," added David Carr, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The study found that after biomass reaches the so-called tipping point, the use of wood as a fuel source will lead to "significantly lower" levels of atmospheric carbon as new forest growth absorbs more carbon.