Azara Blog: Small-scale biomass power plants allegedly not as green as large-scale ones

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Date published: 2008/05/16

The BBC says:

Small-scale biomass power plants can have a greater environmental impact than other renewables, a study says.

UK researchers found that although the facilities offered carbon savings, they produced more pollutants per unit of electricity than larger biomass plants.

They suggested the way the feedstock was transported produced proportionally more pollutants than larger sites.

The findings challenged the view that such schemes offer an green alternative to grid-based electricity, they added.

Supporters of community biomass schemes say the power plants are sustainable because the fuel, such as wood chips, can be sourced from the local area.

Study co-author Patricia Thornley, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research at the University of Manchester, said the results did surprise the team.

"The fact that the carbon savings were pretty constant across the technologies, yet the emissions varied hugely was a surprise," she told BBC News.
Described as the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, four airborne pollutants - carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile organic compounds - were tracked across each system's life cycle - from field to power plant.

This is only one study, but it's important that this kind of work be done, because it is all too easy for zealots of one technology or another to claim that their specific technology is wonderful, because they ignore the total end-to-end cost and just focus on one narrow aspect where the technology looks good. In particular, the "sustainability" claim that is attributed to "supporters of community biomass schemes" is ignoring the bigger picture.

But it's pretty amusing to see the claim that "the carbon savings were pretty constant across the technologies" when in fact Thornley then in the same sentence claims the opposite, i.e. that "the emissions varied hugely" (which seems to be the real result of this study).

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