On the 15th of November 2014 Biofuelwatch held a training session for volunteers in London.
Almuth Ernsting, founding co-director of Biofuelwatch started with an overview of bio-energy. She showed why it is not possible to have sustainable large-scale bio-energy. Photosynthesis is only 1-4% efficient at converting solar energy to useable plant energy and generating electricity from biomass is rarely more than 40% efficient. So the land foot-print for bio-energy is greater than for any other energy source. In addition, there is the damage done to biodiversity aswell as the loss of important soil carbon stocks and sinks. Severe human rights issues are another impact resulting from the exponential growth of this industry, with well documented cases of land-grabs, displacement and even murder.
Duncan Law, Biofuelwatch campaigner, then presented the state of bio-energy and Biofuelwatch campaigning in the UK. Biofuelwatch started in 2006 working on liquid biofuels for transport and then for electricity generation. Since then, driven by our campaigning, the perception of liquid biofuels, especially palm-oil, has significantly changed. No palm oil has been burnt for electricity in the UK and with no new subsidies being offered it is likely that this industry will not now emerge.
By contrast the burning of wood for electricity is the largest and fastest growing ‘renewable’ energy in the UK driven by EU targets and UK government subsidies and industry lobbying. Current proposals for biomass electricity, if built, would require in excess of 60million tonnes of wood a year. The UK produces just over 10m tonnes of wood a year for all uses. So the vast majority of this would be imported, currently mostly from the US and Canada but increasingly from the global south. Converting to Biomass enables old polluting coal power stations like Drax to remain open. These power stations can only burn ‘slow-growing trees with low bark content’ so already old-growth native forests in the US and Canada are being clear felled to make pellets for this industry. And DECC’s own recent carbon calculator shows that Biomass like this can emit significantly more CO2 than coal. Biomass also causes dust and small particulate pollution that is extremely dangerous to human health.
The presentation outlined Biofuelwatch’s current campaigning focus, which includes Drax (the biggest burner, greenwasher and cheerleader of Biomass in Europe) as well as the Green Investment Bank, which persists in funding biomass and waste-for-energy power plants.
Volunteers from the audience then gave feedback on the presentations and a question and answer session took place.
Biofuelwatch aims to offer support to its volunteers to enable them to become more confident communicators of the issues around bioenergy. If you would like to invite us to speak to a group you are part of, or gain the skills to speak yourself, then please get in touch with us.