Biomass carbon cycle explained
Bioenergy Europe presents its new video which looks at the meaning of carbon neutrality. The video reviews some basic concepts that make sustainable bioenergy a key player in the EU transition to a zero-emissions economy and an ally in climate change mitigation.
There is scepticism over the concept of bioenergy “carbon neutrality”. Some suggest bioenergy to be equally responsible in the level of carbon dioxide it emits as fossil fuel. While the combustion process of biomass certainly emits carbon in the atmosphere, to understand the significant difference with fossil fuels, it is essential to consider the biogenic carbon cycle in which biomass combustion operates and the key role forests play in this process.
Fossil fuels extracted and burned emit carbon that has been locked up in the ground for millions of years. Burning fossil fuels is having the adverse effect of introducing in the atmosphere additional carbon that natural carbon sinks do not have the capability to absorb and therefore this carbon remains in the atmosphere. In short, burning fossil fuels results in permanent and irreversible increase of concentrations of carbon dioxide and essentially modify the dynamics of the carbon cycle.
Biomass carbon cycle, in contrast, provides a clear advantage because biomass combustion emits carbon that is already part of the biogenic carbon cycle. It operates in a continuous flow of carbon between the biosphere and the atmosphere. Bioenergy does not generate any net additional biogenic carbon in the atmosphere. By using bioenergy, we are substituting fossil emissions and that is where the atmosphere sees the difference.
Forests are critical players in the fight against climate change and sustainable forest practices can promote the carbon sequestration rate and reinforce carbon sink strength. Most notably, the strength of carbon sinks has a tendency to diminish as conservation forests approach maturity. However, forests that are actively – and sustainably – managed and maintained have a greater sink strength. Moreover, forests which are not actively managed have a greater risk of deforestation through natural processes such as insect infestations, or as we recently witnessed, wildfires.
Sustainable forest management supports carbon sequestration and the natural forest carbon cycle and therefore remains an essential practice for maintaining the carbon stock. Simultaneously, sustainable forest management contributes to the production of a renewable, affordable and carbon neutral energy that can support climate neutrality and drive Europe towards a cleaner, greener future.
The European Green Deal recognises the essential need to decarbonise and modernise the European economy sectors and sustainable bioenergy offers a viable way to do so. Sustainable bioenergy – accounting for 10,3% of the European Union’s energy mix – is a readily available and affordable energy source, that is set to play a key role in supporting the EU’s ambitious climate targets and propelling us towards a carbon neutral European economy.