Not all forms of biomass are environmentally positive

2 March 2017


Biomass is not always the environmentally positive energy solution that it is claimed to be and subsidies are distorting the market, is the unequivocal message from leading UK producer of engineered wood panels, Norbord.

The company believes subsidies should better reflect the best environmental outcome for biomass, not be targeted toward inefficient technologies.

The various technologies used to generate power from biomass have fundamentally different efficiency levels and this should be taken into account when the government decides which ones should be encouraged, particularly when it comes to subsidies.

Burning wood to generate electricity uses just 25% of the embedded energy, whereas co-generation (electricity and heat use) utilises around 80%. The most efficient of all is direct use. An example is direct air firing in a wood dryer or cement kiln which can utilise over 90% but, bizarrely, this receives no financial support.

Norbord argues that, rather than allowing this essential raw material to go up in smoke without maximising its potential, the government should refine the subsidy process and deliver a level playing field.

Government support for biomass power plants that burn wood fuels is one of the major factors distorting the market for wood fibre, eroding competitiveness and seriously disadvantaging manufacturers of wood products such as wood panels.

Wood potentially has a myriad of applications including construction, furniture, joinery, shopfitting and packaging before it is burnt.

Campaigners believe wood should only be incinerated at the end of its useful life and at that time it should yield the maximum amount of energy possible.