Biomass likely essential for achieving NL's climate goals: Planning office

Biomass power plant

The Netherlands will likely not achieve its climate goals without using biomass, according to a study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency into the pros and cons of this controversial energy source, NOS reports.

That biomass could cause a loss of biodiversity is a real risk. But without it, the Netherlands will have to install a lot more solar panels and wind turbines even faster. And Netherlands residents would have to seriously think about eating less meat and flying less, the agency concluded. 

For this study, the planning office had contact with 150 people from the science world, NGOs, and the business community, among others, and studied more than 400 reports on biomass. The aim was to test all opinions and arguments on the subject against the currently available knowledge. The researchers found that biomass is used in many sectors, including transport, chemistry, the food industry, and animal feed. But the discussion around it is most fierce when it comes to using biomass for the generation of electricity and heat. And the opinions are very divided, researcher Bart Strengers said to NOS.

"On the one hand, one sees risks from biomass, for ecosystems and biodiversity, and so on. On the other, it is seen as an opportunity. What can you do with it? Which areas are suitable? Which are not?" Strengers said that the main objection from environmental groups is that biomass energy generation can end up with whole trees disappearing into power plants' incinerators. This is a risk, Strengers acknowledged. "But I find it difficult to judge whether this happens structurally. As far as I could see, it does not." But further research is needed on this point, he stressed.

Other objections against biomass include that billions of euros in subsidies are going to biomass, that it will lead to more CO2 emissions instead of less, and that people are concerned about their health in the vicinity of biomass plants. 

Proponents argue that biomass most always use residual wood, because planks yield more money than biomass. Or that the wood comes from fast-growing production forests that need to be thinned out anyway. Biomass energy generation is also considered a good "back up" for solar and wind energy, if those are not available at times. 

According to Strengers, this report will likely not settle all arguments. "Full consensus is very difficult. Because there are groups that are against any kind of biomass." Politicians face quite the task in drawing up criteria for the use of biomass, he said. 

There will definitely be criteria for the use of biomass, Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs and Climate said to NOS. "Just getting going without guidelines will go wrong. Anyone can see that," he said. He does not think there is a future in which the Netherlands doesn't use biomass at all. "We have given biomass a certain role in the climate agreement and we know that it will also be necessary in the future, but it must happen in a responsible manner."