Biomass and carbon neutrality
When the biomass industry utilizes material, which comes from sustainably managed plantations, the process actually generates no increased greenhouse gas emissions, a circumstance described as net neutrality or carbon neutrality resulting in a positive impact on the environment.
When trees grow for 25 to 30 years in the case of commercial pine trees, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Because photosynthesis removes carbon from the atmosphere, it’s a form of carbon sequestration. Therefore, photosynthesis affects positively on the “greenhouse effect” by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
However, when a plant dies and decays, it releases its carbon back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane as part of the biogenic carbon cycle. Thus, the burning of biomass occurs within the biogenic or natural carbon cycle, returning to the atmosphere carbon that was previously absorbed via photosynthesis.
In the case of biomass products like wood pellets made from plantation waste or by-products, this material is already emitting greenhouse gases into the air as it decays. In the case of methane, this is especially harmful to the environment, because it is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide. When biomass is burnt efficiently, no methane gas is released into the atmosphere.
Most scientists agree that before the industrial revolution, the carbon cycle was stable; carbon sinks did not hold or release significantly different amounts of carbon over time, and the earth’s temperature was relatively constant over thousands of years. But now that most of our energy is derived from fossil fuels, we are disturbing that stability by releasing more carbon into the atmosphere at a much greater rate than ever before, and photosynthesis simply cannot keep up with the overwhelming amount of carbon dioxide released by human economic activity.
The biogenic carbon cycle always remained balanced in the natural environment, but the entire carbon cycle including human activity, can change with the influx of once-sequestered carbon. Fossil fuels discharge carbon that, because it has been locked away in geological storage, is an additional influx of carbon, unbalancing the carbon cycle’s historical steadiness.
The available amount of carbon in fossil fuels is four times greater than that of the carbon in the natural biogenic cycle – in adding over time; the extra carbon will have devastating effects on the environment through global warming.
An overabundance of carbon and other greenhouse gases, like methane gas in the atmosphere, creates the “Greenhouse effect”. Gases accumulating in the atmosphere force the earth to function as a greenhouse. Just as the glass of a greenhouse prevents heated air from escaping, the greenhouse effect prevents the sun’s heat from reflecting back into space; instead, the heat is retained, warming up the earth’s atmospheric temperatures.