Debate over the sustainability of bioenergy has flared up again on both sides of the Atlantic, with some saying it is worse for the climate than coal. Mark Hillsdon weighs the arguments
In the forests of the south-eastern US, a chainsaw fires up, the teeth biting into the trunk of a tall, yellow pine. It teeters before crashing to the ground, where its branches are stripped and the tree – along with thousands of other – is trucked off to be used in the construction industry, furniture manufacturing and, in some cases, to generate energy, too.
Several thousand miles away in north Yorkshire, at the massive Drax power station, a delivery of wood pellets arrives, just a small part of an annual shipment of over 3 million tonnes from the US. This is now the largest biomass plant in the world, producing around a fifth of all the UK’s renewable energy.
These are the two sides of biomass, an industry which is polarising opinion and creating a sustainable dilemma. To some it is a cheap, renewable form of energy that, as an alternative to fossil fuels, has a big role to play in the battle against global warming, while also giving a shot in the arm to forest industries.
To others, it has become the “dirty” option in the green energy revolution, an inefficient fuel that destroys forests and biodiversity and which, some reports...