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Dubious Sustainability of Wood Pellet Biomass

Thursday June 16, 2022. 03:56 AM , from Akihabara News
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Biomass has become an increasingly popular alternative energy source, but the sustainability of wood pellets, which fuel many of these plants, has been called into question.

In the one-year period between 2020 and 2021, Japan’s wood pellet imports rose by 50% to 3 million metric tons, according to the USDA Global Agricultural Information Network.

Wood pellet biofuels are made by compressing wood fiber or lumber byproducts into smaller pellets. The appeal of this particular biofuel lay in its compactness, dryness, and portability relative to other types of biomass fuel. The pellets are used in boilers or stoves for heating as well as in power plants as a coal alternative.

Japan generated over 3GW of electricity in 2019 using wood pellets, a figure that is rapidly growing, in part because they are promoted by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry subsidies.

The problem, however, is that larger-scale use of wood pellets may create new problems for sustainability, and it doesn’t make Japan less dependent on foreign markets for its energy supplies.

More than 90% of wood pellets come from overseas and, according to the nonprofit Biomass Industry Society Network, there is no prospect that Japan’s own woodlands can themselves meet the growing demand.

The overwhelming majority of the wood pellets are imported from Vietnam and Canada.

Unfortunately, the creation of wood pellets causes deforestation. The elimination of such crucial carbon sinks throws into question the climate-friendly nature of wood pellet-fueled biomass energy.

Palm kernel shells, which is another type of biofuel commonly used in Japan, has a similar tendency to cause deforestation.

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