The Carbon Footprint of Electricity from Biomass

Regulatory Assistance Project
Completed 2012

More often than not, the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of biomass in the power sector is understated, at times by a wide margin. This has led policymakers, in many cases, to too readily credit biomass resources as being “carbon-neutral,” to the detriment of industry best practices that can, in fact, approach carbon neutrality. In 2012, Synapse issued a report that offers new insight into these issues, and presents the results of an exhaustive review of the literature addressing biomass as a potential GHG mitigation tool in the power sector. The report: gathers the range of assertions, assumptions, and frameworks used in recent and influential papers—including research, grey literature, and established policy—and reviews those assumptions; provides a clear summary of each facet of the carbon accounting challenge, focusing on the relatively clear example of forest biomass resources; identifies common oversights and errors leading to flawed conclusions about the GHG contribution of biomass; and recommends an accounting framework that is simple enough to encourage appropriate contribution from biomass energy resources, but sophisticated enough to address the many facets of GHG contributions from biomass energy use.