Biomass industry responds to ‘morbid mathematics’ of FERN study

Two major associations for the biomass industry have responded to a study claiming the burning of biomass prematurely kills tens of thousands of people each year.

The study was commissioned by FERN, an NGO created in 1995 “to keep track of the European Union’s involvement in forests and coordinate NGO activities at the European level”. The research itself was carried out by Dr. Mike Holland, an independent expert with more than twenty years’ experience of quantifying the impacts of air pollution, according to FERN.

Dr. Holland’s results suggest tens of thousands of EU citizens could be dying prematurely every year as a result of exposure to air pollution from burning solid biomass. The study also points to other health impacts, including cancers, cardiac and respiratory complaints, asthma attacks and working days lost to ill health.

FERN states that it decided to publish the report as the EU prepares to finalise revisions of the Renewable Energy Directive (commonly dubbed REDII) for the period after 2020. The NGO argues that if agreed in its current form, REDII would “inevitably lead to the continuation of high levels of biomass burning and thus exposure to the dangerous health impacts of biomass emissions”.


A renewable substitute

Bioenergy Insight spoke to two major associations connected to the biomass industry to get their reactions to the controversial study.

“We will need time to analyse the whole study and especially the numerous assumptions taken by Dr. Holland which according to our understanding haven’t been peer reviewed (so far),” said Jean-Marc Jossart, secretary of general of AEBIOM, the European Biomass Association.

Jossart also questioned the timing of the study’s publication. “This is not a coincidence if this so called study is released just a week ahead of the plenary vote on REDII, but we are shocked by the instrumentalisation of morbid mathematics to draw catchy headlines aiming at undermining Europe’s first sources of RES (Renewable Energy Sources).”

The US Industrial Pellet Association (USIPA) meanwhile, defended the credentials of biomass energy. “Sustainably-sourced woody biomass has been proven time and time again to be a low-carbon replacement for coal and fossil fuels that is both good for the environment and beneficial for forest health,” USPIA executive director Seth Ginther told Bioenergy Insight.

“This type of fear-mongering from FERN and other extreme activist groups does not move us any closer towards decarbonising European energy systems, but instead these campaigns waste time and money while offering no real solutions to climate change.  The biomass industry on the other hand has for the last decade been providing a renewable substitute for coal-fired power that balances the grid and keeps the lights on, while also reducing carbon emissions across Europe and supporting sustainable forestry and small landowners.”  


This article was written by Daryl Worthington, editor of Bioenergy Insight

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