Thursday, April 01, 2010

Is the Sierra Club a Friend or Foe of Biomass Energy?

This week, President Obama announced a plan to reverse a ban on oil drilling (including much of Florida) with objectives to decrease foreign oil dependence and to create new jobs. But what especially caught our attention was the reaction of environmental groups -- especially the Sierra Club.

In an opposition rally to expand off shore oil and natural gas drilling, a representative of the Florida Sierra Club refuted the job creation argument of the Obama Administration stating, "For every one oil industry job, from biomass, you would get 9 jobs per megawatt hour. And by the way, Florida is known as the Saudi Arabia of biomass," said Cathy Harrelson of the Suncoast Sierra Club."

But something does not make sense here.

Just a week earlier, the Sierra Club led the opposition in killing a proposal to build a new generation biomass energy plant (a joint venture with Duke Energy) in Gretna, Florida.

This is yet one more example of how the environmental community is dysfunctional on the subject of biomass energy and reminds us of a cartoon we once saw stating "We have seen the enemy, and he is us!"

We are also seeing carbon emission standards being advocated by environmental groups like the Sierra Club of 250 pounds of carbon per Mwh for new biomass electricity power plants -- where apparently, the carbon cycle neutral argument of biomass energy is being completely disavowed.

In doing the math, this 250 pounds standard is impossible to meet -- without the carbon cycle neutral argument. For example, an ultimate chemical analysis of biomass reflects about 9,000 btus per pound (dry basis), where approximately 50% is carbon.

An example of a new, high efficiency biomass generation technology (i.e., gasification) would have a heat rate of around 9,000 btus per kWh. Thus, using the very best technology available would result in carbon emissions of ~500 pounds per Mwh -- about double of the 250 pounds standard being advocated by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.

Maybe we should initiate a "Bad Guy of the Year Award" -- where the leading candidate for this year's award would currently be the Sierra Club.


C. Scott Miller said...

I too have seen contrary positions on the acceptability of biofuels being espoused by the Sierra Club and other NGOs. On the one hand, the national office copublishes a pro-biofuels report with WorldWatch ( ) that supports thermochemical conversion technologies. But in California we have seen their opposition to thermochemical conversion processes for biofuels production from waste streams. There is clearly no consistency in their stances - the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. I also suspect that they will support new tech until it deploys and then find litigious means to challenge it to raise memberships and dues. They are losing credibility and respect.

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