Biomass and the Carbon Fee Laser Talk

This page was updated on 05/31/18 22:45 CDT.

Question:  Should biomass carbon be subject to the Carbon Fee?

Answer: No. Unlike fossil fuels, biomass is part of the living world’s carbon cycle. Plants use CO2 from the atmosphere to make biomass, and when they die, they decompose, returning most of the carbon back to the environment as CO2. [1] As long as biomass is used in ways that do not put more CO2 into the air than would occur under natural processes, the carbon contained in the biomass is carbon-neutral.

In the U.S., most ‘biofuel’ is corn-based ethanol which has a limited climate benefit. [2] Under Carbon Fee and Dividend, fossil fuels used in the cultivation, harvesting, fertilizer production, and transportation of biomass and biofuel will be subject to the Carbon Fee, and thus those carbon costs will already be reflected in the product price, and everyone in the production chain will be incentivized to reduce their emissions.

There are bioenergy technologies beyond corn ethanol that use a variety of resources, including farm and forest residues and energy crops. These include advanced biofuels methods [3] that could reduce CO2 from transportation – aircraft, ships, and millions of gasoline vehicles that will still be on the road for decades – by 60 to 90 percent. [4] Others foresee the potential replacement of natural gas in America’s pipelines with renewable biomethane. [5]

The commercial viability of these bioenergy technologies depends on their ability to compete freely with their fossil counterparts on the same basis as any other renewable energy source. Without a role for bioenergy, decarbonization of our energy systems would be far more difficult.

For these reasons, CCL’s position is that the carbon in biomass will not be subject to the Carbon Fee. CCL will also work to ensure that our policy does not encourage the unsustainable use of biomass resources.

  1. “Terrestrial biological carbon cycle.” Wikipedia (17 Sep 2017).
  2. “Ethanol Vehicle Emissions.” U.S. Dept of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center (26 Mar 2018).
  3. “Advanced biofuels.” Biofuels for Europe
  4. Green, D.L. and G. Parkhurst. Appendix A: White Paper. In “Decarbonizing Transport for a Sustainable Future, Summary of the Fifth EU-U.S. Transportation Research Symposium.” pp. 30-60 (17-18 May 2017).
  5. Williams, J.H., et al. “Pathways to deep decarbonization in the United States: Revision with technical supplement.” SDSN-IDDRI., p. 14 (16 Nov 2015).

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