We live and breathe our mission of restoring the balance of carbon on earth. In search of the most pragmatic, ready to scale, high durability solution, we chose to focus on preserving biomass in deep, anoxic water basins, such as the Black Sea. To make this work at scale, we are going to need A LOT of biomass. A gigaton (a billion metric tonnes) worth of biomass is roughly equivalent to the global corn industry, which grows a whopping 1.2 gigatons yearly. We are often asked how much biomass is out there, and how much of it can be sustainably sourced. This post will shed some light on biomass and what it means to sustainably source it.
Broadly speaking, biomass is the total mass of a defined group of living organisms. A scientific paper quantified the biomass of all living organisms, as shown below.
The total global biomass contains approximately 550 gigatons of carbon. Of that, plants make up the majority, at 450 Gt C, while microbes come in second at 85 Gt C and animals make up 2 Gt C, of which 1 Gt C is bugs (arthropods). Humans are only 0.06 Gt C, but we grow 0.1 Gt C of livestock, and if you look closely you’ll notice our stark effect on wild mammals: reduced to 0.007 Gt C.
For Rewind’s purposes, biomass is also defined as renewable organic material, generally from plants and animals, that contains chemical building blocks of carbon and hydrogen vital to modern energy. This type of biomass is usually residual and can be categorized into 4 groups: wood and processing wastes, agriculture crops and waste materials, biogenic materials in municipal solid waste, like food/yard waste, and animal manure and human waste.
The use of residual biomass can significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating job opportunities, and promoting regional development. Each year, 100 gigatons of biomass grow on earth, about half of which is in the ocean while half is on land. Out of the 50 gigatons on land, 16.7 is used for human purposes, such as food, livestock feed, and crops. Half of this 16.17 is ‘consumed’ while the other 8.1 gigatons of biomass are left and can be sustainably harvested each year.
In the EU, biomass is the main source of renewable energy, making up 60% of their renewable energy consumption. Forestry is their main source of biomass for energy (>60%) and the heating and cooling sector accounts for 75% of all bioenergy consumed in the EU.
On the other hand, in the US, biomass energy makes up 45% of renewable energy and 5%, or 350,000,000 tons, of primary energy consumption. The industrial sector, in the US, is the largest consumer of biomass for energy (46% or 160,000,000 tons), followed by the transportation sector (32% or 110,000,000 tons).
Current trends of biomass consumption for energy are highlighting the growing future use of biomass. The demand is particularly expected to stem from emerging economies, such as India, Brazil, and Indonesia; however, it may be difficult for these economies to utilize biomass in a sustainable way. Additionally, the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) Scenario sees a rapid increase in the use of bioenergy to displace fossil fuels by 2030. While EU policies continue to promote the use of biomass, the European Environment Agency (EEA) stresses the importance of combining nature protection and carbon sequestration with biomass production in order to ensure its sustainability.
Many developed countries are exploiting biomass and not adhering to sustainable practices.
There are two frameworks in place that companies should abide by in order for the biomass they use to be considered sustainably sourced.
The EU Framework
The recast Renewable Energy Directive 2018/2001/EU aims at keeping the EU a global leader in renewables and meeting its emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement. The sustainability criteria within it cover new criteria for biomass for heat and power, biofuels and bioliquids for transport, agriculture waste and residues, forest biomass, and bioelectricity.
The Carbon Direct Principles
Are practical guidelines for sustainable biomass sourcing in carbon removal efforts. They offer pragmatic guidance for sourcing biomass in carbon dioxide removal contracts, aiming to minimize the risk of negative outcomes.
Both the EU and Carbon Direct have strong frameworks in place in order to guide companies and ensure they are implementing sustainable best practices. Carbon Direct included environmental justice into their framework which is something that is missing from the EU’s general rules on sustainable biomass. It is really important that the rights of workers, local communities, and minorities are recognized in all aspects, including land rights and fair wages. On the other hand, the EU dove deeper into technical criteria for more specific types of biomass, such as bioelectricity and biofuels.
Sustainable biomass is absolutely critical to us. We believe there is a lot of existing biomass and are committed to utilizing biomass in a transparent, reliable, and equitable way.
Currently, we are developing technology to verify biomass sustainability. We accomplish this through:
We also have plans to partner with companies promoting regenerative agriculture and biodiverse reforestation in order to increase the available biomass in the coming years. Taken as a whole, Rewind is clearly dedicated to sustainable biomass and recognizes the importance of following the above guidelines.