One of many world’s greatest renewable power gamers could also be deceptive the general public about its product. Earlier this month, Mongabay revealed a damning report on Enviva, the world’s greatest producer of wooden chips used for biomass power, based mostly on allegations from an nameless former worker, who claimed that the corporate is producing its chips in a a lot much less environmentally pleasant manner than its PR supplies declare.
Biomass power, the observe of burning wooden to generate energy, is a type of concepts that sounds nice in observe: bushes regrow, in any case, so they need to, theoretically, be a renewable useful resource. Bushes, nonetheless, are a key carbon sink; destroying forests to burn power may truly do extra hurt than good since bushes take years to regrow again to their full carbon-sequestering potential. It may take greater than 90 years, some analyses have proven, to pay again the “carbon debt” incurred by chopping down bushes for gas—time we merely don’t have.
Accordingly, pellet producers like Enviva declare that they use scrap wooden from different manufacturing processes that will forestall wide-scale deforestation and maintain the method environment friendly. “Displace Coal. Develop Extra Bushes. Struggle Local weather Change,” an infinite banner on the entrance web page of the corporate’s web site reads. The web site has a complete part dedicated to the sustainability of its merchandise, in addition to a publish on what constitutes “good biomass”—together with biomass “produced from low-value wooden that could be a by-product of a sawmill operation or a deliberate conventional timber harvest.”
However per Mongabay, Enviva isn’t telling the entire reality about its processes to the general public. In response to Mongabay reporter Justin Catanoso, the nameless whistleblower, who reached out to Catanoso whereas nonetheless working at Enviva initially of this 12 months, known as the corporate’s claims about utilizing primarily waste materials for pellets “a joke.”
“We use 100% complete bushes in our pellets,” the whistleblower, who resigned from his place as a senior division head of two pellet crops within the spring, instructed Mongabay. “We hardly use any waste. Pellet density is crucial. You get that from complete bushes, not junk.”
Biomass energy has exploded in popularity in recent years, driven primarily by wood-burning plants in the EU that use pellets produced in the U.S. Southeast, which claim to produce renewable energy. As Mongabay reports, Enviva alone has constructed or expanded five pellet plants in the region since 2011; last year, Enviva revamped $1 billion.
Enviva has been cautious to curate its picture as working to avoid wasting the surroundings—which implies correcting misconceptions in regards to the supply of its merchandise. In a 2022 CBS Information report, Don Calloway, an Enviva spokesperson, corrected a reporter who talked about the corporate utilizing tree “trunks” for wooden, insisting that the corporate as a substitute makes use of “tops” and “limbs.” However the whistleblower says that the truth is completely different.
“We take large, complete bushes,” he instructed Mongabay. “We don’t care the place they arrive from. The notion of sustainably managed forests is nonsense. We are able to’t get wooden into the mills quick sufficient.”
“We’re saddened and take challenge by the allegations made by the previous worker,” Enviva mentioned in an announcement to Mongabay. “The viewpoints expressed by this worker don’t symbolize Enviva’s values nor are they correct. Whereas the supply’s title was not revealed, we don’t consider there’s an worker becoming the outline of what was shared that will have any credible or knowledgeable data in regards to the allegations made.”
Earther reached out to Enviva to see if the corporate had any additional touch upon the Mongabay story. We are going to replace this story if a spokesperson responds to our requests.
Even when producers made pellets out of the fabric they declare to be using, biomass power nonetheless has actual issues. Transport wooden chips abroad creates big quantities of emissions, making a hefty carbon worth that energy crops don’t account for. And wooden pellet factories within the Southeast have additionally been criticized for finding their crops in Black and brown communities and creating extra air pollution there.
Because the Mongabay story reveals, with out additional regulation and industry-wide requirements, “eco-friendly” firms can proceed to get away with soiled practices.
“We are saying we’re inexperienced. We are saying we care in regards to the surroundings,” the whistleblower instructed Mongabay whereas nonetheless employed by Enviva. “I get so uninterested in listening to one factor and seeing one other.”