11 April 2023

[NGO Joint Statement] Co-firing of Biomass in Coal Plants or Conversion of Coal Power Plants to Dedicated Biomass Power Plants is Greenwashing

Biomass accelerates climate change and destroys forest ecosystems

In Japan, the co-firing of biomass in coal power plants and conversion of coal-fired power plants to biomass are currently taking place at a rapid pace. Already 31 coal-fired units, or about half of the coal-fired power plants of major power utilities, are co-firing with biomass.[1] At least 40 of the renewable energy feed-in-tariff (FIT) approved biomass power projects are at coal power plants, and 35 of these plants are designated as “inefficient” (sub-critical or super-critical).[2] Biomass co-firing for industrial self-generation at in-house coal-fired power plants and other power plants is also part of Japan’s “Green Transformation” (GX) policy.[3]

Wood pellets are one of the primary biomass fuels used for biomass co-firing at coal plants. With the increase in biomass power generation under the FIT program, imports of wood pellets have increased 61-fold over the past decade to approximately 4.41 million tons in 2022.[4] As the power generation capacity of coal-fired power plants is generally much larger than that of dedicated biomass power plants, further increases in wood pellet imports are expected as biomass co-firing is promoted at coal-fired power plants.[5] This increase in demand for wood pellets is nothing short of an additional burden on forests, whether directly or indirectly.

The undersigned environmental NGOs working on climate change and forest issues, oppose biomass co-firing and the conversion of coal power plants to dedicated biomass power plants for the following reasons:

  1. Accelerates climate change
  • Burning biomass emits CO2

Biomass power generation is thermal power generation, and the combustion of biomass fuels emits large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Even though the carbon emission coefficient of wood is greater than that of coal,[6] the Japanese government considers it to be “carbon neutral” and does not account for CO2 emissions from combustion.[7] Moreover, when forests are cleared to produce biomass fuels, the carbon that the forests have stored in the trees and soil over a long period of time is released into the atmosphere. There is no guarantee that cleared forests will recover to their original state, and even if they do, it will take decades to centuries to completely restore the CO2 released into the atmosphere. In addition to this, CO2 derived from fossil fuel use is generated at each stage of harvesting, processing, and transportation. Japan relies on imports for most of its wood pellets,[8] which emits large amounts of GHGs during transportation. To regard biomass power generation as “carbon neutral,” ignoring the CO2 emissions throughout its lifecycle, the years required for forests recovery and the possibility that forests will not recover, is a great risk that will accelerate climate change.

  • Prolonging the life of coal-fired power stations

In order to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 ℃ target, OECD countries need to phase out coal-fired power by 2030. However, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) uses a formula that deducts the biomass inputs for co-firing from coal inputs, which enables inefficient coal power plants to appear efficient and thereby extend their lives.[9]

An expert has estimated that the CO2 emission coefficient for a coal-fired power plant without biomass co-firing is 0.84kg-CO2/kWh, while it increases to 0.85kg-CO2/kWh when a coal-fired plant with 38% power generation efficiency co-fires 5% biomass.[10] In addition, the conversion or retrofitting of coal-fired power plants to dedicated biomass combustion is being considered,[11] in which case the CO2 emission coefficient would be 1.03 kg-CO2/kWh.

  1. Destroys forest ecosystems

Most of the woody biomass fuel used for large-scale biomass power generation as well as biomass co-firing coal-fired power generation is imported from Southeast Asia and North America.[12] Future attempts to supply large quantities of biomass fuels will increase pressure for deforestation. The impacts caused by biomass fuels production on ecosystems, such as deforestation, forest degradation, and biodiversity loss, is immeasurable. Cases have been reported of natural forests, including primary forests in North America, being cleared to produce woody biomass fuels. It is not easy for destroyed forest ecosystems to restore their function, and it is impossible for them to recover to a qualitatively equivalent ecosystem. The guidelines for developing project plans under the FIT subsidy program do not have clear standards for the sustainability of woody biomass fuels, and any such standards are not applied to non-FIT biomass power generation. Biomass power generation threatens ecosystems and biodiversity, and undermines the very concept of renewable energy, which is intended to reduce the burden on the environment.

Hereby, we urge the Japanese government to take following measures:

  • Achieve a coal exit as soon as possible, regardless of biomass co-firing.
  • Do not support biomass co-firing or dedicated biomass power plants.
  • Exclude biomass power generation that uses fuels other than waste from the definition of renewable energy. and do not provide subsidies or other support.
  • Require that CO2 emissions from biomass combustion be accounted for at the power plant level.
  • Count CO2 emissions from biomass combustion by the consuming country and incorporate this into their carbon accounting.

Signatories (90 organizations)

Friends of the Earth Japan Japan
Greenpeace Japan Japan
HUTAN Group Japan
Kiko Network Japan
Global Environmental Forum Japan
Japan Tropical Forest Action Network Japan
Istitute for Sustainable Energy Policies Japan
Japan Center for a Sustainable Environment and Society Japan
Climate Action Network Japan(CAN-Japan) Japan
Citizens Alliance for Saving the Atmosphere and the Earth (CASA) Japan
350.org Japan Japan
Fridays For Future Sendai Japan
Forests, Climate and Biomass Working Group - Environmental Paper Network International
Mighty Earth USA
350 Eugene USA
350 Triangle USA
AbibiNsroma Foundation Ghana
Australian Forests and Climate Alliance Australia
Biofuelwatch UK/USA
Blue Dalian China
Castlemaine Residents Against Biomass Australia
Center for Biological Diversity USA
Central California Environmental Justice Network USA
Coast Range Association USA
Coastal Plain Conservation Group USA
Comite Schone Lucht | Clean Air Committee NL Netherlands
Community Partners Across the South USA
Conservation North Canada
Consumers' Association of Penang Malaysia
De Bomenbond Netherlands
De Klimaatcoalitie Netherlands
Doctors and Scientists Against Wood Smoke Pollution (DSAWSP) USA
Dogwood Alliance USA
Earth Action, Inc. USA
Earth Neighborhood Productions USA
EDSP ECO Netherlands
Endangered Species Coalition USA
Environment East Gippsland inc Australia
EPIC- Environmental Protection Information Center USA
Federatie tegen Biomassacentrales Netherlands
Fern EU
FIAN Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Forest Watch Indonesia Indonesia
Forum Ökologie & Papier Germany
Friends of the Clearwater USA
Friends of the Earth US USA
Gippsland Environment Group Australia
Global Justice Ecology Project USA
Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Cascade-Volcanoes Chapter United States
Green Cove Defense Committee USA
Green Longjiang China
Green Snohomish USA
Himalaya Niti Abhiyan India
Hunter Knitting Nannas Australia
Independent Forestry Monitoring Network (JPIK) Indonesia
John Muir Project USA
Kaoem Telapak Indonesia
Kitsap Environmental Coalition USA
Landelijk Netwerk Bossen- en Bomenbescherming Netherlands
Leefmilieu Netherlands
Maíra Institute Brazil
Natural Resources Defense Council USA
Nature Nova Scotia Canada
NC Climate Solutions Coalition United States
No Electricity from Forests Australia
Ole Siosiomaga Society Incorporated (OLSSI) Samoa
Pakaid Pakistan
Partnership for Policy Integrity USA
Pivot Point USA
Profundo Netherlands
River coalition Czech Republic
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia
Save Estonia's Forests (Päästame Eesti Metsad) Estonia
Scholar Tree Alliance China
Snow Alliance China
Solutions for Our Climate South Korea
South East Region Conservation Alliance (SERCA) Australia
Southern Environmental Law Center USA
Spruill Farm Conservation Project USA
Southern Forests Conservation Coalition USA
Stand.earth Canada
Standing Trees USA
Sunflower Alliance USA
The Corner House UK
Thurston Climate Action Team USA
Trend Asia Indonesia
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment USA
Wild Nature Institute USA
WOLF Forest protection movement Slovakia




[Joint Statement] Co-firing of Biomass in Coal Plants or Conversion of Coal Power Plants to Dedicated Biomass Power Plants is Greenwashing
Biomass accelerates climate change and destroys forest ecosystems (2023/4/11)