Who Is Enviva Biomass?

Enviva Biomass is the world’s largest producer of wood pellets. They make wood pellets sourced from clearcut forests across the US South. Enviva claims that pellets are a sustainable, low carbon alternative to fossil fuels. But, scientists around the world have proven that’s not true.

Enviva’s wood pellets are harming forests, communities, and climate.

Why are wood pellets used to produce electricity?

Enviva’s pellets are burned in huge power stations to produce mainly electricity. They’re marketed as a “renewable energy” and “low carbon” solution. But this isn’t true.

Producing power with biomass is only about 24% efficient. This means that over 75% of a wood pellet’s energy is wasted. Producing electricity like this releases up to 50% more carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

Governments are using taxpayer dollars to subsidize burning our forests for energy. This pollutes our communities and increases carbon emissions. Governments should invest in true renewables that would be cheaper in the long run.

What are the carbon emissions from woody biomass?

Wood pellet production has several steps that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. First, during harvest, carbon is emitted at the site where the trees are logged. This carbon comes from:

  • the fuel for transportation and machinery
  • the carbon lost from cut forests
  • the changes to the soil after logging

Next, there are carbon emissions at the facility. They debark and pulverize the wood into compressed pellets. The manufacturing process is dangerous, with flammable wood dust and heavy equipment. Together, these increase the risk of fire, explosion, and loss of worker life.

Wood pellets are then loaded onto trucks or trains and transported to seaports. The wood pellets are shipped overseas to power plants. Finally, the power plants burn the wood pellets to produce electricity. At this stage, the rest of the carbon stored in the burning wood pellets is released into the atmosphere. Transportation and processing only make up about 10% of carbon emissions from wood pellets. The majority of emissions are released when the pellets are burned.

Is producing wood pellets a form of sustainable forest management?

The simple answer is no. Over half of the forests in the US South are less than 40 years old. This is because companies keep cutting forests down instead of letting them grow.

Because of the new wood pellet market two things are happening:

  1. More land gets logged. Lands that weren’t attractive enough to log for lumber are now suddenly profitable because of wood pellets.
  2. The logging happens at a much greater intensity. It removes most of the wood at the site. As a result, trees and plants can’t grow back as quickly (or at all) like they might at a normal site.

Worse logging and more logging. This is terrible for our forests, communities, and climate.

The market for pellets is volatile because it’s driven by both international and domestic subsidies. Countries like the UK, Denmark, and Netherlands have all subsidized wood pellets. This drives profits up for companies like Enviva.

Many countries are choosing not to burn wood pellets. Their governments recognize the greenhouse gas emissions and health impacts on local communities. Also, true renewable energy like wind and solar is becoming more affordable and efficient.

There’s just no such thing as “sustainable” wood bioenergy.

Where is Enviva, Inc?

Even though they operate in the South, Enviva is based in Washington, DC. Enviva’s headquarters are in Bethesda, Maryland.

Where do Enviva Partners make and ship their wood pellets?

Enviva makes their wood pellet products in:

  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama

Enviva exports the vast majority of its products. They ship out of deep water marine terminals. Enviva currently has off-take contracts (special, long-term contracts) with many foreign countries, including:

  • United Kingdom
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Countries in the European Union

Purchasers of Enviva’s products burn the pellets, usually alongside coal. This produces electricity and/or heat for their power grid. One of the reasons that bioenergy has become so popular is because it’s easy to convert the equipment. “Co-firing” with coal happens with very little modification to the existing equipment.

In contrast, clean energy like wind or solar requires building new equipment. Even though it’s harder, wind and solar are better options for renewable energy. One study found that wind and solar are likely to be the lowest-cost options to achieve decarbonization. Decarbonization is the process of preventing and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

By 2025, operating a biomass plant will be more costly than building new solar and wind capacity.  This is true even if biomass technology is already installed. Even when accounting for completely new solar and wind facilities.

The Impacts of Biomass

From 2012 to the end of 2021, Enviva, Inc. has harvested around 770,000 acres of forests to produce 32 million tons of pellets. This is 66% of the total US export market for pellets (run your own pellet export reports for free). The carbon emissions from this production activity are 69 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s like adding 13.5 million extra cars on the road in a year.

Enviva and other “sustainable wood bioenergy” industry players have completely changed the landscape of the Southeast. Forests within their sourcing region now face extra logging pressures. Those trees may have been safe from logging before. Especially if their wood fiber was not valuable enough for furniture or paper. However, they’re fair game for pellets. The future for these forests is uncertain.

Biomass and Environmental Justice

The wood pellet manufacturing industry has a pattern of committing environmental injustice. Random chance can’t explain this away. A wood pellet manufacturing plant is 50% more likely to be in an “environmental justice” community. These communities are living below the state median poverty level. More than 25% of these communities are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).

Biomass and Economics

Enviva has received more than $9 million in public dollars as tax breaks, grants, and subsidies. The public funds that we know about include:

  • $2.8 million from the North Carolina Department of Commerce
  • $1.5 million from the Mississippi Development Authority
  • $865,000 from various grants in Virginia
  • More than $672,000 from the USDA for bioenergy “research” into the “production of advanced fuels”
  • $350,000 from Northampton County, North Carolina

You can read more about subsidies to bioenergy companies here.

Biomass and Local Quality of Life

This study backs up what community members have known for years. Enviva and other polluters move in where land is cheap and communities are struggling. They promise jobs, but it comes at a cost. Their presence may lower property values and raise property taxes. Their operations coat nearby homes in dust. They destroy roads with large logging trucks. Their plants operate 24/7 causing pollution and noise at all hours. This practice flies in the face of values of equity.

In both Northampton and Sampson counties in North Carolina, the poverty rates increased after the opening of an Enviva plant. In Hertford County, NC, the poverty rate has held steady since the Ahoskie plant opened in 2011. Residents complain about noise, traffic, dust, and the danger. Enviva is not bringing prosperity to these communities.

You can read more about biomass companies and environmental justice here.

Biomass and Community Safety

These manufacturing plants have so many fire and explosion-related incidents that we had to write about it. Since 2001, 52 fires, explosions, or both have been identified across all bioenergy facilities in the United States.

The Environmental Integrity Project found at least 8 of the 15 largest US wood pellet facilities have had fires or explosions since 2014. These incidents happened at six Enviva facilities in the US South, including:

  • Enviva Cottondale (FL)
  • Enviva Greenwood (SC)
  • Enviva Ahoskie (NC)
  • Enviva Sampson (NC)
  • Enviva Northampton (NC)
  • Enviva Southampton (VA)

Enviva has been in violation at least seven times at five different plants. They’ve exceeded air quality and other environmental regulations.

What’s next?

The biomass industry is expected to  grow in the next decade or longer. As countries look for ways to “go green”, biomass is the easy option. They can continue to avoid investing in clean sustainable energy (like wind and solar). Biomass harms our forests, communities, and climate. The biomass industry needs to be held accountable. YOU can help.

Take action NOW to hold Enviva accountable to communities.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>