Special Reporting Project: Bioenergy

Mongabay is not currently accepting pitches for this project. 

Climate change is a complex problem that is propelling the development of alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources and schemes to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This growing demand for alternative energy has resulted in the proliferation of prospective climate solutions that harness renewably grown organic material to generate energy, while limiting, eliminating, or negating greenhouse gas emissions. However, the social, environmental, and economic costs of these climate actions can be significant.

Some forms of bioenergy are already widely used, and more are being studied and in development. Bioenergy is generally defined as energy made by burning biomass (usually solids) or by burning biofuels (usually liquids or gases).

Biomass energy is often made using solid organic material such as forests, wood, farm, municipal, and/or industrial waste as a source material, which is then converted into an energy crop. For example, forest biomass (whole trees or wood waste) can be converted into wood pellets, then burned on an industrial scale at retrofitted coal-burning power plants). In addition, efforts to pair biomass energy generation with “negative emissions technologies” — known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) — would have social and ecological consequences if implemented at scales required to remove significant carbon from the atmosphere.

Thousands of trees stacked like cordwood wait to be turned into wood pellets for overseas shipment, mostly to the UK and EU, at one of three pellet-making plants in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the Dogwood Alliance

A biofuel often describes a liquid or gaseous fuel with an organic base, typically used for transportation. Energy crops can include sugarcane, algae, corn, palm oil, soy oil, rapeseed, sugar beets, and others, which can be made into bioethanol and biodiesel.

Series objectives

This series will take a sustained look at bioenergy using a solutions journalism approach, evaluating how well they address the climate problem, while also looking at how these solutions affect a plethora of other socio-environmental issues. Collectively, the stories in this series will provide an objective look at the pluses, minuses, and trade-offs of various bioenergy processes as they are being developed and utilized around the globe.


Some suggested story topics / guidelines:

Bioenergy state of knowledge: Overviews: Stories that focus on the basic science of one bioenergy or biofuel technology; articles could look at new research, implementation of innovations by companies, communities, or nations. These pieces would also objectively weigh the pros and cons of new bioenergy and biofuel technology.

Bioenergy: Going deeper: A look at a particular form of bioenergy from a variety of angles, including socio-environmental impact hotspots and what we can learn from them (e.g., the positive and negative impacts of expanding plantations in Brazil that grow sugar cane as a biofuel — Pro: more jobs and economic growth; con: increased pollution and labor inequities).

Place-people-species based reporting: Stories can focus on a nation, region or biome where bioenergy production, or use, is underway. For example, a story might document the wood pellet industry and its climate / socio-environmental impacts in Vietnam or British Colombia, or it could look at the far end of the supply chain where the pellets are burned in the UK or EU. Or a piece could follow a particular bioenergy crop from its source in one nation, to its use in another. Or it could look at impacts on a particular group of people (Indigenous or traditional peoples, for example), or at effects on a species of ecosystem.

Innovative problem-solvers / project stories: Engaging stories that profile and introduce readers to the work of key actors (researchers, conservationists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, companies, engineers, city planners, activists, thought leaders and others) who are actively exploring and implementing approaches to bioenergy. These stories could document current initiatives around the globe, identify opportunities and barriers to adoption, and help readers understand practices meant to prevent or forestall the misuse of bioenergy.

International initiative evaluations: Stories would look at the current status and successes / failings of international cooperative agreements aimed at advancing or regulating the uses of bioenergy and biofuels. (ie. the role of bioenergy in a country’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Climate Agreement).

Egregiously bad actors: Profiles of companies, investment institutions, industry associations, and others most responsible for, and who most benefit from, potentially false bioenergy claims, while allegedly doing significant socio-environmental harm (ie. air and water pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss, land grabbing, labor practices analogous with slavery, encroachment on, and conflicts with, Indigenous and/or traditional communities, etc.).

Other: Mongabay is open to diverse pitches from existing and new contributors for stories that fulfill the requirements of the Bioenergy 2021 series.

All of these stories for this series have the potential to be told via narrative (online print stories and photos published on the Mongabay website) as well as via videos (short-form, 1-3 minutes; or long-form, 3-10 minutes), as appropriate. Potential categories of Mongabay videos to accompany articles include Explainers, expert interviews, profiles of individual/organization success stories, and profiles of egregious actors.

Contributors are also encouraged to maximize readership through republishing and syndication with third-party outlets.

How to Submit Your Pitch

Mongabay is not currently accepting pitches for this project. 

Please submit your pitch here long with your journalism resume and three clips. Pitches should be roughly 500 words in length. They should clearly explain the specific subject you would like to write about in detail, your approach to covering it, and describe a few potential sources. Applications must be submitted in English.

Pitches will be considered on a rolling basis, until our budget is disbursed. Stories must be published by November 30, 2021.