Why I refuse to consider wood “carbon neutral”

June 26th, 2010
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Many seem to think that they’re done something great for the environment by burning wood or some other type of biomass. Aside from the particulate pollution that it creates and the potentially hazardous ash, the act of burning wood, it is said, simply releases the CO2 back into the air that the tree had absorbed during its life. It is also claimed that if another tree is planted to replace the one that was cut down for fuel, the carbon is re-absorbed and the whole thing results in no net increase in CO2. Furthermore, it is stated that the carbon would simply return to the atmosphere when the tree dies anyway, because it would decay, producing carbon dioxide and methane, which is even more potent a greenhouse gas and which eventually breaks down to CO2.

Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. It’s an overly simplistic way of looking at things.

I’m not entirely against the limited use of wood for things like pizza ovens, toasting marshmallows and building fires on cold winter nights, but that’s only because such applications are fairly small in total emissions. It should not be used as a primary fuel and is not “carbon neutral” when it is.

First and foremost, burning wood releases carbon in a matter of minutes that took years or decades to sequester. Had the tree been left to grow on its own, this carbon would continue to be sequestered for at least decades more, depending on the type of tree. Even pine trees can live for hundreds of years.

Of course all trees will eventually die, but does this mean the carbon in them is all returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide? Absolutely not! The wood itself may take decades more to break down and the process of decomposition may very well not result in a complete release of all carbon into the atmosphere. There are number of processes that prevent this from happening. Acidic soil, such as that found in pine forests can inhibit complete decay. Accumulation of soils and biomass can eventually compress the material into the subsoil. Eventually, much of the material reaches the state of humus, where it is stable and does not break down any further.

This same process can apply to the leaves or needles shed by the tree. Once a tree has reached full growth, it may not absorb much more carbon dioxide into its wood, but it continues to absorb carbon dioxide to produce leave. As leaves die and fall off, much of that carbon will return to the atmosphere as CO2, but not all of it. Layers and layers of leaves build up on forest floors, where an entire strata of biological material accumulates. Much of this will be reduced to carbon rich humus and will not decay further.

Even if a tree is cut down, it does not mean it will release the carbon it has accumulated back into the atmosphere. When wood is logged, it goes into any number of products, some durable, such as houses or pianos and others non-durable such as paper or pallets. If the wood is used to build a house, it may continue to exist in a stable form for centuries. Non-durable goods might seem to be the end of the road, but they’re not.

It is a popular misconception that trash in landfills decays. In fact, it only does to a relatively small degree. Garbage will decay, releasing CO2 and methane when it is first placed in a landfill, but as it is compressed and isolated from the environment, the process slows to a crawl. This is why old, capped, landfills produce less and less biogas as time goes on. Indeed, landfills are huge carbon sinks. Wood or paper can easily remain for decades, relatively undecayed. The process of compression and isolation is akin to the processes that produce fossil fuels and can result in the carbon being retained for thousands of years or more.

Even if trees were to break down completely and return the carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, this does not mean that the same applies to an entire forest. If a forest is allowed to grow without being cut down for fuel, trees will die and decay while others will grow in their place. A state of equilibrium is reached, where even if the net additional carbon dioxide absorbed is small, the amount sequestered is still enormous. However, if the trees are logged and burned, even if they are replanted, the forest never reaches the point where it is a stable sink for carbon dioxide.

Therefore, even with tree farm wood, the wood is being grown in a manner that displaces a potential carbon sink and uses wood that could otherwise go into a durable product. This is far from being carbon neutral.

Finally, it’s worth noting that wood is a critical material for building and producing numerous products. Huge areas are used for conventional logging or tree farming as is. Using wood for fuel only increases the need for producing wood for such needs. Adding the need for fuel only increases the impact and reduces the amount of naturally growing trees for us all to enjoy.


This entry was posted on Saturday, June 26th, 2010 at 8:26 pm and is filed under Bad Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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39 Responses to “Why I refuse to consider wood “carbon neutral””

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    This is to say nothing of the fact that most people can’t operate a wood burning appliance such that it doesn’t make more pollution in the form of vaporized creosotes and free particulates than oil burning.


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  2. 2
    Q Says:

    All very fair points. Biomass burning accounts for a large percentage of human generated co2. It is certainly not “carbon neutral” in very many cases.

    However, the problem with this is that people believe this and there are entities that make a lot of money off of it, selling pellet stoves wood furnaces or whatever. They want to keep it going. There are less of those to refute it.

    BTW: Nice chart. I like it!


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  3. 3
    Stephen Says:

    I’m just curious: What is the energy-density (per mass or volume) from wood as compared to other fuels? If a community (very stupidly) does decide to use it on a large scale, how large a footprint would the transport leave (as compared to transport of other fuels)? What other life-cycle footprints does wood leave?


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  4. 4
    Troberg Says:

    But, it’s natural, unlike the horrible nuclear power that the big corporations produce! Or something…

    Seriously, I’m getting so pissed off on the “it’s natural so it must be good”-crowd.


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  5. 5
    Soylent Says:

    It might make sense to pyrolyze some amount of wood, wood-waste and farm wastes. Not for energy, but for chemical feedstocks and carbon sequestration. When you pyrolyze a material you get three different phases; gases, liquids and solids; there is a lot of room to optimize for which ones you prefer.

    The solids consists of char and ash. Char is an extremely oxidation resistant form of carbon with a very high surface area(like ‘active carbon’) and appears to be a useful soil amendment for degraded or marginal farming soils. If you optimize for char you are sequestering far more carbon than a forest will do naturally.

    The gases consists of a mix, mostly CO2, methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide; the latter two being the components of syngas.

    The liquids contain a bewildering mix of chemicals, but some of the major components are valuable bio-chemicals that can be extracted. The remainder is no good as a liquid fuel(corrosive and polymerizes over time); but it can be converted into syngas.

    With syngas you can make all sorts of wonderful things. You can shift the H2:CO ratio with the water-gas shift reaction: CO + H2O H2 + CO2. You can shift the ratio towards infinity(all hydrogen, no CO) and make ammonia and the usual derivatives(nitric acid, urea, ammonium nitrate…) in the haber-bosch process. You can shift the H2:CO ratio towards ~2 and make fischer-tropsch diesels. You can shift the ratio towards some higher ratio and make methanol.

    Methanol is one of the most important chemical feedstocks around; it is used to make formaldehyde, formic acid, acetic acid(the extra carbon atom comes from carbon monoxide), dimethyl ether(fairly non-toxic, ubiquitous aerosol propellant and low temperature solvent). From dimethyl ether you can make propylene. From propylene you can make polypropylene plastic, propylene glycol(solvent in many farmaceuticals; moisturizer in countless cosmetics, toothpastes, hair care products and junk foods like twinkies; used to de-ice aircraft), polyether polyols for production of polyurethanes.

    There’s old growth forest, managed forest and formerly logged forest that is now a nature preserve within short biking distance of me. In order of preference managed forest is the nicest and old growth forest the worst. The managed forest has lovely packed dirt bike paths with ostensibly similar rolling friction as asphalt and not too many bumps and potholes; the forests themselves are fairly open and walkable even off the beaten path. It’s not high intensity rectangular-grid monoculture; visually I’d say they go in and cull perhaps 1-2% of the trees each year in a series of isolated swaths.

    There’s only so much furniture, paper and cardboard people could want; forests are still expanding in Europe and the US. In a the next few decades I believe non-artistic, non-tissue paper uses for paper will go away. Being that I’m not an old-growth fetishist I would rather use any spare capacity for the next best unfulfilled desire than let it go to waste by creating ever larger forest preserves. I believe oil will become a lot more expensive and I believe the expansion of nuclear energy to the point where it is capable of meeting all energy needs with a closed fuel cycle will take over a century. I don’t see any reason to consider using nuclear energy to produce chemical feedstocks until that process of replacing fossil fuels, starting with coal, on the electric grid is complete(converting fossil fuels to electricity is relatively inefficient and converting fossil fuels to chemical compounds is relatively efficient; for nuclear energy it is the reverse, very easy to make electricity and a huge pain to make syngas from water and captured CO2).


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  6. 6
    Soylent Says:

    I believe there are two major kinds of environmentalists and I try to avoid the term if possible to limit confusion.

    There are those who care about maximizing human happiness by optimizing the environment for human wants and needs.

    Then there are those who are enamored with some abstract romantic notion of an untouched natural environment, a garden of Eden that is despoiled by any and all human activity. I can’t express clearly in words how much I loathe these people.


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  7. 7
    Rob Says:

    First, let me say that I don’t believe anything is truly carbon-neutral and the whole carbon credits trading scheme that certain elements are pushing seems like a giant scam.

    Still, I can give you many reasons to heat with wood that have absolutely nothing to do with the environment.

    - It creates jobs for my neighbors. The guys who manage the wood lots, cut and split the trees, and deliver the wood are all local, are continuously employed year after year, and the money I spend on wood stays local , helping my community. With oil, gas, and nuclear, the vast majority of the jobs are far away and that’s where the money goes. So far there are no significant solar or wind projects proposed in the area, but even with those, most of the jobs are during the construction phase and are thus temporary.

    - I live in New Hampshire where 80% of the state is forest (up from 20% about a century ago). Most of the major wood consumers (e.g. paper mills) have closed. The rate of housing growth in America and its demand for wood has greatly decreased from what it was a 60 years ago, so the amount of tree harvesting has declined sharply over the past several decades. (I can point you to numerous shuttered sawmills, dowel mills, clothespin mills, and furniture stock mills around New England.) The reforestation of New England over the last century is often credited as the major carbon sink that kept global warming largely at bay in the post-industrial revolution decades. Now those trees are mature and mature trees absorb far less carbon than rapidly growing immature trees. Soon, if they aren’t harvested, those trees will begin dying off and start releasing much of their carbon back into the environment. By harvesting those mature trees now, new trees will grow that will absorb far more carbon than these mature trees do. With demand for durable goods down, the alternatives are pretty limited and firewood and wood-fired electric generation plants are the most viable alternatives we have today.

    - If we burn those trees, they will release more carbon into the air than if they were left to die and decay naturally, so it’s not carbon neutral. But–and here’s where I think you’ve missed the mark–we need to heat our houses with something, so why not wood? If the tree dies and decays, it’s releasing most of its carbon into the air AND we need to burn oil to make up for the heat we’re not getting from that tree and there’s carbon released from burning that oil, not to mention the environmental impacts of drilling/processing/storing/shipping that oil around the world. Now, you tell me if that tree will release more carbon if burned than the total carbon released from the combination of decaying tree and the whole process of getting those gallons of oil burned in my furnace. I’d guess that just burning the tree in my 1 year old Yotul stove and burning the BTU equivalent of oil in my 12 year old oil furnace is pretty comparable in total long-term carbon release.

    - I get some exercise cutting, splitting, stacking, and hauling wood. That’s good for me. I don’t get any exercise from burning oil.

    - My wood stove works great when the power goes out. My oil furnace doesn’t work at all without electricity. Having had several winter storms that resulted in multi-day power outages in the past couple of years, that’s a very important consideration. There were numerous houses in the area without the ability to burn wood that suffered burst pipes and other damage after those outages. The repairs for those only increase the need for environmental damage caused by mining (copper, silver, steel for plumbing, gypsum for drywall, etc.) as well as the costs to productivity and social services as those families are displaced from their homes during those outages and subsequent repairs.

    - Wood is a crop, albeit with a longer growing period than wheat, corn, or turnips, but it’s still a crop. Trees are farmed like any other farm crop. They’re thinned and selectively harvested to promote the best yield from the healthiest and most desirable specimens. While they’re growing they provide shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. Many of those species also provide very nearly free food for anyone willing to spend the time hunting them. Cutting opens up areas in the forest where saplings, berries, and other valuable forage boosts animal population and variety. Most forest land in New England is open for recreation, providing numerous options for us to get exercise, entertainment, and pleasure, which is a great value for those who take advantage of it. Maybe they have nothing to do with carbon emissions, but these less tangible values are important.

    - Firewood costs less than the BTU equivalent in oil. Because I save money on heat by burning wood, I have more money available to insulate my house and replace drafty old windows, thus reducing my overall energy requirements and reducing my carbon footprint.

    - Given the very acidic soil we have here in New England, wood ash is a wonderful soil amendment for raising the pH of the garden and lawn and reduces the need for mining and transporting lime.

    - I can heat water and even cook a meal on my wood stove if I need to. We quite often put a kettle of water for tea on the wood stove in the winter, which saves on the electricity used by the electric stove or electric kettle we would otherwise use. There’s just no way to heat a pot of water on my oil furnace and, even if their was, it would still be using electricity to run.

    - There is a certain charm to a wood stove or fireplace that no other energy source provides. I’ve never seen anyone pull a chair up to the oil burner, the solar panel, or the windmill to warm up on a cold winter’s day, but people regularly do that at a wood stove.

    The bottom line is that there’s a lot more to the carbon picture than your overly simplistic view takes into account. Savings in fossil fuels by burning wood and the overall benefits to the environment need to be considered. Is it carbon neutral? Probably not, but perhaps when all the factors are considered it may turn out that burning wood is better than carbon neutral. Feel free to do that math. I’d do it myself, but I don’t care that much. I’d burn wood regardless.


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  8. 8
    TomT Says:

            Troberg said:

    But, it’s natural, unlike the horrible nuclear power that the big corporations produce! Or something…

    Seriously, I’m getting so pissed off on the “it’s natural so it must be good”-crowd.

    Yes well strychnine is natural as is the even more lethal ricin. But I wouldn’t want either of them as additives to my food or drink. Natural doesn’t actually mean it is good for you or good for anything else.


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  9. 9
    TomT Says:

            Soylent said:

    Then there are those who are enamored with some abstract romantic notion of an untouched natural environment, a garden of Eden that is despoiled by any and all human activity. I can’t express clearly in words how much I loathe these people.

    The very worst thing about this second type is that a lot of them picture nature as a static unchanging thing. What they see now is how nature must always have been and must always be maintained as. They can’t imagine how the environment changes over time all on its own. Thus a huge amount of their efforts are spent trying to freeze nature into this unnatural static state. Meh.


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  10. 10
    drbuzz0 Says:

    @Rob:

    You make a number of good points and let me say that I’m not entirely against heating with wood in some circumstances. In your case, because of where you live and the availability, it’s probably a good option. I heat with oil (because the place I’m living came that way). Of course, this is not carbon neutral at all or good for the environment, but hey, we all need to heat.

    I don’t condemn people for emitting some carbon dioxide to live their lives.

    My point is that those who seem to be obsessed with patting themselves on the back about how it’s a wonderfully environmental thing to do and is totally carbon neutral and everyone should do it are full of it.

    As far as thinning trees or farming wood, yeah, that does improve things, but I still don’t see it as being totally carbon neutral because it is stopping an area from being a long-term equilibrium carbon sink.

    Again, not that this is not acceptable, because, like I said, we all need heat and fuel and building material etc.

    If you want to talk about being as close to “carbon neutral” as possible, then that would be selective cutting of trees scattered throughout forests combined with using wood from recently dead trees and also trees that need to be cut anyway to clear power lines and so on.

    I just get annoyed by those who talk about wood burning or even biomass burning like it’s some kind of wonderful solution to all earth’s problems. Also, it would concern me a lot if it went from being a nitch thing to being a major source of energy. If that happened, it would not be long before trees became a rarity.

    Then there’s the whole sub-issue of using managed charring and bio-char to actually increase carbon retention. that basically involves intentionally removing wood or biomass and converting it to stable charcoal to inhibit further decay, while making room for new growth. It’s an interesting concept. I see some parallels to using wood for durable products or even putting it in landfills.


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  11. 11
    KitP Says:

    Wood is an excellent and plentiful fuel for making electricity and home heating. Many heat with wood as a back up to oil heat in cold climates.

    As far as the carbon cycle is concerned. Dead wood decays producing methane or nitrous oxide (missing from the pretty cartoon ) depending on the moisture content. Both are very powerful ghg.

    LCA clearly show that biomass can be used as an energy source at the same time benefiting the environment. Yes, real science it more complex. It is not so complex that Rob could not do a calculation to earn carbon credits.


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  12. 12
    Gordon Says:

    Now wait a second here. first of all, carbon credits and counting individual emissions like that is a huge scam that is just so silly I can’t believe anyone buys into it.

    Using wood as a primary fuel is no good for the environment in any sense of the word. You can just look at what happens where it is done like that. In Africa wood is big time fuel, except it’s usually sold as charcoal to make it denser and better burning. the charcoal kings have destroyed huge areas and are no good at all for ecology.

    Explain to me how it is that you can earn “carbon credits” for burning a tree while at the same time “carbon credits” are being sold by people planting trees and saying it’s carbon negative.

    I am not buying this argument that the wood is always decaying and releasing co2. There is a tree near where my parents live that fell down before I was born and it is still, for the most part, there. It’s rotted a bit since I can remember back 30-40 years ago, but still mostly there. It probably grew for 100 years before that.

    If you are going to fell a tree, wouldn’t it be better to build a house of it and keep all the co2 contained for the forseable future.


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  13. 13
    Russ Says:

    Well, I’m not entirely an expert on this and I think it would depend a lot on the source of the wood and what kind of forest might take its place were it not felled. I do think that the whole notion that biomass or wood is carbon neutral is garbage. I know that a lot of the soil can contain stable humus or turf kind of biomass so it can’t all decay away and plants do definitely play some role in sequestration.

    In boreal forests, upwards of 75% of carbon is retained in soil, so that’s a HUGE sink, but logging can release that carbon (not even just from the trees) by disrupting the forest system and providing more direct sunlight to the ground.

    See some info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosequestration

    I think really the bigger issue is the local environmental impact. You can only burn so much wood before deforestation becomes a real concern. Replanting and selective logging of trees is one thing, but that can’t nearly meet the ravanous need for fuel if wood became a mainstay that it was in the 1840′s to 1860′s. The railroads alone managed to deforest much of the North American continent, and by then the whole of Europe was going bare. If we ever were foolish enough to use wood in those kind of amounts then it would be even worse than in the past.


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  14. 14
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

    The trick is not so much being carbon neutral as being renewable. And whilst planting an acorn is not a direct replacement for a century-old oak tree, it still beats the crap out of attempts to make more crude oil. On that front it beats (in principle) the word of oil-burning or coal-burning or – given the popularity of these fuels in power plants – electrical heating.

    The bottom line is that managed / farmed forests keep things in a sort of carbon cycle. They might not hit a fully stable, self-regulating level but they undoubtedly pull a certain amount of carbon from the air and then get hacked up and burnt, churning it out again. By lifting hydrocarbnos out of the ground and burning them off we’re simply stripping out a resource far, far faster than it can be regenerated. Irrespective of CO2 outputs, our society is writing cheques our planet can’t cash.

    As an engineer, my gut reaction however is to seriously question the energy efficiency of these stoves. As a general principle, decentralised systems tend to be less efficient. Add to this the idea that public customers are more easily swayed by PR flash and advertising than by a percentage point or two of efficiency, and there are definitely losses to be found.

    (Companies tend not to make this mistake; any power plant operator will be taking great pains to push their efficiency up 1% because the overall gains would be massive.)

    I would point out that a large part of the biomass of a tree is not burnt even if the tree is designated as fuel – foliage and smaller branches simply aren’t an option for fuel in any constructive sense. I freely admit I’ve not done the research, but I’d expect that a substantial proportion of a tree felled for fuel ends up as mulch back on the forest floor (in the case of managed / farmed forests).


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  15. 15
    Lucario Says:

    Wood is good for creating cheer on those long, cold winter nights or adding that special touch to your barbecue. But for our growing population to attempt to use it as our main fuel would be folly. The developed world moved away from that about 250 years ago. We’re going to need natural gas in the short run and nuclear in the long run.


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  16. 16
    Kit P Says:

    The reason that wood and biomass in general is better than carbon neutral by about a factor of 10 is simple science.

    In nature, biomass is mineralized by fire, or micro-organisms. For example, bacteria in the guts of termites produces methane which is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. The simple act of flaring landfill gas reduced ghg by a factor of 21. If the biogas is used to replace natural gas this then reduces ghg by a factor of 22.

    Nitrous oxide, N2O2, is also produced by decay is 310 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

    Controlled combustion of excess biomass is a standard pollution control method. It has only been recently that making electricity with biomass has become competitive with natural gas. If you know what to look for, there is enough waste biomass in a 25 mile radius to fuel a 50 MWe power plant. Building them is standard technology. Lots of them are already out there built for pollution control.


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  17. 17
    matthew Says:

            Kit P said:

    Controlled combustion of excess biomass is a standard pollution control method. It has only been recently that making electricity with biomass has become competitive with natural gas. If you know what to look for, there is enough waste biomass in a 25 mile radius to fuel a 50 MWe power plant. Building them is standard technology. Lots of them are already out there built for pollution control.

    Of course, a better use for the waste biomass is probably to plow it into fields (where practical) to replenish the nutrients in the soil. I read recently (forgot where-might have been on a forum so take it with a grain of salt) that high intensity farming is leading to soil depletion issues in the North American Midwest, and this might be a good amelioration.


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  18. 18
    DV82XL Says:

    Decaying plant matter mostly creates ammonium and the NO3-minus radical, which is talen up again by other plants as part of the nitrogen cycle.

    Currently, biomass-based electricity generation is a niche market, while it can be energetically competitive with natural gas-based plants it is only economically competitive where electricity is expensive and fuel is cheap or incurs a disposal cost, e.g. waste wood, sawdust, etc.

    Far from a pollution control method, biomass combustion in India resulted in 2.04 Tg yr_1 of PM2.5 emissions, equal to that from fossil fuel combustion in that region.

    As usual Kit P you are very selective with the facts you attempt to use in your arguments. You will find this place even less tolerant than Rod’s if you try to use these tactics.


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  19. 19
    Sigivald Says:

    Q: Pellet stoves aren’t really marketed (primarily, at least) as a “carbon neutral” thing.

    They’re popular around here because they’re a cheap source of heat, with pellets produced from forestry byproducts (sawdust and the other leftovers from turning trees into wood and paper), and the like.

    If you live someplace far enough out in the sticks that you don’t have natural gas lines, it’s a great way to stay warm through the winter.

    (Yes, as a “carbon neutral” marketing gimmick, pellet stoves are ridiculous. As a heat source? They’re fine.)


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  20. 20
    Kit P Says:

    I would agree Matthew that biosolids and ‘compost’ type soil amendments are the preferred use of biomass compared to producing energy. I can show adding an anaerobic digester to a dairy farm reduces ghg by a factor of 900.

    While that sounds absurd it is not when you do a mass and energy balance. As DV82XL suggests lots of other things are produced by the decay of organic matter. The fate and transport of the material determines if it is a pollutant by having a negative impact or has a positive impact such being taken up as nutrients for growing plants.

    Since I was addressing ghg, I did select facts limited to that issue. I will not have to explain why DV82XL attempt to obfuscate the issue with ignorance is wrong.

    So what happens to all that C, N, P, & K + cool micro nutrients from dairy farm manure? The dairy farm uses some of it but some blows away.

    However, being a clever engineer I can design an anaerobic digester to convert almost all of it to useful purpose. If I have a clean source of carbon I can add it to the anaerobic digester to produce more energy and better compost by reducing the C:N. That ghg gas reduction is minor compared to the other environmental benefits. If you have ever been someplace with 90,000 cows you know what I mean.

    Biomass with a low moisture content and now nutrient value (wood) makes a good fuel for a fluidized bed boiler equipped with particulate control.

    I am not sure why DV82XL wants to bring up places like India. In the US, using waste wood reduces air pollution because power plants much follow air quality regulation while nature is not so constrained.


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  21. 21
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    I am not sure why DV82XL wants to bring up places like India. In the US, using waste wood reduces air pollution because power plants much follow air quality regulation while nature is not so constrained.

    Because the last time I looked India was part of the same planet the US is. The original post did not limit the discussion to America. At any rate most wood fuel is burnt as heating in private homes, and as I pointed out above, few know how to use this fuel without making more pollution than the oil it displaces.

    In the end like all renewable energy, biomass is just a distraction from the real solution, which is nuclear energy.


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  22. 22
    Kit P Says:

    “just a distraction”

    There is a pill that can help with a short attention span. As a matter of disclosure my company like others can design biomass, wind, solar, and nuclear. We are pretty focused on nuclear and I suspect the group that is working on biomass is focused on biomass.

    There lots of good ways to provided energy. Wood and nuclear are two of them. There are those with limited vision who can only see one solution at a time but we live in a world that needs many solutions. To reject nuclear power because you do not understand it is stupid. To reject biomass because you do not understand it is stupid.


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  23. 23
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    “ As a matter of disclosure my company like others can design biomass, wind, solar, and nuclear. We are pretty focused on nuclear and I suspect the group that is working on biomass is focused on biomass.

    We all know that you’re an annoying little shill for renewables. I also recall that I have an outstanding question for you over at Rod’s where I asked you to show how one particular post of his was full of lies, something that you had accused him of doing in comments.

    I note that you haven’t answered yet.


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  24. 24
    Kit P Says:

    Yes, I would rather debate the merits of renewable energy and nuclear power than engage endless rounds of ‘your mother wears combat boots’ discussions.

    Just for the record, I do not think Rod’s posts are full of ‘lies’. Those are DV82XL’s words not mine. I respect Rod’s service on submarines but not his advocacies of nuclear power when it includes disrespect of others without foundation. I offered my opinion, he is free to reject it.

    So DV82XL any time you would like to debate science and engineering I am at your service time permitting.

    BTW, the title of the blog is great.


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  25. 25
    DV82XL Says:

    You wrote there: “My grasp of the art of BS is second to none. Rod sets off my BS meter almost every time he posts. ‘Follow the money’ is a very weak argument. Furthermore, Rod’s support of his position is very weak.

    Over and over Rod infers unethical behavior to others based on very weak and mostly wrong arguments. This is in itself unethical behavior.”

    Remember that? See BS to me, and most everyone here is, is a euphemism for “lie”

    I replied:“OK – Please deconstruct this particular post for dissemination. Paragraph by paragraph, I want you to show me where the BS is. If everything he writes is dishonest, it must mean the facts that he is presenting here are wrong, so please show me which ones are fabrications.”

    And you have not

    Your attempt to wiggle out is pathetic, given that many who comment on Rod’s blog comment, here – including this blog’s owner.


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  26. 26
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Kit P said:

    I respect Rod’s service on submarines but not his advocacies of nuclear power when it includes disrespect of others without foundation.

    As a regular reader of Rod’s blog, I have found that he is generally quite respectful. The tone of his blog versus mine would generally put him on the more diplomatic side. I make my point frequently with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor or jabs at the opposition and don’t hide my opinion or refrain from the occasional snide remark.

    It could be called disrespectful at times, I suppose. but hey, it’s a blog, not an encyclopedia.

    Seriously though, if you find Rod disrespectful, then look out!


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  27. 27
    Finrod Says:

    Perhaps Kit P has begun to tire of the annoyingly accurate criticism leveled against him on Atomic Insights, and thinks trolling Depleted Cranium will be more rewarding.

    Kit P is in for an awful shock.

    Kit P is also a great defender of the safety of cigarette smoking, and claims that the studies damning it as a cancer risk are wrong. Kit P might want to check out the following article:

    http://depletedcranium.com/smoking-and-cancer-how-did-we-miss-that-one-or-did-we/


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  28. 28
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Finrod said:

    Kit P is also a great defender of the safety of cigarette smoking, and claims that the studies damning it as a cancer risk are wrong. Kit P might want to check out the following article:

    http://depletedcranium.com/smoking-and-cancer-how-did-we-miss-that-one-or-did-we/

    Seriously? Well lets change to that topic then. I mean that should just plain be fun!


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  29. 29
    Jason Ribeiro Says:

    I enjoyed reading this post very much. The info-graphic of the tree life cycle is nicely done. Maybe the only thing I would add would be some indicator to show the separate pathways to long term sequestration and atmospheric release.

    This can bring up a number of other wood resource related topics as well. If we are interested in preserving trees as a resource and for the environment, then alternatives ought to be explored. For instance, hemp is said to be four times more produce than wood for paper pulp:
    http://www.naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html

    Yet, this crop which is useful for many other purposes is illegal in the USA. Is it fair to deny what seems to be a great business opportunity for farmers because of its association with cannabis smoking? Hemp would be useless for smoking, but really that’s beside the point. Hemp receives the same unfair guilt by association to cannabis that nuclear power gets to nuclear weapons. Of course this gets the brush aside by those in power but if this is really a huge business opportunity then by all means we should seriously consider it especially with the economy as it is.


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  30. 30
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Yeah, hemp is an interesting example of something that’s really just stupid when it comes to US policy.

    Hemp is of the cannabis family and contains small, but detectable traces of THC. The DEA asserts that it is the same as all other forms of the plant and thus it is marijuana. Of course, it’s not. You could nver smoke the stuff to get high. Perhaps you could if you went through a long process of chemical extraction of the tiny amounts of THC.

    While I do think some proponents of hemp may go a bit overboard in making it seem like a mirical crop that can be the cornerstone of the economy, I can’t disagree that it’s a great crop for some things. It has very dense and tough fibers that are excellent for making paper, cloth, rope and other products.

    But…
    Certain tree farm interests, cotton growers and a few others have historically had an interest in preventing hemp from being grown in quantities that could directly compete with their products and have played the drug card very well.


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  31. 31
    Kit P Says:

    While the original topic was ghg, people who heat with wood should be aware that heating with wood can result in elevated levels of certain pollutants. For this reason I did not heat with wood when my children were very young. Also my children lived in houses where smoking was not allowed even for their chain smoking grandparents.

    When I enlisted in the Navy in 1970, I was a rare non smoker. Later as an officer I organized watch rotations so that non-smokers were not trapped with smokers. Now I do not have to breathe others smoke as a condition of employment.

    There are many that do not understand statistically insignificant risk. Rod Adams appears to understand this concept with respect to radiation but not PM 2.5.

    For those who choose to enjoy the benefit of heating with wood, take the time to understand the risk to family, neighbors, and the environment. Minimizing the small risk is not difficult compared to the large benefit.


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  32. 32
    Demeter Says:

    The Manomet study set up a straw man – burning whole, slow-growing trees for energy – and even then found a net gain after 3 to about 40 years, excluding the more implausible cases. What really happens is that forest owners – almost all wood comes from private lands – sell their trees to loggers who sell every last one they can to sawmills and the ones they can’t to pulp mills (or people who chip logs for pulp mills). Sawlogs are worth a lot more money – a lot more – than pulpwood. What they can’t sell to either gets piled up and burned, so the landowner can replant. The sawmill makes lumber, storing some of the carbon in the logs long-term. The chips leftover from the sawmill go to a pulp mill. Both the sawmill and the pulp mill burn sawdust and other wood waste for energy. Somehow this happens without deforestation – forests have been increasing in the US for nearly a century. Amazingly, landowners seem to like making some money off their property and set things up to do it over and over again. They especially like that sawlog part.

    So what happens if a biomass energy plant comes into the picture? For one thing, in New England a lot of pulp mills are shut down. This leaves sawmills with a problem of what to do with all those chips and forest owners with less money for their trees because they can’t sell the pulpwood. The Manomet report said the current price for this stuff in Massachusetts is only $1-2 a ton. That means the landowners are basically donating it to anyone willing to haul it away. The folks with forests and sawmills throughout New England have been hoping for bioenergy markets to fill the void left by closed pulp mills. They’ll have to keep waiting, apparently.

    What if the pulp mills are still there, like in Georgia? First, bioenergy plants will buy the slash that is piled and burned (or left) today. Pulp mills won’t buy this because it’s not clean enough. (It will still be too expensive to drag other wood to the road, though, so no, the acres will not be picked clean of wood.) But there’s quite a bit of this stuff out there, although not enough to meet the ridiculously high bioenergy and biofuel targets (which don’t have to be met, anyway, because the energy and oil companies can pay a penalty price instead when the costs get too high). So bioenergy plants will have to compete with the pulp mills for the cheapest pulpwood. For a landowner this is good news. It means they can thin their forests and grow better sawlogs, which is good for both biodiversity and long-term carbon storage. And it’s great for the landowner, which means more folks will want to own trees and will reduce the temptation to divide the property into vacation cabin sites. The pulp mills are worried they’ll be run out of business, but the bioenergy plants have to have cheap wood. If they have to seriously compete at pulpwood prices then they have miscalculated. Maybe that’s why so many bioenergy plants are proposed and so few are built.

    If Manomet was right about the whole story, then we should all be upset about how biomass is used today, right? Are we glad there’s no market for pulp lots and forests are less valuable for New England tree farmers? Do we wish all the pulp mills that switched to biomass and shut down oil and gas fired burners hadn’t done it, because they created a carbon debt? Do we wish they’d switch back? Maybe only in Massachusetts.


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  33. 33
    Kim Says:

    > Then there are those who are enamored with some abstract romantic notion of an untouched natural
    > environment, a garden of Eden that is despoiled by any and all human activity. I can’t express clearly in
    > words how much I loathe these people.

    I’m reminded of the ladies I see in the store who bring their reusable bags through the checkout, along with a large package of individual bottled waters in their cart.


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  34. 34
    Jason Webb Says:

    It is important to use a properly sized appliance for the space to be heated

    Regards/-
    Jason Webb


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  35. 35
    Dave Says:

    Carbon neutrality is very much like perpetual energy. It doesn’t exist, it is an ideological model against which you may wish to measure efficiency, like a control.

    Equilibrium on the other hand does exist and does tend to be the natural order of things in nature, physics, chemistry, biology and so on. When something is changed in the equilibrium then other changes begin to take place, in response to the original change, to try to restore that equilibrium. Mankind had been changing things for thousands of years, but more notably over the last few hundred. Now this is a guess, which by the way is no more than those that scientists make when they portray what colour a dinosaur was. The changes in the planet environment is probably a consequence of the equilibrium being restored and given that we probably have no idea what that equilibrium was before the balance was upset, because mankind did not have the means by which to measure it, then we have no idea what is required to restore it.

    Now that some of mankind, in all their wisdom, have decided that ‘we’ (mankind) have caused a significant change in the environment and need to do something about it I think that we should consider how suddenly changing what we are doing will affect the re-balancing of the equilibrium that is currently occurring.

    It has probably taken hundreds, possibly thousands of years for nature to reach this stage of change to try to restore a natural equilibrium. Unless someone actually knows what nature is trying to restore it to then you have no way of knowing what changes need making to help it.

    Its a bit like someone taking a grand piano, smashing it into a million pieces. Without telling you what it is, giving it to you to transport it halfway down the amazon and you giving it to a previously undiscovered tribe and saying can you restore this to its previous state please. When they pass you back a bed, with a wire sprung mattress and nice polished head board and it looks good, it works as a bed and they have used all the bits, it doesn’t mean it is right. They have restored the pieces as they think they should fit (ie. mankind now), but the chances of it being anything like the original, as it was intended, are almost impossible because they don’t know what it was previously.

    I am not suggesting ‘we’ should do nothing, but we should at least reach a point where there is some concensus about where we should be going. When scientists can’t agree and when no-one seems to have any concrete evidence about what is right or wrong then you can’t be sure that what you are doing isn’t more damaging.

    How do we know what is natural and what is not. When a resource becomes scarce we either learn how to re-use it, ie recycling, or we run out. Alternatively we manufacture an alternative, if we later discover the alternative is hazardous we stop manufacturing it and then look at ways to undo the damage created through its use. Its not rocket science, we have been doing it for years. The problem has usually, almost always, been the obstruction created by someone, or some organisation, that is making massive wealth from the process. This includes governments, multinationals, wealthy entrepreneurs etc.

    Even now I believe that some of the above mentioned groups have only jumped on the bandwagon because they have seen an opportunity to exploit the scarcity of resources, limit their use, charge a premium for the resource, impose a new tax, etc. (They haven’t actually stopped using them, mining them, drilling for them or stopped de-forestation, they usually find an excuse for that, or try to justify it by saying its the poor indigenous people who rely on the process for their survival eg borneo de-forestation, but who made the indigenous people reliant on de-forestation and the oils from the palm trees etc. Civilisation.


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  36. 36
    Dennis Grier Says:

    This is an interesting blog site because the comments seem to be made by technically informed contributors. From reading through, I have retained that the question of whether burning wood pellets is carbon neutral is not simple to answer.
    I liked the flow chart of the life cycle of a tree, and also the dissertation on equilibrium in nature. Trees and forests are beautiful things, so we should be careful not abuse them. If the mechanism for equilibrium works also for global warming , we may not like the result.
    What would be your comments on this question: If we accept that the new equilibrium after we have reached 500ppm CO2 in the atmosphere would be very uncomfortable for humanity how would you go about stopping the rise of CO2. Lets say we go all electric. The CO2 lifetime emissions of the different electric power station options is approx. as follows: Solar 17gm/kWh, Wind 13G/kWh, both for a lifetime of 30years (no replacements!). Hydro 150g/kWh over lifetime (seems high to me, are there hidden sources?), Solar 17g/kWh ( but only if on the top of buildings, not in fields), Coal 500gm/kWh, Gas 350g/kWh and Nuclear 40g/kWh. These figures include mining, construction, fueling and for Nuclear, include the decommissioning and emissions for waste storage excavation .
    So it looks as if solar, wind or nuclear should be the only energy source permitted. However, if we have to choose among these 3 we may remember that a GW of averaged wind power needs about 100km square (10km x 10km), and solar something like a 7km x 7km array! Nuclear would be something like 1km square.
    Providing we can store the output from wind and solar and we have unlimited surface space we should go for that. But storage is very,very difficult ( imagine a building with 1GW week of energy stored in it!) and space is at a premium, at least in Europe. So maybe nuclear is the way to go. Looking at the safety and aesthetic aspects of these 3 options in fact nuclear has about the same statistics for deaths and injuries as wind and solar and much better figures than hydro or coal ( average deaths in the 1000′s/ year, especially for coal!). The problem of storage of radioactive waste ( about 1kg/day of low level waste per 1GW station) is small compared with the 10kTons/ day of CO2 storage for a 1GW coal power station.
    If all these figures are not nonsense, why are we shutting down nuclear (most of the construction CO2 has already been released!), building coal generators everywhere (lignite coal, to boot!) and covering the countryside with huge wind turbines? Have I misunderstood something?


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  37. 37
    Anon Says:

            Dennis Grier said:

    What would be your comments on this question: If we accept that the new equilibrium after we have reached 500ppm CO2 in the atmosphere would be very uncomfortable for humanity how would you go about stopping the rise of CO2.

    Nuclear is the only technology we have that we know can do the job.

            Dennis Grier said:

    Lets say we go all electric. The CO2 lifetime emissions of the different electric power station options is approx. as follows: Solar 17gm/kWh, Wind 13G/kWh, both for a lifetime of 30years (no replacements!).

    Doesn’t account for backup power, which in practice means you have to add > 50% the figure for gas to those.

            Dennis Grier said:

    Hydro 150g/kWh over lifetime (seems high to me, are there hidden sources?),

    I’m pretty sure that’s wrong, actually you’re other figures seem suspect to me (solar should be higher).

            Dennis Grier said:

    So it looks as if solar, wind or nuclear should be the only energy source permitted. However, if we have to choose among these 3 we may remember that a GW of averaged wind power needs about 100km square (10km x 10km), and solar something like a 7km x 7km array! Nuclear would be something like 1km square.

    A bigger issue is how quickly you can ramp up production, France managed to switch from mostly oil to mostly nuclear in about a couple of decades, those countries which tried wind and solar have not been moving to those sources anywhere near as quickly.

            Dennis Grier said:

    Providing we can store the output from wind and solar and we have unlimited surface space we should go for that. But storage is very,very difficult ( imagine a building with 1GW week of energy stored in it!) and space is at a premium, at least in Europe.

    Europe can’t power itself on its own renewables anyway.

            Dennis Grier said:

    Looking at the safety and aesthetic aspects of these 3 options in fact nuclear has about the same statistics for deaths and injuries as wind and solar and much better figures than hydro or coal ( average deaths in the 1000′s/ year, especially for coal!).

    Nuclear doesn’t have the same safety record of wind, but a much better one, even solar has a worse safety record when you consider the deaths from falls installing rooftop solar.

            Dennis Grier said:

    If all these figures are not nonsense, why are we shutting down nuclear (most of the construction CO2 has already been released!), building coal generators everywhere (lignite coal, to boot!) and covering the countryside with huge wind turbines? Have I misunderstood something?

    Because the fossil fuel companies want to make money, building useless renewable energy systems is just a way to distract attention from the real solution, i.e. nuclear power.


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  38. 38
    Dennis Grier Says:

    Thanks for your reply Anon. My comment hasn’t provoked exactly a frenzied discussion. You’re right about the figures. I spent some time looking around to get a general consensus on rough numbers; some of those I saw appeared to be an order of magnitude wrong!
    Your phrase at the end of your reply left me worried. Are you saying we have stupid and irresponsible governments, who only listen to the lobbies without thinking for themselves?
    Maybe you shouldn’t reply to that!


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  39. 39
    Anon Says:

            Dennis Grier said:

    Your phrase at the end of your reply left me worried. Are you saying we have stupid and irresponsible governments, who only listen to the lobbies without thinking for themselves?
    Maybe you shouldn’t reply to that!

    It would certainly fit with what we’ve observed of them.


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