To some, it is not initially clear why wood pellets are a carbon neutral fuel, but they are indeed recognized as such by the Kyoto Protocol and by renewable energy policies in the United States.
Why is this? It is because all above ground carbon returns to the atmosphere through decomposition if not through combustions. In other words, if the proverbial ‘tree falls in the forest’, normal decomposition of the log will return the carbon from the log to the atmosphere. When wood pellets are burned in a pellet stove, pellet boiler or pellet furnace, the same carbon returns to the atmosphere. But unlike a propane, electric or oil heating system, no fossil fuels are brought up from underground to accelerate climate change.
In fact, it is actually true that combustion in a modern pellet appliance is cleaner than organic decomposition in a forest, in that normally rotting wood gives off significant amounts of methane, which is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, from the perspective of global warming.
Will widespread use of wood pellets cause deforestation?
Actually, whether trees fall or are cut is not the issue. What matters is the rate of planting and growth of trees. It is through plant growth that carbon is removed from the atmosphere and turned into wood (a hydrocarbon). So cutting down trees to make parking lots is clearly a huge problem.
But just as younger people grow faster than older people, it is actually true that modern forestry practices such as over-story removal (whereby older trees are carefully removed, allowing younger trees ample sunlight to grow rapidly) actually improve the rate of carbon removal from the atmosphere. Ironically, sometimes the goal of the forest landowner and the environmentalist are well aligned – both want to pull as much carbon out of the atmosphere as possible, and to convert that carbon into wood.
It is also important to note that the large majority of wood pellets are NOT made by cutting down trees in the first place. The value of wood pellets is not high enough to warrant the cost of cutting down trees, so trees are cut for lumber or other purposes, and it is actually the waste products of those operations which are typically recycled into wood pellets. The wood pellets we sell that do come from whole trees come from dead trees, which the forest service has asked to be removed from forests due to fire hazards.
Does burning wood pellets create smog and air pollution?
A common misconception is that all wood burning is bad, and for clarity, WoodPellets.com, the Alliance for Green Heat, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council and the Pellet Fuels Institute all support stringent controls on emissions from biomass heating systems.
Uncontrolled burning of wood in non-EPA certified wood stoves and fireplaces creates smoke, creosote and significant emissions issues. However, wood is an uncontrolled fuel source, with anywhere from 20-40% moisture present when burned for heat in homes. Flakes of wood break off in combustion and can float up a chimney, never completing combustion, resulting in smoke and issues with particulates.
However, wood pellets are a highly refined heating fuel, which are dried to a uniform 4-6% moisture content. They are burned in well controlled systems that run extremely hot and with sufficient airflow to ensure complete combustion. As a result, with roughly 2 million tons of pellets being burned annually in the United States, particulate emissions from wood pellets only amount to <1% of the particulate emissions from forest fires and <2% of the emissions from less well controlled wood combustion.
With biomass electric generation, only 20-35% of the energy in forest products becomes useful electric power. 65-85% of the energy content of the wood is discarded as waste heat from the facilities.With biomass conversion to liquid fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, less then 40% of the energy in the feedstock is converted into usable fuel. But with biomass co-generation or biomass thermal, 80-92% of energy resources of forest products wind up as useful energy, displacing fossil fuels & carbon emissions.
With a limited quantity of sustainable forest resources available, efficient usage results in:
Lower environmental impact and lower carbon emissions
Lessened reliance on imported fossil fuels
Greater job creation and a significantly higher federal and state tax revenue base
Unlike solar or wind energy, biomass must be harvested, transported and replenished year-after-year, so the labor content is much higher than for other renewable fuels.Whereas a biomass electric power plant may employ 30 people or a biomass to cellulosic plant may employ roughly the same, wood pellet plants employ roughly 200 people directly in manufacturing for the same level of production.Because these employees contribute to our nation’s fiscal health through employment taxes, biomass heating is actually revenue simulative for our federal government and with adoption by just 10% of the homes in the Northeast could contribute over $4B in federal revenues over the next ten years (net of proposed incentives)
As of right now in Vermont, no recycling center or solid waste district has been accepting the #4 plastic that is used to make our bags. One option is to call your local glass shops because a lot of them use this heavy plastic to wrap and insulate their glass products. If they are bound up in easily handled bundles, they may take them.
There are many excellent resources available to learn about Wood Pellet Heating and Biomass Energy. These are just a few.
General Consumer Information:
Non-Profits Supporting Renewal Heating Include: