Sunday, March 6, 2016

Are Wood Burning Power Plants Carbon Neutral?

My dad cutting down a tree for firewood in northern Wisconsin.
A controversy has erupted over new greenhouse gas guidelines for wood burning power plants in a bipartisan U.S. energy bill. You can read about it here in an article in Science by Warren Cornwall.

Many have looked to wood burning as a carbon neutral energy source. Forests grow back and can sequester the carbon that is released upon burning harvested wood. In most greenhouse gas calculations, wood burning is a neutral or zero sum activity since the burning of wood assumes a replacement of trees after harvest.

However, there is growing concern over wood burning power plants at the present moment because so many of them are ramping up in forested areas like New England as a way for regions around the world to try to find sources of carbon neutral energy production. Many scientists are worried that the rapid development of wood burning power plants will lead to sudden deforestation without appropriate ecosystem restoration. Plus, as the article notes, wood burning releases more carbon dioxide per unit energy than coal. If appropriate forest replacement is not done well, there is a danger that wood burning power plants will actually lead to more greenhouse gases.

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