Monday, June 13, 2011

Wood: The Renewable Energy That’s Generating Interest

Prominent sustainability and environmental journalist Marc Gunther recently profiled wood heating in his blog, calling it the “Renewable Energy that Gets No Respect”

The article can be found here:

Since its publication, the article has been picked up by at least a dozen other blogs and newsletters and has garnered a significant amount of response from the environmental and renewable energy communities. Here’s what some people are saying.


Dave G wrote,

Marc- Thanks for bringing the renewable energy discussion back to earth. Biomass is still the lowest-cost renewable technology out there after hydro and geothermal and is certainly well below the delivered KWh costs of off-shore wind or PV. Better yet, the costs of converting coal firing furnaces to biomass co-firing capability is low and is driving the 40% increase (2009-2010) in demand for pellets in the EU27. According to Hawkins Wright’s Forest Energy Monitor ( the new UK Renewable Heat Incentive is really taking shape and driving major investments in biomass technology across the grid. UK alone will sink some £860M into supporting conversion of maturing boilers to biomass capability which is expected to create another £4.5B in allied renewable energy investments by 2020. While our Federal and State regulators ponder the academics of how best to account for the shift from carbon to carbohydrates the EU is quickly purchasing all of North America’s residual and underutilized wood fiber and moving to a solution which will significantly reduce net GHG emissions. Biomass could drive so many positive changes in energy security, climate change, and land management if we could loosen the coal industry’s grip on politician’s wallets.

From the Biomass Thermal Energy Council’s LinkedIn Groups

Steve Elbes Wrote,

Saying that wood burning gets no respect is a bit generous. In many areas of the country, wood burning has a bad reputation and in many cases deservedly so. The North American outdoor wood burning industry as a rule has done a great disservice to the notion that wood is a "clean/green" fuel. Years of false or misleading statements regarding the use of unseasoned wood, promotion and manufacture of units that are grossly in-efficient, and resellers that have little understanding or actual knowledge of combustion and heat transfer have done tremendous damage to wood burning in general and wood boilers in particular.
Gasification technology is old news in Europe and has been commonly applied to many different combustion appliances. (do a little internet searching about wood gas powered automobiles) Here in the USA, first cost/lowest cost dominates thinking as always and so what if it fouls the air and uses twice the fuel that a unit designed for efficiency does. 
As a person involved in the heating industry I am frustrated that best practices and best technology have been so slow in being adopted by the US market. In addition, the current EPA standards and test protocol bear about as much resemblance to real world conditions as I do to Jessica Simpson. They are an embarrassment to anyone with a functioning brain as witnessed by the outrageous claims of efficiencies well into condensing territory when such is not even remotely possible. That these efficiencies were posted on the EPA's website in the first place (subsequently removed thank goodness) is a testimony that some one or maybe no one was paying attention. 
Wood burning, be it cord wood, processed product, wood waste, chipped form or what ever, can play a large part in the energy security and independence of this hemisphere. It has to be said though that this will happen only if wood is viewed as the same caliber resource as solar, wind, gas or oil. It must be used and consumed with the best possible technology and the best accepted practices or it will fall far short of its potential.
The soap box is now open. 


I've a close friend who has less than 10 acres and uses only wood to heat her home, its a small house and they make due with 2 small trees a year, and they only cut the ones that have died the year before due to lightning strikes or other natural reasons. They never cut a tree that's not already dead and they have lived on this land by these means for at least 20 years.
Its not a micro house its a very comfy house for 3 people to live in, no they don't have 50x50 bedrooms and a bath that could house a small country but its still nice enough.
Overindulgence is the main problem, if everyone had a realistic sized house the acres needed should be much less than 10. A modest house and smart use of other sources of energy such as geothermal and solar is the best we've got, it may not be perfect but that's not going to happen ever. Sadly THATs not going to happen if people keep whining about every little thing, take baby steps and ween people off the evil energy producers.

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