Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

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Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#1  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 10, 2013 1:25 am

Christ this is stupid maybe not-so-stupid.

WHICH source of renewable energy is most important to the European Union? Solar power, perhaps? (Europe has three-quarters of the world’s total installed capacity of solar photovoltaic energy.) Or wind? (Germany trebled its wind-power capacity in the past decade.) The answer is neither. By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.

In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption. In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable-energy demand. Even in Germany, home of the Energiewende (energy transformation) which has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power, 38% of non-fossil fuel consumption comes from the stuff. After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon energy revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favoured fuel of pre-industrial societies.

The idea that wood is low in carbon sounds bizarre. But the original argument for including it in the EU’s list of renewable-energy supplies was respectable. If wood used in a power station comes from properly managed forests, then the carbon that billows out of the chimney can be offset by the carbon that is captured and stored in newly planted trees. Wood can be carbon-neutral. Whether it actually turns out to be is a different matter. But once the decision had been taken to call it a renewable, its usage soared.
Last edited by Loren Michael on Apr 10, 2013 4:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#2  Postby epete » Apr 10, 2013 2:00 am

What exactly is the "stupid" part? Plantation wood is renewable, and carbon neutral. I'd also have to see more details on how the wood is being used. Not sure if you are aware of biomass generators which are very efficient systems to burn biomass including a lot of the methane and CO2 that combustion normally outputs. It's not like burning wood in a fireplace. It's a totally different combustion process.

I'm guessing the "stupid" part you are referring to is probably the fact that biomass probably isn't likely to meet our future energy needs. Although, I'd have to see some actual figures to confirm that. Perhaps this can form part of a conversation about how much energy we use, rather than finding a source of unlimited energy. :dunno:
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#3  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 10, 2013 2:07 am

The rest of the article gets into why what sounds like a bad idea is a bad idea.

Wood produces carbon twice over: once in the power station, once in the supply chain. The process of making pellets out of wood involves grinding it up, turning it into a dough and putting it under pressure. That, plus the shipping, requires energy and produces carbon: 200kg of CO2 for the amount of wood needed to provide 1MWh of electricity.

This decreases the amount of carbon saved by switching to wood, thus increasing the price of the savings. Given the subsidy of £45 per MWh, says Mr Vetter, it costs £225 to save one tonne of CO2 by switching from gas to wood. And that assumes the rest of the process (in the power station) is carbon neutral. It probably isn’t.


[...]

As another bit of the EU, the European Environment Agency, said in 2011, the assumption “that biomass combustion would be inherently carbon neutral…is not correct…as it ignores the fact that using land to produce plants for energy typically means that this land is not producing plants for other purposes, including carbon otherwise sequestered.”

Tim Searchinger of Princeton University calculates that if whole trees are used to produce energy, as they sometimes are, they increase carbon emissions compared with coal (the dirtiest fuel) by 79% over 20 years and 49% over 40 years; there is no carbon reduction until 100 years have passed, when the replacement trees have grown up. But as Tom Brookes of the European Climate Foundation points out, “we’re trying to cut carbon now; not in 100 years’ time.”
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#4  Postby epete » Apr 10, 2013 2:34 am

Probably fair points. But there's a couple of assumptions in there. One is that the land being used for biomass generation (by the way, wood isn't the only source of biomass for biomass generators) would otherwise be used for carbon sequestration. I don't know the dynamics of land uses in Europe to confidently assess this one way or other. But I'd tend to think it's a faulty assumption.

The second is that you would chop down old growth forest initially before moving to plantation sources. That may well be the case at the present (I don't know), but there's no reason why it has to be that way (unless there just isn't sufficient biomass in plantation state - or otherwise non-forest products - at the moment).
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#5  Postby epete » Apr 10, 2013 2:36 am

Oh, the other point I was going to mention was that no renewable technology is going to be carbon neutral when you factor in the manufacturing process. That's not to say, though, that they are all as bad as each other. I accept that there might be an argument to be made that the conversion of wood into biomass pellets is more carbon intensive than solar panels and other renewable technologies.
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#6  Postby Macdoc » Apr 10, 2013 2:47 am

Sweden has taken that approach and lets face it boreal forest is not good for cropping and a fast growing tree can provide a fuel source quite quickly.
Sweden has moved all of it's home heating away from fossil fuels as part of its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 as an industrial nation.
It takes no where near 100 years for a tree to be useful in this regard. Fast growing softwoods grow very rapidly
The Bigfoot Willow Hybrid

is a hybrid willow that was created through decades of research, to create a disease-resistant fast growing tree for multiple uses and with excellent growth rates. At times, the Bigfoot Hybrid Willow is considered the fastest growing tree in temperate areas and for good reason. Under ideal conditions, these fast growing trees have been known to grow up to 15 ft a year in northern locations and have the ability to surpass 20 ft a year in longer growing seasons in the south. Through experience in my Iowa location, it is quite feasible for the Bigfoot Willow Hybrid to reach 20-30 ft tall after two growing seasons. Explore all the information and photos on this site and see if the Bigfoot Willow Hybrid is the right choice for you.

http://www.bigfootwillow.com

and new wood pellet stoves are very very efficient.

CATALYTIC WOOD STOVES, ADVANCED COMBUSTION WOODSTOVES, AND CENTRALIZED WOOD-BURNING BOILERS
Wood stoves are the most common appliance for burning wood. New catalytic stoves and inserts have advertised efficiencies of 70% to 80%.

Advanced combustion woodstoves provide a lot of heat but only work efficiently when the fire burns at full throttle. Also known as secondary burn stoves, they can reach temperatures of 1,100°F -- hot enough to burn combustible gases.

MASONRY HEATERS
Masonry heaters are also known as "Russian," "Siberian," and "Finnish" fireplaces. They produce more heat and less pollution than any other wood- or pellet-burning appliance. Masonry heaters include a firebox, a large masonry mass (such as bricks), and long twisting smoke channels that run through the masonry mass. Their fireboxes are lined with firebrick, refractory concrete, or similar materials that can handle temperatures of over 2,000°F (1,093°C).

A small hot fire built once or twice a day releases heated gases into the long masonry heat tunnels. The masonry absorbs the heat and then slowly releases it into the house over a period of 12 to 20 hours. Masonry heaters commonly reach a combustion efficiency of 90%.




That's not to say, though, that they are all as bad as each other. I accept that there might be an argument to be made that the conversion of wood into biomass pellets is more carbon intensive than solar panels and other renewable technologies.


Pelletizing wood is pretty mechanical and even a low head waterwheel could do it especially with softwoods....applying high tech materials and low tech small power sources could easily make it carbon neutral.

Getting it to the user tho is a challenge....Sweden is having difficulty with carbon neutral transport.....as is the rest of the planet.

epete
he second is that you would chop down old growth forest initially before moving to plantation sources. That may well be the case at the present (I don't know), but there's no reason why it has to be that way (unless there just isn't sufficient biomass in plantation state - or otherwise non-forest products - at the moment).


There is for all practical purposes no old growth forests left, Germany and Japan have practiced silvaculture for 400 years.
Japan's forests look as regular as a farmer's field.
Trees are ideal for marginal land too steep, rocky or otherwise difficult for other uses. Farmers have harvested a single woodlot for generations without running out of mature biomass for use on the farm.

Footprint per household is a problem but it makes "off grid" - off fossil fairly straight forward for rural. Hell it's super old tech....just the efficiency is new.
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#7  Postby Loren Michael » Apr 10, 2013 4:33 am

That seems like good info, Macdoc. Thanks.
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#8  Postby Macdoc » Apr 10, 2013 7:08 am

My pleasure

There was a study in Ontario of the wealth that could be created if we actually took a long term crop view and planted valuable hardwoods such as black walnut.
One guy did .....for his grandkids....something like 80 trees which he then simply pruned a bit to ensure straight growth.

The value at the time of the article ( some 50 years after planting ) was near $800,000. Canada is wasteful of it's land and forest resources. Some parts of Europe are not.

http://www.cost.eu/domains_actions/fps/Actions/FP0703


Japan - How Japan Saved its Forests: The Birth of Silviculture and Community Forest Management

Author: Gerry Marten
This story is excerpted from Environmental Tipping Points: A New Paradigm for Restoring Ecological Security, Journal of Policy Studies (Japan), No.20 (July 2005), pages 75-87.
Three hundred years ago Japan was on a course of rapacious deforestation that was turning the nation's landscape into a wasteland. Community management of village forests was a tipping point that launched a new era of professional silviculture which spread from village to village, restoring Japan's forests. It saved the nation from ecological disaster.



http://www.ecotippingpoints.org/our-sto ... lture.html

Humanity is not doing a great job of managing the wealth.
Careless strip mining of forests is one aspect.
Instead careful management can be sustainable....new techniques allow taking out select valuable trees by helicopter without damaging the general eco system.

tory: Logging native forests
Page 7 – Sustainable forest management

Stopping timber production from publicly owned forests put more pressure on privately owned forests, including those on Māori land. In 1993 the Forests Act 1949 was amended to stop unsustainable logging of native forest. Since then, a policy called sustainable management has been applied to privately owned native forests. Only single trees or small groups can be felled. However, not everyone cooperates and problems arise when owners decide to clearfell trees on their land.

New logging techniques

Since the early 1980s, new logging techniques have been used to support sustainable management. Helicopters remove single trees, avoiding damage to the surrounding forest. Patch or ‘coupe’ clearfelling respects the natural mosaic growth pattern of rimu forest by taking out small patches of mature trees. Small bush mills using chainsaws are set up in the forest. These process single trees, and salvage tree stumps and crowns left behind by early logging operations. Timber is taken out of the forest by motorbikes with trailers, without harming other trees.


http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/logging-nat ... sts/page-7

We might smarten up before it's all gone...:coffee:
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Re: Europe’s most important renewable energy source? Wood!

#9  Postby quisquose » Apr 10, 2013 8:32 am

There was a Material World programme on BBC R4 about the viability of burning wood for energy on 15 Dec 2012. Available here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/material/all
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