Study finds transatlantic pellet trade results in SIGNIFICANT GHG REDUDUCTIONS over fossil fuels

Selected quotes from Biomass Magazine article summarizing a joint study conducted by U. Ga., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Yale:

– “A new study … has determined that the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of a unit of electricity generated in the U.K. using imported wood pellets is at least 50 percent lower than the GHG intensity of grid electricity derived from fossil fuels

This study addresses the shortcoming of previous studies as follows: “those studies have typically assumed the feedstocks for pellet production were sourced from either nearby forest for from a wood processing facility located at a fixed distance to the pellet plant. The researchers also stressed that existing studies have considered only one harvest cycle when determining GHG savings, which has raised concerns among environmentalists and others.”

– “the researchers determined relative GHG emissions savings for electricity generated in the U.K. using imported wood pellets under 930 different scenarios. The analysis considered three types of woody feedstocks, two forest management choices, 31 plantation rotation ages and five power plant capacities. Depending on the power plant capacity and the rotation age, the results found relative per unit GHG savings in the range of 50 percent to 68 percen”

– “According to the information published in the study, the results of the analysis contradict the general belief that the use of wood pellets from 10 to 15 year old pine plantations in the southern U.S. do not provide GHG savings in Europe. Rather, GHG savings were found to be at least 50 percent, even at lower rotation ages.”

The full study can be found on IOP Science/Research Letters


  1. maybe, but it’s always worth considering the $ource of information…

    “Acknowledgments. Authors are thankful for the funding provided by Energy Biosciences Institute @ University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/University of California, Berkeley.”

    (and from here:
    “Public Universities and BP’s Energy Biosciences Institute: Emergence of the Corporate Campus?”
    (note: Energy Biosciences Institute, aka “EBI” is a venture of British Petroleum aka “BP”)
    “On February 1, 2007, BP committed $500 million to create what appears to be the largest university-industry partnership in U.S. history with the University of California at Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), dedicated to problems related to global energy production and expected to research primarily biofuels, would encompass 24 laboratories on the three campuses, representing an unprecedented occupation of university space and cooption of public resources by a corporation…. If EBI, as envisioned by the partner universities’ proposal, is approved, the ideal of academic communities interested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake is likely to suffer beyond the boundaries of the Universities of California and Illinois.”

    (or, from the L.A. Times,
    “UC Berkeley biofuels deal stirs debate. Critics of a $500-million agreement with BP to create a lab at the school raise questions about the influence the oil giant would have on campus….”

    interesting reading, decide for yourself… caveat lector.

    • Guy

      Gee, I guess that makes the petrochemical industry look kind of stupid – funding a study whose results were contrary to what the petrochemical industry would hope. Since the results weren’t squashed, I guess that they didn’t have as much influence as your negative outlook assumes. So much for that approach in your effort to demean the study by innuendo.

      Is it possible that there are some researchers who can’t be bought? Is there a reason that you think that all research which disagrees with your extremely uninformed and biased viewpoint about forestry must be industry funded and carried out by evil researchers bent on making a quick buck? Did you get that impression by observing evil anti-forestry groups use faux science and emotions to drum up funds to keep their salaries coming in? Sorry, but if you are going to use innuendo then I might as well use it on you – after all, as you illustrate, who needs to take the time to get the facts when innuendo is easier and more fun. If I was a lawyer who spent a fair amount of time opposing sound forestry, I’d go light on accusing others of being unprincipled and pursuing the almighty dollar over scientific truths. Your argument cuts both ways, people are people. It’s ludicrous to suggest that all the people opposed to your opinions are evil and all of the people that you agree with are pure as the driven snow.

      U. Ga. and Yale are premier forestry schools and their integrity is well respected. I have a graduate degree from U. Ga. and know of the university’s leading Environmental and Forestry Schools. Any tainting or hint of tainting through association would be devastating to both schools.

  2. This is an interesting paper, and time (and research by others) will tell if it holds up. All university research is funded by someone, and only a tiny bit by the universities themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean that any particular study is biased or bought-and-paid-for, only that context is always important, and willful ignorance of the context is… just that. BP certainly isn’t being stupid (except maybe in how they operate oil drilling rigs), here’s what they say about cellulosic biofuels:
    “A significant strand of the company’s strategy is developing next generation cellulosic biofuel technologies and licensing them for commercial use globally. BP’s biofuels activities include the development of proprietary biomass-to-ethanol conversion technology, a leading edge research and development (R&D) capability and a biofuels demonstration facility necessary to advance the company’s cellulosic biofuels strategy.” source:

    • Guy:

      You are in a much better position than I am to answer this question: How much research in the environmental sciences field is paid for by the federal government, how much by other governments, and how much by industry? The more I learn, the more it seems as if Eisenhower was right. Your thoughts?

      • hi Bob, I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge, which is somewhat generally. Almost all university research is funded extramurally (i.e. not by the university), and a good university faculty job nowadays usually provides salary, an office, and some lab space. It used to often include some technician salary and maybe grad student money, but that has largely gone away.

        So typically the lion’s share of a research professor’s day is spent looking for funding for operating costs, people, travel, and publication (the above article is in a journal that requires authors to pay-to-publish, a new model that is unfortunately becoming pervasive).

        Source of funding doesn’t necessarily prove anything, in my opinion, but is always worth looking at because it can be a source of subtle and not-so-subtle influence (including subconscious bias) in research. One bottom line becomes: piss off your funding source and lose your funding, which for younger faculty can mean losing your job (one reason why, as an old tenured guy, I can vent my opinions on a forum like this, while many junior faculty would hesitate to do so).

        As to your question, the overall mix varies, as an example for my own financially modest research program (a mix of environmental and ag) I find about $100k annually (operating, grad student, no technician). Of that $100,000, about $1,500 (i.e. only 1.5%) comes via the university (though even that is originally federal because we’re a land-grant institution). The rest is a mix of federal (USDA mostly for me, occasionally EPA or even USFS or USFWS), and maybe 20% ag commodity groups (beets, wheat, potato etc. over the years).

        My own commodity-funded work is primarily in applied pest management, and not on any policy-related issues. I’m glad it’s not, because there’s always pressure not to bite the hand that feeds you. Which is my concern about university/corporate associations like EBI above. It doesn’t necessarily poison the results, but should always be considered.

        The primary example is probably medical research funded by pharmaceutical companies, which raises lots of concerns. Here’s a couple short related articles if anyone’s interested: “Who Pays for Science” (from U.C. Berkeley) and “Dark Side of Medical Research: Widespread Bias and Omissions.”

        I think Eisenhower was more concerned about government funding and not about industry funding, so I’ll give him half-right, which is probably better than most politicians.

        • Guy:

          Thanks very much for this thoughtful and detailed response. I think that Eisenhower was very concerned with the “military-industrial complex,” so the next question would be what portions of these industries are supported by government contracts — not asking, just ruminating!

          Thanks, too, for the links! Looks like interesting reading, and the types of information I am interested in.

    • Guy

      The petrochemical industry’s interest in cellulosic biofuel doesn’t include pellets. Weyerhaeuser is supplying wood to Kior about 6 miles from my home and their proprietary cracking process can produce two kinds of crude for refining by Chevron/Texaco/others which is then introduced into the existing liquid fuel distribution system just as corn is converted to ethyl alcohol and mixed with standard fuels and then introduced into a limited liquid fuel distribution system.

      Pellets are a direct substitute for the entire petrochemical industry in generating thermal energy or grid electricity. When a powerhouse burns pellets to generate electricity for the grid, they cut the petrochemical industry completely out of the picture. A powerhouse burns wood pellets directly instead of burning coal, diesel, crude or natural gas to turn the turbines that generate the electricity. So my original statement that the findings of the study in the OP are contrary to the desires of the petrochemical industry still stands. Based on that knowledge, it would seem that the petrochemical industry had no influence on the reported results unless they were suicidal. Read your own quote above: “BP’s biofuels activities include the development of proprietary biomass-to-ethanol conversion technology”. Read it again and remember that there is no ‘conversion to petrochemicals’ involved in utilizing wood pellets – after all, isn’t that what the whole OP study is all about – pellets not petrochemicals?

      Compared to the Chevron/Kior/Weyerhaeuser combined efforts, BP is so behind the 8 ball that it is pathetic. BP is focusing on creating ethanol with a short life span (2 to 3 weeks virtually eliminating the ability to use pipelines for transportation), low energy yield and limited product use as opposed to Kior which can produce crude for any kind of petrochemical product/market and without the short life span. But, since pellets aren’t converted into petrochemicals, they bypass them both and eliminate all of the high fossil fuel use required to convert wood into petrochemicals.

  3. The following is from a May 2013 post on this blog. Click here to view all the links contained in the post from Dogwood Alliance’s Dana Smith.

    The following blog post is from the Dogwood Alliance’s Dana Smith and appeared on their blog:

    Today, Dogwood Alliance and our long-time partner, Natural Resources Defense Council, launched Our Forests Aren’t Fuel, a campaign to stop the large-scale burning of trees for electricity. It’s no coincidence that the launch of this new effort coincides with today’s Wall Street Journal front-page story exposing how Southern wetland forests are being clearcut, turned into pellets and shipped overseas to be burned in European power stations.

    For over a year now, we’ve been doing our homework, researching the market trends, identifying the major corporate players and investigating the impacts on the ground. We’ve been cultivating partnerships and allies (check out the 75 groups signed on to our campaign platform) and informing the media, including, of course, the Wall Street Journal, who we extensively briefed on the issues leading up to today’s article. We’ve been preparing for just the right moment to expose the inconvenient truths about burning wood for electricity: it not only threatens wildlife and water resources in the world’s most biologically diverse temperate forest, but it also threatens to accelerate climate change, endangering life as we know it on planet Earth. Today, the smoking gun is revealed, with evidence that trees from clearcut 100-year old wetland forests in the Southern US were burned as fuel to generate electricity.

    Misdirected renewable energy policies both here in the US and in Europe treat biomass, including the burning of trees, as renewable energy just like solar and wind. With billions of dollars of government subsidies available, over the past several years, major utility companies have been converting coal burning power plants to wood, even though there is a mounting body of scientific evidence that burning trees for electricity releases more carbon into the atmosphere than burning coal. In a rush to find much-needed alternatives to fossil fuels, this inconvenient truth, along with evidence that it’s destroying forests, has been largely ignored.

    The Economist recently hit the nail on the head in depicting the practice of burning trees for electricity with an illustration of a caveman lighting a fire with sticks in hand. With the emerging technologies of solar and wind power, burning trees as fuel for electricity is indeed quite primitive and clumsy by comparison. The use of forests as a primary fuel source is taking us backward, not forward, on the path to clean energy.

    Europe is currently at the forefront of this rush to burn, which has led to an explosion of new facilities here in the South that are chopping down our forests, turning them into wood pellets and exporting them across the Atlantic. Currently, the Southern US is the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets. Wood pellet exports to Europe from the South doubled from 1.5 million tons to over 3 million tons over the past year and are projected to double again to 6 million tons by 2015.

    Trees from clearcut wetland forests like this one are being turned into wood pellets and shipped overseas to burn for electricity.

    At the head of the pack in Europe is Drax, who is investing billions of dollars to convert dirty old coal plants to wood burning. Much of the wood comes in the form of pellets from the Southern US. Drax is not alone, with many of Europe’s largest utilities including Electrabel, GDF Suez, Dong, and Forth burning wood pellets imported from the US South to generate electricity as well.

    Domestic utilities here in the South are not far behind the Europeans. All of the top utilities in the South already have some capacity to burn wood for electricity with plans for further expansion in the future. Currently, Dominion Power in Virginia leads the pack. Other companies are not far behind like Southern Company, Duke Power, TVA, and Florida Power & Lights, who all have plans of their own.

    The largest company pelletizing forests in the South is Maryland-based Enviva. Though they claim that the trees they use come from “sustainable forestry”, Enviva ‘s sourcing of wood from clearcut cypress tupelo wetland forests along the North Carolina Virginia coast was revealed today by not only the Wall Street Journal but also the BBC.

    What an embarrassment this must be to Virginia’s Dominion Power and Drax in the UK, both of whom rely on Enviva for wood to burn. Drax purchases wood pellets exported to Europe by Enviva and Dominion Power buys the leftover tops and limbs from Enviva’s operations. Both Drax and Dominion claim that they hold their wood suppliers to high standards of forestry. The fact that Enviva has been caught sourcing from clearcut wetlands is yet another inconvenient truth I am sure these companies don’t want to hear. I suspect the other huge wood pellet companies, including Georgia Biomass, Green Circle, and more have some inconvenient truths of their own that will come out in due time.

    Before that happens, however, these companies can make the right choice. The leaders in this fiasco, Dominion Power, Drax and Enviva, can set a better example by choosing not to burn trees for electricity and announcing their leadership in developing non-destructive, clean energy sources that will actually reduce carbon emissions. As leading developers of forests as a fuel source, these companies now have an opportunity to take swift and decisive action before additional investments are made and the problem reaches a scale that is irreversible for our forests and climate.

    Our wetland forests provide critical habitat to countless species of plants and animals, and they protect coastal communities from flooding and serve as vital carbon sinks. Our wetland forests are many things, but they are NOT fuel.

    Now, more than ever, we should fast-track investment in clean energy such as solar and wind while simultaneously accelerating efforts to protect forests. Our forests are vital for clean air, clean drinking water, flood control, wildlife habitat, and protect us from climate change. They should not be burnt for electricity – our forests aren’t fuel.

        • I guess the point of the original post was that some people think that burning wood reduces GHG’s.

          Misdirected renewable energy policies both here in the US and in Europe treat biomass, including the burning of trees, as renewable energy just like solar and wind. With billions of dollars of government subsidies available, over the past several years, major utility companies have been converting coal burning power plants to wood, even though there is a mounting body of scientific evidence that burning trees for electricity releases more carbon into the atmosphere than burning coal. In a rush to find much-needed alternatives to fossil fuels, this inconvenient truth, along with evidence that it’s destroying forests, has been largely ignored.

          So Dogwood Alliance asserts something different with words like “mounting body of evidence” and then goes on to talk about what companies are doing that might be bad environmentally.

          It’s more of a sermon than a set of assertions that are counter to the original post.

          • Well, and I guess the point of Dogwood Alliance’s video is that some people think that cutting down forests in North Carolina and Virginia with equipment that not only was made with fossil fuels, but uses fossil fuels to operate, and then trucking (more fossil fuels) those forests to a processing facility (which likely uses even more fossil fuels, including the workers who drove their vehicles there) and then shipping (more fossil fuels, including building the ships) those forests nearly 4000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to be burned in the UK actually doesn’t reduce GHGs when a true, full accounting is done.

            • Matthew

              All of the Fossil Fuels used to plant and cut over multiple rotations, haul, process, ship and convert to the power grid are included in the study. So the study is “a true, full accounting” contrary to your assertion otherwise. So, unless you can show me what I or the study missed, your wrath is misplaced and your conclusion contrary to the study is totally unfounded and represents nothing but your biased opinion without even offering any calculations to refute the study.

          • Sharon, you’re right that references are good. Here are a couple that I believe the DWA cites elsewhere, the Manomet study is very well known though of course not everyone agrees with it, for example it has been strongly criticized by the bioenergy industry as one would expect. There’s a lot of information here to deal with and I’ve only skimmed these studies, so just offering them as one possible counterpoint to the Dwivedi et al. paper in the top post. Who’s right? I don’t know, I’m not there yet…

            • Guy

              As you have probably deduced from my comments on the DWA video below, I have a very good reason to have a low opinion of the DWA and would trust just about anyone over them in terms of integrity (even some politicians). 🙂

              So I am digging into your references supplied by them and I’ll have to admit they have me very confused.

              I skimmed the Manomet study and I didn’t see anything that particularly bothered me since the opening post (OP) study addresses the Manomet study’s concerns about full cycle carbon accounting. I also didn’t see anything that could be considered to be a refutation of the study in the OP. The study in the OP specifically includes sustainability which was one of the concerns that the older Monomet study was concerned about in older studies. The Manomet conclusions seem to be couched with plenty of caveats.

              Then I get to the second link that you supplied and say ‘what in the world’. Was I asleep when I skimmed the Manomet study, how did I miss all of this? So I skimmed the Manomet study backwards and slowly to see what I missed. And I still don’t see anything to contradict the OP study or support the DWA claims in the video.

              Now on to the second link which claims that the first link isn’t really the full Manomet study to which they have access. Based on the methodology of the Manomet study, the review by Mary S. Booth, PhD focuses on the time span that it takes for Biomass use to provide a net gain over fossil fuels but in the long run Biomass comes out ahead. However this breakeven point is calculated based on a totally unrealistic single acre calculation rather than on the entire sustainable wood basket in which such a mill would be but one of many different kinds of mills nor is there any information to tell us what form the biomass was in nor it’s moisture content which would be critical in comparing the two studies. So I’m already quite concerned about the reliability of the Manomet study. But all of this is irrelevant since both the OP and the Manomet (figures 1, 3 and 4) study conclude that fossil fuels are less desirable over the long run. I think that part of the emphasis in the Manomet study was driven by the state of Massachusetts focus on its 2050 goals since the Manomet study was done for that state. Another key item is that the fossil fuel predominantly in use in Mass. is Natural Gas which both studies (OP and Manomet) agree is the most desirable of the fossil fuels for power generation. The story in the UK where the pellets are going is entirely different since “the UK continues to depend on fossil fuels – and coal in particular – to provide much of its electricity” see: coal is what is being replaced in the UK, the global environment will be better off as coal is replaced by pellets.

              As Ms. Booth states, a major problem with the Manomet study is that it makes the unrealistic assumption that the forests are grown only for biomass instead of biomass being a byproduct of timber production for significantly more valuable products. As I continue to read, I start finding seeming contradictions to that statement. She considers this to be an element of conservatism in estimating net carbon impact. I disagree for several reasons. Dr. David South over on the SAF linked-in site has done some financial analysis on Biomass only forests and agrees with my previous studies that Biomass only forests can not be supported as a financial enterprise. Even Ms. Booth’s sources agree on that. So the Manomet study is premised on this and some other unrealistic assumptions and then is subjectively justified as being optimistic in terms of overstating the benefits of biomass. Unfortunately, that could be argued about forever until a more definitive study like the one in the OP comes along.

              When I realize that another major problem may be that the manomet study appears to be ignoring the impact of removing permanently stored below ground carbon and thereby increasing the net amount of temporarily stored and free atmospheric carbon to something in excess of what can be recycled, I decided that I’d spent enough time on this.

              So, to cut to the chase, in spite of all of these details, both studies agree that in the long run biomass is preferable to fossil fuels, I believe that the DWA is misinterpreting and cherry picking the study by focusing on the Manomet study’s short term findings to twist things to suit their desire to shut down any and all logging. But as you say there is a lot here to understand and as I have discovered all of the details are not immediately clear in spite of Mary S. Booth’s noble efforts to clarify.

    • Matthew

      Yup, that’s DWA – Lock up every tree and expect private landowners to pay the taxes so that a few people can have free recreation. Forget that the land will be regenerated very quickly in the south as all of those remaining seedlings that they don’t think you’ll notice jump up now that they have full access to the light. Right there in the middle of your post is a beautiful white oak full of vigor and busting out all over while taking advantage of its newfound access to the sun. In two years that place is going to be thick with regeneration. The comment by the guy in the canoe ‘that he doesn’t know what it is going to look like in 10 to 15 years’ is ridiculous – it is going to be a fast growing, healthy young forest storing up carbon and providing more diversity of age classes considering the surrounding stands which in turn benefits the wildlife.

      Showing the nice, large, long, knot free, hardwood sawlogs being loaded onto a trailer is very misleading in that I can assure you that they were not going to be turned into pellets unless the logger & owner & forester were all three absolute idiots. Then the canoeist makes the brilliant statement that ‘you only got what you got now’ when it is pretty apparent that these bottomlands have been logged previously judging by the size of the tupelo gums (AKA Water Tupelo) and the stumps shown.

      I don’t have much sympathy for a pilot who deems harvesting as ‘madness that has to stop’ just because it interferes with the aesthetics of his afternoon pleasure flight. After 49 years of flying, he knows durn good and well that in the US south those lands regenerate within a year naturally and within 5 years are an absolute jungle of young trees and brush. In fact, natural regeneration is quite often a problem when artificial regeneration is used.

      In addition, contrary to one of the opening title pieces, Bottom Land hardwoods are not endangered in the US Mid South or South East. As to the Riverkeeper’s comment about bad logging practices, the strip that they showed to illustrate that didn’t show any such thing. Sure it may not have looked pretty but no damage was apparent to the land. Not pretty but neither is slaughtering beef, pork or chickens for human consumption.

      And it sure looked prettier than an open pit mine where coal is being extracted from permanent carbon storage so that it can introduce new carbon into the atmosphere. Don’t you think it was anti environment in that the video advocated introducing new carbon into the atmosphere by burning non-renewable coal with very high energy extraction costs and severe environmental impacts as preferable to using renewable/sustainable energy sources that simply recycle the existing above ground carbon? In addition, the video acts like carbon can be sequestered forever in trees which assumes that trees never die. 🙁

      Regarding the people who don’t like the mill, since when did a community get to vote on what other land owners do with their own land when the landowner is in compliance with existing laws?

      No logical consistency. No science. Pure emotion. The whole video is pure claptrap.

  4. Hello: I took the step of trying to learn more about this study. As part of that effort a colleague wrote to the lead author and received the following information.

    I have used average annual availability of feedstocks for ascertaining the carbon intensity of electricity generated from imported wood pellets in the UK. As a result, I have not considered biogenic carbon emissions coming out of wood pellets in this paper. I have done it under the assumption of continuous forestry – a true reflection of how forestry operates in the world. Although, I have included non-biogenic carbon emissions related with burning of bark and wood pellets in this paper to account for all carbon emissions. I hope this will solve your problem. If you want, we can talk about it over Skype (puneetdwivedi1). The only problem with this paper is that I have not done sensitivity analysis due to lack of space. But, a more comprehensive paper is in review right now and I will share it with you once it is out (hopefully soon).

    By the way, I am not a proponent/opponent of bioenergy. I am a researcher and I write what I find. For example, in another paper (in review) I am finding that bioenergy will not save any carbon under existing conditions of forestry in US South. But, as long as paper is not published, do not take my recent analysis very seriously.

    Puneet Dwivedi

    So as my colleague pointed out, they simply ignored all carbon emissions from logging, including carbon debt. In addition, they model a ‘likely’ scenario involving Drax sourcing entirely from pine plantations in the southern US, disregarding all of the evidence that at least some of Drax’s pellets come from clearcuts of native hardwood forests, as documented in DWA’s “pure claptrap” video.

  5. Matthew

    Read the study – it specifically says “The following seven steps were part of the transatlantic wood pellet trade supply chain: (a) production of woody feedstocks; (b) transportation of woody feedstocks from harvested tracts to a wood pellet plant using log-trucks; (c) manufacturing of wood pellets at a wood pellet plant; (d) transportation of wood pellets from a wood pellet plant to New Orleans Seaport in the United States using railroads; (e) transatlantic shipment of wood pellets from New Orleans Seaport in the United States to Immingham Seaport in the United Kingdom; (f) transportation of wood pellets from Immingham Seaport in the United Kingdom to Selby, United Kingdom using railroads; and (g) burning of wood pellets to generate electricity at a power plant located in Selby, United Kingdom”

    Something has definitely been lost in the chain of communication between you, your colleague and Mr. Dwivedi.
    – How can Dwivedi say that he doesn’t consider biogenic emissions coming out of wood pellets when specifically states the biogenic emissions includes: “CO2 derived from combustion of biological material, including all types of wood and wood waste, forest residue, and agricultural material” which is the final step (step g) in his paper’s description of the “seven steps were part of the transatlantic wood pellet trade supply chain” included in his study? The EPA link includes wood waste as biogenic yet Dwivedi says he doesn’t include biogenic yet he does include burning pellets and wood waste like bark but he says it is non biogenic and he then states to your colleague that his study accounts for “all carbon emissions”. Something is terribly wrong with this communication. It could be as simple as different people having a different definition of what is biogenic and giving the appearance of a contradiction which will disappear once things have been clarified.
    – How can your colleague say that “they simply ignored all carbon emissions from logging, including carbon debt” when the the study states that the first steps included in the analysis were: “(a) production of woody feedstocks; (b) transportation of woody feedstocks from harvested tracts to a wood pellet plant using log-trucks” as section 2.1 of the study explains, not only do they include logging (production of woody feedstocks) GHG emissions but they also include GHG emissions from the ongoing yearly management GHG emissions on a sustained basis “under intensive and non-intensive forest management choices”. To me, “non-intensive forest management” means non plantation pines. If you accept Tilman’s definition of Carbon Debt (“This debt is defined as “the amount of CO2 released during the first 50 years” of the process of clearing land for production of biofuel feedstocks. The carbon debt is repaid primarily by the uptake of carbon dioxide by the feedstocks”) then, based on experience, it is my opinion that (in the US South) even these hardwoods will have repaid their carbon debt within 50 years.

    These direct contradictions need to be reconciled before we can come to a conclusion either way. As to the study not including hardwood clearcuts for pellet production. Your DWA video clearly shows that the clearcut was not made just for sourcing the pellet plant as I pointed out to you in the original thread on this subject. As for Dwivedi’s total refutation of this published paper of his by his pending research, even he says it’s too soon to be sure. It is my opinion that there is no way that mankind can come up with a definitive answer on this complex of a subject that all will agree to. As you or Guy said, time will tell. That is why I am so focused on the simplification that each new unit of carbon removed from potentially permanent underground storage and placed into the above ground temporary storage or free atmospheric carbon is a net addition to carbon emissions that is in excess of what can be recycled since forest storage is not now and never appears to have been a limitation to the establishment and maintenance of forests. Therefore it is my considered opinion that the use of fossil fuels must be severely limited.

  6. See:

    The bonfire of insanity: Woodland is shipped 3,800 miles and burned in Drax power By David Rose.


    But North Carolina’s ‘bottomland’ forest is being cut down in swathes, and much of it pulped and turned into wood pellets – so Britain can keep its lights on.

    The UK is committed by law to a radical shift to renewable energy. By 2020, the proportion of Britain’s electricity generated from ‘renewable’ sources is supposed to almost triple to 30 per cent, with more than a third of that from what is called ‘biomass’.

    The only large-scale way to do this is by burning wood, man’s oldest fuel – because EU rules have determined it is ‘carbon-neutral’.

    So our biggest power station, the leviathan Drax plant near Selby in North Yorkshire, is switching from dirty, non-renewable coal. Biomass is far more expensive, but the consumer helps the process by paying subsidies via levies on energy bills.

    That’s where North Carolina’s forests come in. They are being reduced to pellets in a gargantuan pulping process at local factories, then shipped across the Atlantic from a purpose-built dock at Chesapeake Port, just across the state line in Virginia.

    Those pellets are burnt by the billion at Drax. Each year, says Drax’s head of environment, Nigel Burdett, Drax buys more than a million metric tons of pellets from US firm Enviva, around two thirds of its total output. Most of them come not from fast-growing pine, but mixed, deciduous hardwood.

    Drax and Enviva insist this practice is ‘sustainable’. But though it is entirely driven by the desire to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a broad alliance of US and international environmentalists argue it is increasing, not reducing them.

    In fact, Burdett admits, Drax’s wood-fuelled furnaces actually produce three per cent more carbon dioxide (CO2) than coal – and well over twice as much as gas: 870g per megawatt hour (MW/hr) is belched out by wood, compared to just 400g for gas.

    Then there’s the extra CO2 produced by manufacturing the pellets and transporting them 3,800 miles. According to Burdett [Drax’s head of environment], when all that is taken into account, using biomass for generating power produces 20 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than coal.

    And meanwhile, say the environmentalists, the forest’s precious wildlife habitat is being placed in jeopardy.

    Drax concedes that ‘when biomass is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere’. Its defence is that trees – unlike coal or gas – are renewable because they can grow again, and that when they do, they will neutralise the carbon in the atmosphere by ‘breathing’ it in – or in technical parlance, ‘sequestering’ it.

    So Drax claims that burning wood ‘significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared with coal-fired generation’ – by as much, Burdett says, as 80 per cent.

    These claims are questionable. For one thing, some trees in the ‘bottomland’ woods can take more than 100 years to regrow. But for Drax, this argument has proven beneficial and lucrative.

  7. Matthew

    I see you are still ignoring the evidence to the contrary as posted here on multiple previous posts. Call me when you want to have a point by point constructive discussion instead of a shouting match.

  8. Just as one must compare alternative sources of energy (e.g. wood pellets vs coal), one also must compare alternative uses of forests (e.g. wood pellets vs letting the forest grow).

    Biomass energy does not compare favorably with letting the forest grow, and there are two main reasons: (1) burning wood releases more carbon per BTU than even coal, AND (2) cutting forests sequesters less carbon than letting forests grow. Biomass energy results in greater short-term carbon emissions compared to even coal. There may be benefits in the distant future, but those future benefits do not offset the “extra” carbon in the atmosphere during the short-term period when biomass performs poorly.

    Recent modeling indicates that the reaching carbon parity takes much longer than just repaying the carbon debt, so the best way to use forests to mitigate climate chane might be to just let them remain forests. See Mitchell, Harmon, O’Connell 2012. Carbon debt and carbon sequestration parity in forest bioenergy production. GCB Bioenergy (2012), doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2012.01173.x (“Here, we used an ecosystem simulation model to ascertain the effectiveness of using forest bioenergy as a substitute for fossil fuels, drawing from a broad range of land-use histories, harvesting regimes, ecosystem characteristics, and bioenergy conversion efficiencies. Results demonstrate that the times required for bioenergy substitutions to repay the C Debt incurred from biomass harvest are usually much shorter (< 100 years) than the time required for bioenergy production to substitute the amount of C that would be stored if the forest were left unharvested entirely, a point we refer to as C Sequestration Parity. The effectiveness of substituting woody bioenergy for fossil fuels is highly dependent on the factors that determine bioenergy conversion efficiency, such as the C emissions released during the harvest, transport, and firing of woody biomass. Consideration of the frequency and intensity of biomass harvests should also be given; performing total harvests (clear-cutting) at high-frequency may produce more bioenergy than less intensive harvesting regimes but may decrease C storage and thereby prolong the time required to achieve C Sequestration Parity”)

    In addition, there are alternative source of energy other than coal, and biomass, such as conservation, wind, solar, etc. It is not proper to compare biomass to only the worst offender, it must be compared to other sources of energy that could be adopted.

    • So, tell us again where stand replacement fires and conversions to permanent brushfields are addressed, and what are their effects on “letting forests grow”? Of course, this is yet another form of cherrypicking to support an anti-biomass position. Similarly, the anti-biomass crowd paints a picture of rampant, uncontrolled clearcutting and applying it to each and every National Forest. They were claiming that 30,000,000 acres would be clearcut if biomass operations got tax breaks. Once again, we see that we must look at every related issue and how they mesh, using site-specific science, instead of a knee-jerk abhorrence of cutting excess trees. I contend that long-lived, managed forests hold more carbon, over very long periods of time. We must not exclude “whatever happens” from your carbon equations and wildfire “smokescreens”.

    • 2nd Law

      Obviously you haven’t read all of the comments or you would have seen that your concerns about alternative uses were fully addressed.


      I haven’t found my comment where I explained the concerns about wind and solar but it basically boils down to:
      1) Wind – Where do you think the acreage for wind farms is going to come from – Forests especially Pacific coast national forest ridges. Forest management regenerates clearcuts but windfarms don’t. Talk about ugly, what are you going to say when all that you can see is windmills in any direction that you look in a National Forest. What are you going to do about all of the birds that are killed by windfarms. Significant birds are already being killed by windfarms which only supply 2 or 3% of our grid electricity if my memory serves me correctly. When they scale windpower up to supply 20 to 30% of our grid electricity, as they are talking, what will be the damage to birds?
      2) Solar – Solar depends on rare earth elements which mostly come from outside the US and heavily from China. What environmental damage is going to come from permanently clearing land for solar farms? Again depending on my memory only 0.1 to 0.2% of our grid electricity currently comes from solar. Scale that up to some significant level of solar power production and tell me that it is a no brainer.

      – This comment from another post explains the alternatives in the transatlantic trade:

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