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

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This weekend an article ran in the UK titled “The bonfire of insanity: Woodland is shipped 3,800 miles and burned in Drax power.”  The article was written by David Rose and provides an additional look into the issue of cutting down forests in North Carolina, chipping those forests into pellets and then shipping those pellets nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to be burned in the United Kingdom.  Some previous NCFP posts on the topic are here, herehere, here, here and here


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.


  1. But doesn’t coal have to be extracted using big old equipment also and some shipped to Britain? Seems like that’s what I have observed on trips to coal mines, especially above-ground ones.


    But the below- ground ones also can ooze methane gas, which is a major GHG, worse than CO2… and are any “environmental groups” arguing that trees do not grow back?

    Here’s a link about where Britain gets its coal.

    “In general, coal is considered to be the most abundant and geographically dispersed fossil fuel, and therefore to be a secure energy source.

    However, the UK relies heavily on imported coal to fuel its coal-fired power stations. In 2009 about 78% of the UK energy industry’s demand for steam coal – the kind burned in power stations – was met by imports. Relying too heavily on imports can leave countries vulnerable to fluctuating international market prices and disruptions to fuel supplies caused by geopolitical disturbances.

    The UK imports coal from countries such as Russia, Colombia and the United States. The majority of this – about 56% of the UK’s coal imports in 2009 – comes from Russia.

    Domestic mines

    Only about 38% of the industry’s demand for steam coal was met by the UK’s domestic mines in 2009. This means that the country imported more than twice as much coal as it produced in this year. The 16% demand surplus is stockpiled.

    The UK Coal Forum estimated the UK’s underground coal reserves to be about 105 million tonnes in 2009. In addition to these underground reserves, there are surface-level coal fields, but mining these requires planning permission. However, it is typically less expensive to import coal than to mine it in the UK.”

    As alluded to in this brief write-up, there are also international security reasons that Britain would not want to depend on Russia for energy.

  2. Matthew

    Well, I see that you have opened another post on this subject in order to, once again, run away from the opposing information given in the two previous posts on this subject. That is a pretty strong indication that you are not interested in finding the truth and your only objective is to disseminate propaganda.

    Until you are willing to discuss the differences of opinion on a point by point basis, you are wasting your time with such posts in my opinion. Do you think that the readers of NCFP are that dumb that they can be brain washed by repetitive post of the same dubious information?

    The previous posts and the opposing information can be found at:
    – Original post –
    – Your first attempt to run away from opposing information –

  3. Hello Gil: Please re-read what I actually wrote – and clearly linked to – above. You continue to make rather bizarre claims that I supposedly “run away from the opposing information given in the two previous posts on this subject” despite the fact that I clearly provided links for NCFP blog readers to not only that “opposing information,” but also a helpful recap of other posts/discussions on the NCFP blog concerning the topic at hand.

    Here’s a repasting of what I actually wrote above:

    This weekend an article ran in the UK titled “The bonfire of insanity: Woodland is shipped 3,800 miles and burned in Drax power.” The article was written by David Rose and provides an additional look into the issue of cutting down forests in North Carolina, chipping those forests into pellets and then shipping those pellets nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to be burned in the United Kingdom. Some previous NCFP posts on the topic are here, here, here, here, here and here.

    Anyone who simply takes the time to look (before they leap) at the links I clearly provided to accompany this new post about a new article written about this subject over the weekend will see that I clearly linked to “opposing information” that has been previously presented on this blog, including your very own post. Honestly, a decent case could be made that it was you, in your most recent post on this subject, who failed to provide readers links to “opposing information,” which had been presented on this blog previously.

  4. Matthew

    You clearly didn’t link to any opposing info in this post and didn’t introduce the links to opposing info until after my last comment taking you to task above. Though you may have linked to some opposing info in one of the other two posts but you certainly didn’t in the other since they were all links to DWA propaganda. You are making things up. In addition, your posts never mention the opposing info in the body of the post so a buried link means nothing.

    None of this would matter to me at all if you would commit to a point by point discussion before leaving the discussion and starting a new post/discussion to avoid having a constructive, orderly discussion designed to explore the points in depth and exhaust all relative info in an honest attempt to come to a meeting of the minds rather than just propagate propaganda.

    • Jeez, Gil, these bizarre “gotcha” attempts are getting old, confusing and quite honestly pretty hard to follow. But since you insist….

      As a simple matter of fact and truth when this post went “live” at 9:28 am on March 17, 2014 I intentionally did include numerous links to some previous NCFP posts on this topic.

      Included in those “Here, here, here, etc” links when this post went “live” at 9:28 am on 3/17/14 was a link to your very own previous post on this topic, as well as links to other “opposing info,” including one of Sharon’s previous posts. Please don’t blame me because you didn’t notice that simple fact. If you don’t believe me that’s fine. But please stop claiming here that I’m “making things up” because I’m not.

      Today, based on some more searching of the NCFP archive, I did add another link or two to help assist NCFP readers; however, a link to your very own previous post, as well as one from Sharon, was included in my post from the very beginning…so your whole basic claim about me hiding “opposing info” is just Bizarre BS.

      And once again, since you have brought this up, the irony here is that you, in your post on this subject, actually didn’t go back through the NCFP archives to provide links to “opposing information,” which had been on this blog previously.

      Seems to me, that based on the reaction some of your recent posts have gotten, you should focus more on improving the quality of your own posts rather than policing my posts, telling me exactly how – and where – you want me to present data/information and then accusing me of things which I clearly never did.

      Oh, and by the way Gil, do you have any actual comments about the content of this news article from the UK? Or how about your take on the comments from Drax’s Head of Environment RE: greenhouse gas emissions? Does Drax’s Nigel Burdett have his figures wrong?

  5. Pingback: Rim Fire trees sailing to China, domestic mills “pretty much at capacity” | A New Century of Forest Planning

  6. Matthew

    My utmost apologies – I truly did not see your here, here … and here links in your original post. No excuses, I was mistaken.

    Now can we agree to a point by point discussion of my much maligned post at which I posted without links on purpose because of my desire to brink links in on each of the ensuing point by point discussion?

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