[NEWS] Is Wood a Green Source of Energy? Scientists Are Divided
– by Warren Cornwall, January 5, 2017, Science
It took half a century for an acorn to grow into the 20-meter-tall oak tree standing here in a North Carolina hardwood forest near the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. But it takes just seconds to turn the oak into fuel for the furnace of a European power plant.
A logging machine—a cross between a tank and a one-armed crab—grabs the tree with a metal claw. With a screech, a spinning blade bites through the trunk. Ultimately, the thickest bits of this tree and hundreds of others from this forest will be sliced into lumber. But the limbs from large trees like this, along with entire small or crooked trees, go to a specialized mill to be squeezed into tiny wood pellets. Shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, they will likely end up fueling a giant power plant in the United Kingdom that supplies nearly 10% of the country’s electricity.
Over the roar of the logging, Bob Abt, a forest economist at North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, explains why this trans-Atlantic trade in wood pellets is booming: a push by policymakers, industry groups, and some scientists to make burning more wood for electricity a strategy for curbing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Unlike coal or natural gas, they argue, wood is a low-carbon fuel. The carbon released when trees are cut down and burned is taken up again when new trees grow in their place, limiting its impact on climate.