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Wood: The most complex fuel

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by wg_bent, Jan 3, 2006.

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  1. wg_bent

    wg_bent Minister of Fire

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    Misc ramblings here...It struck me the other day that a woodstove (and non-stoker coal stoves) are really the simplest type of heating appliances since there are basically no moving or automated parts, yet woodstoves use the most complex commonly available fuel available.

    The variables:
    1. Wood species - varies significantly in BTU content, seasoning time, ease of processing, and availability
    2. Moisture content - Varies based on how cut. Dead tree vs live and seasoned. Varies based on seasoning time and storage technique.
    3. Burn time - varies on size of splits, species, moisture content
    4. Manual intervention - need to intervene based on outside temp, stage of burn, ash removal, cleaning (stove and chimney)
    5. Stove type - Stove material, cat vs non-cat etc...
    6. Human expectations - whole house heater or space heater (a furnace always has whole house expectation...expectations of a wood stove sometimes don't match reality)
    7. How the stove is loaded.
    8. Knowledge of wood's burn stages can be useful knowledge when dealing with what wood to burn when.
    9. Installation parameters - freestanding vs insert vs masonry heater, main floor vs basement vs ???
    10. Chimney efficiency - As it relates to many of the above items...This is a whole category in itself.


    With oil, gas, and even coal, the fuel is what the fuel is, and humans don't have any ability to modify it much. Manual Coal stoves have some the above properties also, but to lesser degrees.

    People here talk about technique a lot from how to put wood in a stove, size of splits and even adjusting the kind of wood they use on warm days vs cold days. Don't usually hear oil furnace owners discuss the moisture content of their #2 oil or a natural gas user discuss how long it took them to get the furnace up to 500 degrees.

    Wood takes a lot of local processing, and some of it is scientific, some is art. I don't intend to make any conclusions here, just observations maybe on why wood heat invokes passion like no other fuel source. Effort to accomplish something usually results in some level of pride in the outcome. In this case hopefully, a warm and cozy home heated with domestically produced, renewable, and inexpensive source of BTUs.

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  2. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I think it all boils down to control. In addition to saving money, woodburners are control freaks.
  3. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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    Yes, Warren:

    But by using other fuel sources, can one really say buring one of them is good for the environment, good for the local community and good for you?

    Burning limited supplies of gas, coal and/or oil feeds the corporate comglomerants and limits your independance from them.

    Burning wood is good. It is renewable; it should never run out. Properly burned, it is clean and has been shown to contribute about as much to air pollution and carbon dioxide (ozone sequellae) as the tree would have if left in the forest to mature, die, fall, decay and decompose "au naturel". Cutting crowded, damaged, malformed or diseased trees is healthy for the forests or your woodlot as it encourages growth of other healthy trees. Buying wood locally helps support your neighbor and the local economy instead of the corporate giants and respective CEOs in their distant castles (How much "giving" occurred from oil companies after Katrina when they were/are reaping historical profits?). Cutting, bucking, splitting, hauling and stacking your own wood is healthy for you. It is proven beneficial aerobic exercise, if done wisely since there are known dangers. And in cooler climates, who doesn't enjoy the wonderful feeling of radiant heat from the stove burning wood you have handled yourself? Have you experienced the incredible flavor wood imparts to food cooked over a wood fire? It is the fuel that can warm you inside and out several times over.

    Aye,
    Marty
  4. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    North American forests are a way-underutilized resource, particularly when you get down into the lower grades. Look at what countries like Sweden and Finland, both of which are forest-based economies, have done with wood fuel, not to mention their extensive paper and lumber sectors. And that's with basically two species to work with: Norway Spruce and Scotch Pine.

    There are right ways to do things and wrong ways. I don't think it would be too hard to get it right on this side of the Atlantic, particularly with a little help from our existing science/government/industrial infrastructure.

    I think Marty's right on the money.
  5. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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    Dylan:

    Finding issues with my posting is your doing, your problem, really your issue.

    As far as recommending everyone burn wood - I didn't.

    Aye,
    Marty
    ________________________

    Grandma used to say, "You can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it".
  6. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    The oldest pair of skis ever discovered were found in a bog in Finland. They carbon-dated them to about 4,000 years ago. But they were really primtive by today's standards--three pin bindings.

    I have a pair of older wooden Asnes skis from Norway that have what they call "lignostone" edges. The bases are hickory, but the lignostone is actually beech wood impregnated with some kind of resin. There's a narrow strip of the stuff set in around the edge of the ski base, and it acts like the metal you find on more contemporary, wood/fiberglass/foam backcountry and downhill skis.
  7. roac

    roac New Member

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    Not to be picky but usually a countries #1 export sector would be considered to be the center or base of their economy. Forest products are a very distant second or third in Sweden not sure about Norway but I would guess it would be the same or close. Not saying they don't manage their forests better or not but that was a little over the top. :roll:

    http://www.scb.se/templates/pressinfo____123148.asp
  8. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I was told that in Finland--based on the raw numbers--forest products was number one before Nokia came on the scene. This was back in the mid '90s when Nokia's stock price was in the stratosphere. Sweden no doubt has a lot of significant industry, including cars, chain saws and Ericsson. I would guess that oil would come in first in Norway.

    But I stand corrected all the same. All I ever see when I'm in that part of the world is the logging and the skiing. Oh yes, sauna and excessive consumption of alcohol.

    Dylan, Yew must be kidding.
  9. roac

    roac New Member

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    Marty,

    My only question with this comparison, log in forest vs. log burned in a epa stove, is where does this info come from? I'm not saying it isn't true but I'm a guy that likes to see studies verifying it. Not just one but a few would be good. I wonder about this because carbon dioxide should be more readily absorbed in a forest than from a chimney. A log lying on the ground isn't rotting, it is being constantly consumed by trees, plants, moss, animals etc. A tree in a stove is consumed cleaner in an epa stove but I'm doubtful if it is better than or equal to that tree in a forest.

    The reason I wonder about this is because I live in an area of the northwest that has frequent burn bans in the winter. Now I know not all of the wood smoke is from efficient stoves, still a lot of fireplaces and non epa stoves out there. I don't live in a big city but some of the pollution is caused from cars. When the burn ban is enacted the air does start to get better or at least not get as bad as fast. When was the last time you saw smog in the woods?? Most places around the country don't have this problem simply because mother nature keeps things moving so as to clean it all out. Just wondering...
  10. Mike Wilson

    Mike Wilson New Member

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    Having been to both Sweden and Finland, I can confirm that although you do see skiing and forests, the economies are primarily based upon alcoholic beverages, DWI laws notwithstanding.

    As for the complexities and variabilities of burning wood, I do not encounter any of the issues mentioned above. Ever since I hooked up an Improbability Drive to my wood stove she runs like a top, no issues at all.

    -- Mike
  11. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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    For you doubting Thomas's:

    I found two references in a few minutes to back up my statement that proper woodburning does not pollute any more than the tree left in the forest to Mother Nature's carbon cycle:

    www.woodheat.org/environment/carbon.htm

    www.tempcast.com/wood/woodplan.html Select "Environmental Issues", then read under "Wood - a Clean Renewable Fuel".

    Not satisfied? Try a "Google" search. I'm sure there are lots more.

    Aye,
    Marty
  12. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I don't have any studies handy either, roac, but here's another way to look at the issue: Young, vigorous trees consume more CO2 per acre than mature trees. Therefore, when you cut an older tree and a few saplings start growing in the space left, more CO2 is being absorbed from the atmosphere, and more oxygen is being produced. Ergo, the act of removing a mature tree and replacing it with younger trees has environmental benefits.

    This only address carbon cycle issues. Obviously, the best thing from a carbon cycle point of view would be to turn the tree into lumber or paper to temporarily lock up the carbon that it contains. There are plenty of other considerations, including wildlife issues, the inherrent value of old-growth forests and the importance of stand diversity, that are not addressed by pure carbon-cycle arguments, but that's one way to look at it.

    BTW, I have heard talk in the past about the idea of planting thousands of acres of fast-growing poplar plantations near big carbon emitters like power plants, in an effort to sequester or offset the carbon produced by the plant. It's a lot of land, and probably not practical in most cases.
  13. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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  14. roac

    roac New Member

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    I did do a google search to try and find reputable sources but only found the same type you found. Just because you find it over and over again doesn't make it true. Why don't those websites list sources? Surely they should shouldn't they?

    All that I am saying is this, carbon dioxide released in a forest has a much better chance at being absorbed than in the city thus being less polluting in the forest than in your fire.
  15. roac

    roac New Member

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    I agree completely but in the meantime the co2 from my chimney pollutes the town, maybe gives you lung cancer before it can make its way back to the forest... ;-)
  16. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    CO2 won't give you lung cancer. Some of the unburned particulates in the smoke might, but only if you breathed a lot of it over a long period of time. If CO2 were the only byproduct of wood burning there wouldn't be any health issues at all, other than those caused by global warming.
  17. roac

    roac New Member

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    "When wood is burned, it decomposes rapidly, and CO2 is released into the atmosphere again. A similar amount of CO2 would be slowly released if the tree died and was left to rot on the forest floor."

    Marty,

    Read that sentence slowly, that is from your last source. I now definately think it is better for a tree to rot in the forest than be burned. That tree's carbon is being slowly consumed by the surrounding plants. When I burn it, it is released rapidly. I worry that as more people burn it will be bad for air quality. With that said I think burning wood, if done correctly is cleaner than fossil fuels or coal but I don't think I can say that it is better than letting that tree rot in the forest.
  18. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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    roak:

    I have found no reference to support your idea that the speed of CO2 release is significant to pollution or is even detrimental to anything; more, faster from fire v. natural decay of wood.

    Even if it were true, my reply would be, "So what?"

    CO2 is CO2, no matter the source. And, don't plants, trees and all green foliage thrive on CO2 for photosynthesis? How much "extra" CO2 is needed to adversely affect our atmosphere and contribute to "global warming"?

    Also, since quantity has been mentioned here, and seems to be important (why?), do you actually suppose there are more people burning wood (urban and rural) than decaying trees in our woods and forests?

    I'd like to see a reference, please, not just two but several so I can be sure...

    Please!!!

    Arg,
    Marty
    ________________________________________
    Grandma used to say, "We don't see the world as it is. We see it as we are".
  19. Martin Strand III

    Martin Strand III New Member

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    Dylan, roac and other Nay-Sayers:

    To assist some over the apparent knowledge hurdle that seems to be present on this "responsible woodburning causes no more carbon dioxide than what comes from natural decay of wood" subject, I offer more for your reading pleasure, along with my comments:

    First, to support the idea that responsible woodburning is CO2 neutral, try

    www.hearth.com/clear/clearing.htm or
    www.hearth.com/what/woodheat/gdbroch.html or
    www.woodheat.org/environment/forest.htm

    These sites should look fairly familiar... and, they aren't from the cursed mfg propaganda mills...

    Second, burning wood properly and responsibly is not the CO2 culprit. The real culprit for CO2, and other major pollutants (PM10 and PM2.5 particles, "soot", methane, yada) comes from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal - yes, goodies we elect to buy from the big conglomerants who laugh at out frustrations from their far off plush castles).

    Want more references? Do a Google search for "woodburning forestry global warming" and read away by your fire until Spring...

    Aye,
    Marty
    _________________________
    Grandma used to say: "Faith is why the songbird sings before the dawn".
  20. roac

    roac New Member

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    Marty,

    Excellent sources! Your sense of humor was also good for a chuckle this morning too. :) My point with speed of release though could be compared to a river. If the dam above lets out a constant flow the "environment" down river is able to fully utilize this life blood but on the other hand if the dam shouldsuddenly double or triple it's output then the downstream environment could suffer. If a rotting tree releases co2 slowly (that is the only thing released to atmosphere) vs. a fire releasing it quickly (plus all the other particulates) it will naturallynourish the surrounding plant life. That was my point and still is but we can still disagree by the fire!! ;-)
  21. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Another consideration (more common out West) is that if you don't thin out some forests to decrease the fuel load, you get catastrophic forest fires, which release their CO2, particulates, etc. into the air all at once. Better to thin out the excess fuel and burn it more slowly over time, IMO, than risk releasing it all at once. That's in addition to all the other negative consequences of big forest fires.

    And even if it were preferable to allow wood to decompose naturally instead of burning it, we are human beings and we do consume vast amounts of resources. If you're not creating CO2 by burning a renewable resource like wood, you're going to be burning coal or oil or nat gas in an equally larger amount, and pumping even more hazardous pollutants into the environment (nat. gas being an exception to that rule). The rotting wood isn't doing human beings any good, while firewood does. You can decry our impact on the planet all you like, but the reality is that humanity is going to continue consuming all the resources at our disposal until they are depleted. At least that's true if past behavior is any indicator of what we will do in the future.
  22. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    You don't need to quote a study to know that plants can't grow without fresh air, which in the plant's definition, is air containing CO2. Try growing plants in a stagnant air environment and they will die.
  23. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    As usual, you succeeded in looking like someone with nothing better to do than parse words and ideas in an attempt to look more clever than you actually are.

    So your point is simply that we don't need any more CO2 in the environment, no? Everybody agrees with that. Lots-o-luck trying to heat a house in Connecticut or New York without generating CO2. The question at hand is whether it's better to burn wood or some alternative. Roac seems to be saying that wood burning creates more pollution problems than letting the wood rot in the forest. Marty and I say that from an environmental perspective doesn't much matter whether you burn it or let it rot.

    What's contribution to the discussion?
  24. Willhound

    Willhound Feeling the Heat

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    Opinions are like @55----, everyone's got one...so here's mine, just to add to the argument.

    The question of whether it is better or worse to burn a log, or let it rot in the forest, and the amount of CO2 released, is I think a moot point. I'm no chemical genius, but I can see the argument that if a carbon based object contains X amount of CO2, that amount will be released, whether it is burned or rots. The difference, I think, is the rate at which it is released, and the environments ability to absorb and handle it. Obviously burning releases these quantities at a faster rate than rotting.
    That, and increased volumes due to more people burning, could have the potential for envirnomental harm. I.M.O.

    BUT... contrary to roac's point of the health effects of CO2, I think the larger argument here is what are the harmful effects of the alternatives for energy and heat?

    Coal generation - I won't even bring up the W.V. tragedy (sorry, guess I just did), or the deadly effects of coal emissions (ask Easstern Europe)

    Nuclear - sure, apart from the scare factor, there are merits, I think, except that it leaves a huge environmental issue for future generations from spent fuel rods, and a potential source for unlawful access to enriched waste material, depending on the type of reactor.

    Oil - Same air pollution issues, and if having to go to war, or being invaded because of oil isn't a health issue, I don't know what is.

    Wind - Some potential, but not as long as NIMBY and the fat cats that live on the coasts have anything to say about it.

    Water/Hydro generating stations - relatively clean from an emissions point of view, but still causes environmental tragedy through flooding, changing natural watercourses and habitats, and there are recent studies that link changes to the water table that is available for human consumption to dam activity.

    Solar - OK, maybe someday, but can't even come close to meeting energy needs in northern climes that have limited sunlight, and lower angle of light during winter seasons, just when we need it most. Works great at the equator.....like they need the heat.

    So my point ?
    It doesn't matter what method you use, it has an impact on the environment and the health of others.

    At least with wood, I can control my own destiny, and yes, it is my responsibility to burn in the most clean and efficient method possible, using the best available equipment, for my families safety and health, and my neighbours.

    OK, done now.

    Willhound
  25. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Right on, Willhound. I actually like nuclear too. I've come to the conclusion over the years that if you're going to produce hazardous waste (mercury, sulfuric acid, spent nuclear fuel) that you're way ahead if you can contain, control and protect it, rather than spewing it into the environment. The fact that there's been only one major accident that resulted in large-scale environmental degradation, despite the large number of plants operating for decades, is a testament to the technology. Can we improve it? Sure. Should we? You bet!

    Dylan: Who's offended? You didn't ask me to dance. If you would like to be more clearly understood, why not try plainly expressing your ideas rather than making obscure references, attacking other posters' integrity and intelligence, throwing out irrelevant, silly comments and observations and arguing purely for the sake of arguing? It's distracting, bro.
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