Carbon Neutral? or Carbon Poluter? what's up with stoves?

DavidV Posted By DavidV, Oct 28, 2007 at 11:47 PM

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  1. kalevi

    Member 2.

    Sep 20, 2007
    Ottawa Ontario
    In the short term, burning wood is not carbon neutral. Averaged over time taking into account renewed growth in the woodlot, it is carbon neutral. Wood is a renewable resource if properly used and therefore carbon neutral. Oil, natural gas, etc. are definitely not renewable unless you think in terms of millions of years.
  2. jjbaer

    New Member 2.

    Oct 24, 2006

    Agree. Put another way, over the long haul, burning wood is carbon neutral but not over the short haul unless (as you stated) that you plant enough trees to compensate for the one you burned.

    But here's the difference: when you burn NG, you're releasing carbon that would have otherwise never have been released (because it would have remained in the earth forever...same with coal and oil) but with trees, at least we "re-capture" some of the carbon released when we burn wood by planting new trees. And this is what makes burning wood carbon neutral over the long haul.
  3. Nofossil

    Moderator Emeritus 2.

    Oct 4, 2007
    Addison County, Vermont
    Welcome to the forum. Starting with a hot button, like this, you're already out of the frying pan and into the fire. You'll have to develop a thick skin quickly ;-)

    Not true, as far as I know. I believe that soil accumulation is only due to wind-deposited soil from elsewhere and meteor dust.

    In the case of one specific tree, that's true. The real issue is the amount of carbon that's held in the woodlot. In (very) rough numbers, a five acre woodlot might have ten to twenty cords of wood that rot and return to the atmosphere as CO2 every year without human intervention. If I do a good job of harvesting old / diseased / overcrowded trees, the amount of deadfall that rots will be reduced by four of five cords a year. That will go out my chimney as CO2. The first year that I do it, I'm releasing that CO2 earlier than would have happened otherwise. However, my intentional forest management should result in the remaining trees being healthier and growing faster. In a short amount of time - a year or two, perhaps, the amount of carbon held in the wood lot should increase over what it was before I started despite there being less deadfall rotting on the forest floor.

    True in some areas, but not in others. Vermont used to be 80% pasture, now it's 80% forest, for instance. From another earlier posting in another thread:

    "Finally, back-of-the-envelope calculations are always fun. According to one study I’ve read, a well-managed five acre woodlot can sustainably heat one average home in New England. The United States has about 750 million forested acres. If half of that were managed and used for heating, that would be enough fuel for about 75 million homes, or somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of American households. Of course, we’ll never have that many homes heated by wood, but we could do so sustainably if we chose to. Of course, the typical home in Georgia probably doesn’t require quite so much wood to heat it.
    As others have pointed out, the CO2 emitted by wood burning would have been in the atmosphere anyway, and in a very short timescale. The CO2 from natural gas would have stayed out of the atmosphere on a geological timescale.
  4. Outdoorsman

    New Member 2.

    Jan 6, 2008

    I joined this forum to answer your concerns in part at least.....

    I don't burn wood myself. But love the scream of one of my Stihl's as it cuts. So I cut for my bro-in-law, a friend at work & my father-in-law. Fact is I cut so much this past year theres enough wood on my concrete slab to heat most homes for a year. I'm even thinking of buying a powered splitter and start selling.

    Sounds evil huh? NO!

    I live in Mi where some beloved importer got more than he ordered from some Asian company. A little bug called a Emerald Ash Borer.....that is killing Ash trees here by the tens of thousands per year. Now should we just wait for them all to rot? While of course burning oil/gas/coal for heat at the same time? Does this REALLY make any sense to you?

    Fact is I love White Ash trees, my favorite tree. Just on my brother & my farms I expect to cut at least 40 such trees from fence rows this coming year. I cut the largest White Ash for miles around a year ago, killed by those @#*& bugs. That tree was 100'+ tall and was 4' wide. We took 14 large pickup loads out of that one tree.

    I also started a wildlife/investment planting area this year. Planted 100 white pine, 100 American Hazel shrubs, 25 Silky Dogwoods & 50 AMerican Elderberry bushes. I'd originally planned a LOT of Ash trees for this area, but not anymore. I expect to plant over 100 hybrid oaks & perhaps some Chesnut hybrids this coming spring along with some hybrid Poplars, Black Cherry & Black Walnut. Sure Michael these are all going to be seedlings, but hundreds of them. And in 10-15 years when there are 6-8 acres of trees in this investment/wildlife area do you really think I'll still be able to cut down more trees (carbon mass) than those thousands of trees extract and store?

    And someday I'll be cutting down those hybrid poplars for wood & to give canopy release to the Black Cherry & Walnut trees once they take on a good central leader growth type.

    So Michael, don't condemn these guys/gals for burning wood. They reduce the chance of wildfire, save on fossil fuels use & keep themselves very fit by doing so. I add that last part as I detest exercises like jogging ect. that give no other result than fitness. So I cut and plant trees for most of my fitness. And I'm sure a good number of those here who love to burn wood also plant trees to replace those they cut. Note the many references on this forum regarding proper woodlot management, part of which is planting trees.

    I find this forum so interesting. I've learned a few things I"m going to suggest to my buddy at work who has a CB outdoor wood burning boiler that may well help him conserve wood.

    I'm getting interested in what I've read here regarding the gasification outdoor furnaces. I may buy one myself in time. Lord knows I'd have no problem fueling it.
  5. derwood

    New Member 2.

    Nov 22, 2007
    East TN
    I copied the text from another post of mine since I believe it is relevant here.

    For me, if I wasn't burning wood in a newly purchased insert, I'd be relying on an electric heat pump.

    The information came from part of a presentation made at a major utility board meeting. Part of it focused on what happens to the energy starting with coal in the ground to electricity in your house.

    Starting with 100% in the ground,
    97% is left after mining, processing and transportation,
    32% is left after generation, and
    29% is left after transmission for a total loss of 71%.

    The numbers are the same for nuclear nevermind the legacy waste issues.

    Unfortunately a tremendous amount is lost in the conversion process (burning coal to make steam to spin the turbines to make megawatts).

    Now even with a new epa insert I had wondered about clean burning and how much of an impact there might be compared to the high technology scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction approaches in use to minimize CO2 and SOx emissions. But with the large amount lost in the energy production process, I’m thinking burning wood could very well have a net positive carbon impact over relying on an electric heat pump.
  6. drizler

    Minister of Fire 2.

    Nov 20, 2005
    Chazy, NY 12921
    And while we are at it all cows need a healthy dose of Beano every day. Can't have any of that unpleasant odorous activity fouling our air now can we. How dare them fart up the planet like that. I feel my wallet aching every time they banter those fancy words about. Meanwhile the vultures are lining up waiting to bleed us dry while they save the world.
  7. MichaelBS

    New Member 2.

    Nov 6, 2007

    Thanks for welcoming me. No worry about a thick skin, I don't mind if people don't agree with me, in fact I can learn a lot more from a real discussion with differing view points than just listening to someone pontificate!

    A couple of points: As to soil being only generated from meteor dust and being blown in from elsewhere, as a geologist I can say this is not the case. Soil is generated when rock erodes (the Appalachians were once a lot bigger!) and the resulting smaller rocks, sand, silts, clays, etc are deposited (in a wet climate usually by water and in a dry climate more so by wind). The organic material in soil comes mostly from rotting vegetation (and animal waste including dead animals). Without this, soil would be pretty much sterile. This is why we compost to enrich soil. A significant amount of the carbon (in the form of organic matter) that falls to the ground does not become CO2 but stays in the soil. Here is an interesting link about composting and global warming:

    In regard to VT being now 80% forested while it used to be denuded of trees (largely due to sheep farming, I live here too); I do not think this really applies to my argument that burning wood is not carbon rate neutral. Yes we have for the large part re-forested VT but now that this is done, we will not be able to add any more carbon sequestering ability (also, we are back to where we were before people moved here) as we really can't add any more trees.

    In order to be carbon rate neutral, we have to manage the woodlot such that we increase the rate of growth that would occur naturally such that it annually replaces the amount of wood we burn over a year (plus has enough growth to sequester the carbon the forest would give off naturally during that time. I really can't see ten to twenty cords of wood rotting annually on a one acre wood lot (if you include the weight of fallen leaves this might add to some of the mass).

    I am still arguing that when we burn wood, we release CO2 orders of magnitude faster than if it were to be released from rotting wood on the forest floor. Plus, we release more carbon by burning than is released by rotting. Therefore, we do cause an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere when burning wood (as well as anything) as we release it faster than we can sequester it.

    If you graph the amount of CO2 released by burning with a realistic view of the amount of CO2 sequested by managing the woodlot such that growth is increased, you will see that more CO2 is released than sequestered therefore causing an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere that will continue as long we continue to burn wood.

    Another disadvantage of heating with wood is the other emissions. While the new stoves are better, there are still significant carcinogens given off due to incomplete burning such as benzo-a-pyrene and other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, etc. If we heated 75 million homes as suggested, this could cause a lot of problems (natural gas for all of its bad points does burn a lot cleaner, please note I am not saying it is a good fuel source).

    We need to look at other options such as wind. Considering the wind in the Great Plains, our mountain tops, etc, there is a huge energy source in the wind in our country. If it were harvested, it could complete replace our use of hydrocarbons. While there may some environmental problems associated with this, they can be addressed and in the long run I imagine are less than CO2 from burring and the environmental devastation (and hunger etc) that will be caused by huge increases in corporate style farming including mineral and chemical fertilizers to increase the using food crops being grown to use as biomass for fuel.

    (Crank up our gas tax to fund light rail. The so called high gas prices we are paying right now are still significantly less than in Europe where they tax the crud out of gas and in a lot of places use that money to subsidize public transport.)
  8. Telco

    New Member 2.

    Feb 14, 2008
    Hi MichaelBS. If you consider that people that burn wood aren't doing it just today, they are doing it every year, it might help to better understand about why it is carbon neutral, or at least more carbon neutral than fossils. Year one, several cords are burned and several trees are planted. The smart wood burner would be replanting with one of the fast growing trees, some trees grow to the point of harvest within 10 years. Should you plant with a 10 year tree, then it would be full replacement within a 10 year period. Now take his neighbor who is on natural gas heat, he is adding carbon and NOT doing anything to compensate it like the wood burner is. After 10 years, 100 percent of the carbon burned by the NG burner is in the air, but the first trees planted by the wood burner are now ready for harvest and have absorbed 100 percent of the carbon emitted the first year. Meanwhile, the second year trees have absorbed 90 percent of the carbon emitted in year 2, 80 percent for year 3, ect ect. Really, the only way that you are going to talk anyone into actually going absolutely 100 percent neutral is to convince them to spend those Vermont winters in an unheated cave, and I doubt there will be any takers.

    This entire thread reminded me of something I saw at a bank drive through once. I was in my full size 1996 Tahoe, and in the next lane over was an old VW van. The van's entire backside was covered in stickers that claimed SUVs were burning all the fuel and using all the oil. Obviously the guy was convinced that SUVs such as my own were destroying the world. When he started the engine, he emitted more smoke and fumes from his very poorly maintained engine that the bumper stickers were suddenly hidden, and as he drove away it looked just like he was driving on a dirt road from all the smoke. Just pulling out of the parking lot the guy emitted more pollution than my well maintained SUV would emit in a year. What's more, according to the internet those vans got 19-20MPG, and my Tahoe got a solid 18MPG (I made a few modifications that increased it from the 14MPG it got when I bought it, always thought I could get it into the 20s with some engine internal mods). Which one of us was really killing the planet?
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