A wood-fueled electricity generating plant may be in your future.
In fact, the future is now in some Scandinavian countries, said Dr. Darwin Foster, Texas Cooperative Extension forestry program leader. "In Sweden, theyre already bundling up what were leaving in the forest after a timber harvest and using it as bio-fuel," Foster said. "Bio-fuel" is all-inclusive term that includes any renewable resource used to generate energy. As with ethanol distilled from small grains byproducts and methane from animal-waste, wood refuse is another renewable energy source. The key word is "renewable," Foster said. "As compared to fossil fuels which take hundreds of millennia to create and are not renewable," he said.
Using forest bio-mass – limbs, bark, tree tops – as a bio-fuel is not unheard of in the United States. Forest product manufacturing concerns already burn wood residue in steam boilers. The steam is used to drive electrical generators and supply part of the energy needed to run the plant. Other mills use "black liquor" – the lignin-rich residue of the pulp and paper industry – for heat, steam and electric power generation.
The last subject – environmental sustainability – may be expanded to educate the public, Foster said. Some people might not understand the environmental benefits of burning forest residue to produce fuel.
But the economic benefits are two-fold, he said. First it is a truly renewable resource. Trees are efficient at turning sunlight, moisture and a few basic nutrients into bio-mass. Using forest residue as bio-fuel also will utilize a resource that is being left to rot in the field.
But another important issue is carbon sequestration. Trees "breathe" in carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases. The trees "breathe out" oxygen and sequester the carbon as part of the biomass.
"Carbon is the ‘C in CO2," Foster said.
True, burning the residue emits carbon dioxide, but as most of the harvested forest mass would be used for lumber, furniture and paper, there would still be a net sequestration of carbon.
Another common concern, Foster said, was that harvesting forest residues could cause nutrient deficiencies and retard future re-forestation efforts.
But studies have shown, residues can be harvested without loss of regrowth productivity as long as a few simple precautions are taken, he said. These precautions include not taking 100 percent of the residues, avoiding harvesting on sensitive sites, and not removing residues after every harvest. In some areas, returning most of the nutrients as ash to the harvest site might be possible, he said.
"The whole point of this program is to work to reduce our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels," Foster said.
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