When we heat with wood we utilize the earth’s natural biogenic carbon cycle instead of adding to the total carbon in the atmosphere by releasing geologic carbon from oil and gas.
Think of a tree as a solar battery. As a tree grows, sunlight, rainfall, and carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere combine to store the sun’s energy.
When a tree dies, it releases the same amount of carbon it absorbed while it was growing, whether it rots on the forest floor or is burned in a clean tech, EPA-approved heating appliance like a wood stove, pellet stove, or handsfree automated pellet furnace.
Trees begin to absorb carbon in their first few years of life. The most active absorption happens before the age of 35 years at which point carbon sequestration levels off.
The idea that it will take 60-100 years to reabsorb the carbon released through clean wood heating is wrong. Remember, we only have three fuel alternatives for the high-temperature central heating systems in our existing housing stock: oil, gas, and advanced wood heat.
Most US forests are not protected
Only 25% of US forests are protected as national forest land. Another 17% are other public lands. The rest are privately owned and managed to produce lumber, paper, wood pellets, and other wood products. The land owners are farmers and their crop is trees. Like all farmers, they continuously harvest and replant their plots rotating their crops to produce a healthy yield and healthy soil. In the process, they also protect wildlife habitat, and sequester carbon. That’s sustainable forestry.
The market for low-grade timber drives sustainable forest preservation
The market for all forest products has sharply declined in recent years, but the boom in digital media has shattered the market for low-grade timber (“pulpwood”), which is used for paper production.
Without a market for pulpwood, working forest lands risk sale and development. There is already significant pressure on landowners to sell their forest land and that pressure will only increase as the next generation inherits a diminishing business model. We have a small window of time to bring back markets for forest products before the loss of private forest land is endemic, decimating jobs in forestry and related industries, the same jobs that make up the working lands culture and landscapes of North America. Renewable wood and wood pellet heating fuel is essential to rebuilding the pulpwood market and incentivizing the preservation of working forests.
Landowners and the other forest industry players don’t get paid for sequestering carbon, but it’s a silent and essential byproduct of the working forest economy.
Wood pellets are made from furniture and other lumber manufacturing waste and from low-grade timber. Sawdust is heated and extruded through a form, creating pellets which are held together by the natural lignin in the wood. These wood pellets are completely natural and without additives.
Wood pellets can be transported in forty-pound bags or in bulk on a truck with a pneumatic hose which can deliver to an indoor or outdoor storage bin. Pellets can also be transported with an auger or vacuum suction system.
A wood pellet stove can run for a full day on a single load, contrasted with a traditional woodstove that requires frequent loading and stoking.
A central heating wood pellet boiler or furnace is completely hands-free, automated and can run unattended for weeks.
The truth about particulates from wood heat
The picture that we have in our minds of a dirty, sooty, pre-1990s woodstove is obsolete. Modern wood stoves are cleaner by a factor of three, and a modern pellet stove is cleaner by a factor of nine. That’s still nothing compared to a modern pellet boiler which is fully 140 times cleaner than that old woodstove. A pellet boiler is the real comparison to oil and gas.
So, let’s make sure we’re keeping it real when we talk about particulate emissions. The entire deviation between propane, oil, and a pellet boiler is less than a pound and a half annually. There’s really not much difference in particulate emissions between the three combustion central heating fuels.