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By Russ Finley on Nov 21, 2012 with 31 responses

Replacing Coal With Trees Won’t Scale

A report written by the British arm of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace titled “Dirtier than Coal” criticizes their government’s plan to burn trees to make electricity. In my opinion, these two organizations seem to get things right about as often as they get things wrong, so you would be just as well off flipping a coin.

For me, this is largely an academic exercise. As a species, I suspect that we are incapable of overriding our instinctive drives for self-promotion, subconscious biases, and propensities for self-deception to the point of tackling a problem of this magnitude — global warming. We will always find ways to rationalize what we do and think, especially if doing so brings home the bacon.

In this case they got one thing right (IMHO) by calling for the withdrawal of public subsidies for making electricity by burning imported trees (roundwood and sawlogs). Their report is based on input from Tim Searchinger who was asked to review the studies done by the British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

You can download this podcast from BBC Radio to hear Tim Searchinger try to explain to the CEO of the Renewable Energy Association in the U.K. the difference between renewable and carbon free; why burning a tree can be worse than burning coal when you account for the time it takes to grow another tree to absorb the carbon from the burned one.

“It is difficult to get a man woman to understand something when his her job depends on not understanding it”–Upton Sinclair.

Here’s how the CEO thinks it works; for every tree you cut down, you plant a seedling to take its place.

Here’s how it really works; ten years later you have sent tens of millions of 20 to 30 year old trees into the atmosphere while on the ground you have replaced them with the equivalent number of trees ranging in age from ten years old to freshly planted seedlings. The oldest are about ten feet tall and as big around as your arm. The youngest are twigs as big around as your little finger. It will be several decades more before those trees will pull from the atmosphere the carbon put there by their incinerated ancestors, meanwhile, hundreds of millions of more trees will be sent into the atmosphere in those coming decades.

Finding the truth can be very difficult. The first barrier is one’s own bias. My bias in the case of combusting biomass (directly as for electricity and indirectly when first converted into a liquid) for energy is my affinity for nature, or as E.O. Wilson would say it, my innate sense of biophilia– ” …our natural affinity for life—biophilia—is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living things.(Read More: The Unintended Consequences of Government Mandated Biofuel Consumption)

According to the International Committee on Climate Change, the problem is twofold. We must:

  1.  Stop adding more carbon
  2.  Remove much of what is already there

Here is the key; without meeting both of these goals, you have no solution. Think of it as an egg omelet without the eggs.

We have only two ways of removing carbon:

  1.  Continued acidification of the oceans
  2. Allowing forests and grasslands to sequester it (expand area of carbon sinks and/or age of trees).

Britain’s plan in a nutshell: stop wasting trees as carbon sinks by turning them into smoke and electricity …save the biosphere by burning it (and no, this is not a Monty Python skit).

This scheme, especially if emulated by other countries, will at best, reduce the ability of forests to store carbon. It is therefore not a solution (an eggless egg omelet). At worst, the plan will also increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere until enough trees regroup to replace the ones being burned, which takes decades. However, because most trees are already spoken for and with the human population still heading for 9 billion, it seems very unlikely that the demand for conventional wood products is going to go slack. Trees are also used for things like lumber (which typically sequesters carbon for many decades and then can be used as energy from recycled waste or reused) and paper, as well as for fuel in many third world countries.

Obviously, replacing coal with trees won’t scale. It would not work if every country decided to import logs to replace coal for the simple fact that there are not enough trees to do that. So, what happens if more and more countries decide to emulate Britain? How and at what point would you put a stop to the practice? The best time to stop it is now, before it’s too late.

The plan is to have American, Canadian, and Russian timber companies cut down trees, put them on logging trucks, haul them to seaports, place them on ships to Britain where they will be chipped, dried, and finally burned. I am hard pressed to think of a more ecologically destructive, ham-fisted way to turn solar energy into electricity!

  1. By Adam Noel on November 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    A lot of people actually consider this a good idea.  I was surprised when reading online how many environmentalists are willing to completely destroy the environment by installing massive wind, solar and biofuel plants but will not for even one second consider Nuclear as a solution. Urbanization combined with nuclear seem like the best decisions for the time being.

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    • By Russ Finley on November 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm

      Good comment. Although I have to admit, no major environmental organizations support  corn ethanol, which is the only real biofuel in use here in the states. Biodiesel is still a blip on the radar an no better for related reasons.

      Some environmental/conservation organizations have fought to protect desert habitat from large solar installations and bird migration corridors from wind as well. So, there is  split there. There is also a split with biomass burning with most not supporting it.

      You can see the problem. Nobody knows just what an environmentalist is. A growing number of people who consider themselves to be environmentalists have changed their minds on nuclear as well.

      Most environmental types are also big on urbanization. We all carry stereotyped caricatures around in our heads be they liberal, conservative, or anything else. Few people actually fit those stereotypes particularly well.

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      • By GreenEngineer on November 28, 2012 at 8:00 pm

        There are also people who are frequently binned with the treehuggers, but who are primarily motivated by humanist values.  Above all, we want to see human technological civilization survive and prosper.

        The thing that separates us from the more typical technophile/technocornucopian is an understanding of the limits of technology and the limits of nature.  For all our humanist arrogance, we understand that nature is much bigger and more powerful than humanity, and that our prosperity is and will remain utterly dependent on the healthy functioning of natural systems.  While we do, apparently, have sufficient power to destroy those systems, we do not even remotely come close to being able to replace them.

        Thus our fate is tied to that of the environment, and we have a powerful, selfish incentive to want to protect ecosystem function.

        While we may also value nature for its own sake, we understand that those values are not required in order to be motivated to practice good stewardship.

        I have no idea how many of us there are.  Very few, as far as I can tell, though I would love to be wrong.  It seems that most people who are of a techno-humanist bent lack the ecological literacy and/or the technological literacy to have a realistic understanding of the problem we face, and so tend to fall prey to technoutopianism.

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        • By Russ Finley on November 28, 2012 at 11:42 pm

          “…tend to fall prey to technoutopianism.”

          What would be some examples of that?

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          • By Adam on November 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm

            I’d assume technoutopianism is akin to what Amory Lovins’ espouses. Basically, “Preventing Climate Change for fun and for profit!”.

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            • By GreenEngineer on November 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm

              In my original post (and the one below) I used techno-cornucopianism and techno-utopianism as interchangeable.  That’s actually a precision failure on my part – oops.

              As I characterize it in my reply to Russ, technocornucopianism (which is the term I should use, as it is more specific) is characterized by a belief that technology trumps natural limits.  I actually don’t think that accurately reflects Lovins’ position.  He has always been strong on conservation, and he has been willing to abandon technological solutions which are obviously not going to work (e.g. he’s not a big hydrogen booster any more).  His book Natural Capitalism clearly and specifically acknowledges natural limits and the criticality of ecosystem services.

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          • By GreenEngineer on November 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm

            Classic signs of technoutopianism include:

            - focus on energy generation to the exclusion (or minimization) of conservation

            - focus on fuel switching and/or biofuels (which are merely a particularly inefficient form of fuel switching) as a solution

            - a narrative of false abundance in fossil energy or other resources, without acknowledging that the “new, abundant” resource has a lousy EROEI and/or other limitations

            - the assumption that the solution to the messes created by technology is simply more technology (e.g. Hofmeister)

            - generally, the assumption/belief that high technology can compensate for loss of natural resources and/or ecosystem services; frequently this is a case of fish not seeing the water – people simply don’t realize that these services exist even as they rely on them

             

            To be clear, I am a technologist, I believe that technology is key to addressing the challenges ahead, and I believe that correctly-applied technology could in fact lead us to a state of sustainable prosperity and peace.  (There is little evidence that humans as a group have the discipline and judgement to use technology judiciously, in order to make this goal practical, but that’s a different question.)

             

            To me, the difference between my position and the one I characterize as technocornucopian is one of humility and understanding of natural limits.  I accept that these limits exist and must be understood and respected.  Our technology is powerful, but nature is far more powerful.  We have to deploy our technological solutions in a way that respects the integrity of living systems.  The technocornucopian sees no such constraints.

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            • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

              I don’t know, Green E,

              Why is technology at war with nature? What are examples of natural limits? How would you define the “integrity of living systems”? And while we have a depressing ability for destruction, nature has an amazing ability to bounce back.

              At some point we are going to need a lot more photosynthesis to make all this work. Not to worry, there are vast expanses of unproductive ocean out there…

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            • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm

              Optimist:

              These are not actually difficult questions, despite how you present them.

              Technology is not at war with nature.  Technological humans are at war with nature.  It’s not inherent in the technology, but in how we use it.

              People talk about the “conquest of nature”, but what they need to understand is that (a) we “won” and (b) it wasn’t a good idea.  One might as well go to war with one’s liver (and some people do, and it rarely ends well).

               

              It is very hard to quantify the integrity or health of a living system  in absolute terms- as far as I know, it has not been done (well).  But a competent ecologist can evaluate it in relative terms: they can tell you if a particular system is more or less healthy than it used to be, or than another similar system located elsewhere.  To do this, they look at a number of indicators including species diversity and the density of food web connections.  Russ can probably speak to this in more detail.

               

              Natural limits are evident if you pay attention.  With the exception of a few extremophile bacteria communities, every living thing on Earth except humans follows these rules:

              • Nothing lives forever, or grows infinitely.
              • Energy for life comes from current solar income.
              • Make no waste in the global sense.  Another way to state this is (one organism’s) waste = food (for something else)

              For a technological species, the last rule also implies the need for a technological metabolism which parallels the biological one.  Material resources must be maintained in a near-closed cycle of reuse.  Also, biological nutrients and technological nutrients must be kept strictly separate – the two cycles generally do not intermix well.

               

              Your comment about “vast expanses of unproductive ocean” parallels similar sentiments about fallen trees and forest leaf litter that are  ”wasted” by being allowed to rot on the ground, and highlights the anthrocentric error common to technocornucopians.

              The fact of the matter is that those “wasted” resources are being used – just not by humans.  They play a role in cycles which we take no direct part in, but are still  dependent on.  Frequently we do not even notice those cycles until we break one, by appropriating a “wasted” resource for our own use.  We cannot appropriate all, or even a large minority, of Earth’s resources.  And we will ultimately harm ourselves by trying to do so.

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            • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 8:26 pm

              Green E,

              Not sure what you mean by “conquest of nature”. Eradication of malaria in some parts of the world? Polio? Planting corn only in the midwest? Keeping mountain lions out of downtown Denver?

              I see the rules you list more as ideals. We will start approaching these ideals when raw materials become more expensive and rare. It is a matter of time, and technology. The (relatively) free market has a way of prioritising by price…

              Technological nutrients? And why does it not mix with the other kind?

              We tend to break things, yes. But frequently we also learn how to fix it. Smog over LA would be one example. The state of the nation’s rivers and waterways would be another.

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            • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

              The conquest of nature refers to a trope that runs throughout our culture.  There’s a popular book that says something about giving man dominion over nature.  That’s the attitude I’m talking about.

               

              These “ideals” reflect the requirements for the survival of a prosperous technological civilization.  They reflect the physical and biological requirements which our environment imposes on all living things – including, ultimately, us.  Respecting them is non-optional, and we don’t have decades to wrap our heads around them – we are in overshoot now, like Wiley Coyote running on air.  By the time we hit the hard limits, which cannot be ignored even temporarily, we will have broken our planetary life support system, at least relative to its ability to take care of us.

               

              The market could address these problems, if the price signals were not horribly muddled (quite intentionally, by those who profit from the arrangement).  Communism failed because it could not tell the economic truth.  Capitalism may fail because it cannot tell the environmental truth.

               

              Your comment about rivers and LA smog reveals, again, your intense anthrocentricism: We did not fix those systems.  For the most part, we simply stopped actively damaging them on a continuous basis (by restricting the rate at which pollutants were added) and let nature do the actual heavy lifting of the cleanup work.

              Note that if you damage a living system badly enough, it will lose its ability to self-repair.  And actual restoration of a totally compromised system is a very lengthy, resource-intensive process that usually does not work.

               

              Understand this: I am a technophile humanist.  I believe in the moral and spiritual value of progress.  Which is why I argue with people like you.  You need to get over this illusion that humans are somehow the height of creation.  We are merely another participant in the web of life – albeit an unusually complex one.  But we are subject to the same limits as all other living things.  Unfounded anthrocentric arrogance like yours is what will doom us, if anything does.

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            • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

              Got to disagree, Green E,

              If we weren’t the height of creation there wouldn’t be 6 billion of us in mostly successful and happy existence. Read in the right way, our task to take dominion over nature means we have a HUGE responsibility, and one that we will some day be held accountable for. It’s not so much arrogance, as a mere fact of life.

              You raise some valid points about rivers and LA air quality. But the net result is the same: we came, we prospered, we polluted, we cleaned up (using nature along the way). Cycle repeats.

              Robert Malthus has been wrong for over 200 years. Amazingly, some continue to insist that in the next decade he will suddenly prove to have been right all along. Ain’t going to happen. Malthus bats zero into infinity…

              As a technophile you’d appreciate that earth’s carrying capacity is a function of technology: there is no way the planet could support 7 billion hunter-gatherers. But with technology to produce more food, supply water and clean wastewater, get rid of waste, etc. etc. it workd. It’s not perfect, but it works.

              There is always new challenges. There is always a new generation of scientists and engineers to tackle the new challenges. Cycle repeats.

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            • By Russ Finley on December 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm

              If we weren’t the height of creation there wouldn’t be 6 billion of us in mostly successful and happy existence.

              We were not created, although not everyone agrees:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_Museum

              Our species came to within a hair’s width of extinction on more than one occasion. Random chance plays a large role in any organism’s evolution:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_bottleneck

              Roughly 1 out of 7 humans remain chronically malnourished. Having adequate nutrition is not a very good definition of “happy existence.” If that were true, we wouldn’t  be spending most of our waking hours at jobs to pay off our dept incurred to maintain our social status: homes, cars, elite educations, iPods, big screen televisions and the like.

              The definition 0f the words mostly, successful, and happy are pretty vague. The main point I’d like to make is that we don’t need to destroy what remains of the natural world to improve the quality of life for the billion that still don’t get enough to eat. Burning biomass (an increase in agriculture) for energy is a step in the wrong direction.

              Robert Malthus has been wrong for over 200 years. Amazingly, some continue to insist that in the next decade he will suddenly prove to have been right all along. Ain’t going to happen. Malthus bats zero into infinity…

              Fox News commentators would probably gleefully approve of that statement, however, Reverend Malthus was, in reality, one of histories most influential intellectuals. Read more about his influence here:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

              There is always new challenges. There is always a new generation of scientists and engineers to tackle the new challenges. Cycle repeats.

              It is thanks to the likes of engineers like Green Engineer that problems are recognized so that solutions can be found. Optimists sank the Titanic.

              http://biodiversivist.blogspot.com/2011/01/book-review-rational-optimist-how.html

              In the long run, the extinction of  our species is only a matter of time. In the near term, we should preserve what remains of the natural world for future generations.

               

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      • By MikEnergy on December 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

        Scaling depends on how it’s done. Finland derives a quarter of its primary energy from rotating crop forests covering the southern 25% of the Country. The wood is used for district cogeneration plants. Most of the wood is birch, quickly growing to about 25 ft tall and 3 – 4 inches thick. It isn’t too hard to see ‘distributed fuel forests’ such as these developed, and supplemented with municipal solid waste and sewerage sludge. There is a noticeable shift from combustion of the crop trees to gasification, which significantly reduces emissions and improves the energy conversion efficiency.

        The crop forests and waste gasification can also be supplemented by crop waste and animal manure. CAFO (concentrated animal feed lots) have mountains of manure and are always challenged to dispose of or repurpose it. It’s usually too much for regional farms to handle.

        Net, net, well-managed biofuel systems such as these (which can also included gasification to liquid fuel modules) could be the ‘magic bullet’ for baseload power to stabilize a grid inundates with wind, offshore wind, PV, hydro of all sizes, etc.

         

         

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        • By Optimist on December 4, 2012 at 9:01 pm

          BINGO!

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        • By Russ Finley on December 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

          There are about 5 million people in Finland.

          The city of  Buenos Aires has 15 million people.

          The U.S. has 315 million people.

          There are 7 billion people on the planet.

          Burning trees is feasible in Finland.

          Solar is feasible in Tucson.

          Hydro is feasible in Seattle

          Hydro is not  feasible in Tucson.

          Solar  is not  feasible in Seattle.

          Burning trees  is not  feasible in Britain (which is why they import them).

          Importing roundwood to burn is not an idea we want other countries to start emulating because demand would rapidly outstrip supply and getting Genies back into bottles is easier said than done.

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        • By Adrienne Adams on December 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

          Mikenergy,

          Your arguments are quite commonly used in defense of biofuels. However, these ideas do not stand up to the reality of biological processes.

          Plant production on our planet has very real and inescapable limits. Any good gardener or farmer can tell you that the limits to plant growth are not in sunlight, or even water, but in soil nutrients. We hear a lot about the Nitrogen cycle, but for plants phosphorus availability is often the single greatest limit to growth. Soluble phosphorus is quickly taken up by plants or leached into deep soils. More P becomes available only through soil weathering and/or the activities of soils microorganisms, via decomposition of organic matter. Thus there is no such thing as “crop waste” or “excess” animal manure–only gross mismanagement of vital organic material. ALL organic material MUST be recycled for plant nutrients if we are to continue to inhabit this planet. Converting organic material for biofuel is literally a crime against nature.

          Forest soils are thin and fragile. Forest trees cannot be managed long-term as a crop, despite decades of forestry school misinformation. Historically, intact forests can only survive three full cycles of cutting before the soils are exhausted and are no longer able to support trees (see: “A Forest Journey, Perlin 1991).

          Technologists propose “well-managed” biofuels as  a long term energy solution only because they lack knowledge of plant biology and ecology.

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  2. By notKit P on November 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Actually Adam it is a great idea. I am an engineer in the nuclear industry but there is not rule against having many good ideas. If you want to live in an urban area, we will be glad to make the power you need with need with large nukes. The irony here is that nuke plants are located in rural areas.

     

    There is no reason we can not grow lots of trees to make power. It is not necessary to replace coal but making more power with biomass is a good idea.

     

    I can show huge environmental benefit by making some power with biomass. Some imagine some scary scenario for everything so they can be against it.

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  3. By Optimist on November 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I don’t know, Russ,

    I don’t think your description is accurate. You seem to assume one starts with a mature, but actively growing forest. That’s a contradiction. The forest is either mature or actively growing (or, in reality, somewhere in between). A mature forest removes no net carbon from the atmosphere, as trees are dying and decaying at the same rate new ones are growing.

    The opportunity for humans are to harvest the dying trees, and rather than leave them decaying in the forest, turn them into electricity (or some other useful product).

    To a large degree this is already achieved in places like Finland, where the paper industry is heavily focussed on harvesting the forests at a sustainable rate.

    The question is not whether forests can be a source of renewable power (obviously they can), but rather (as the heading of your posting suggests) how much of a contribution they can make.

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    • By Russ Finley on November 28, 2012 at 11:53 pm

      “…but rather (as the heading of your posting suggests) how much of a contribution they can make.”

      Isn’t that another way of saying, the more trees you burn the worse matters will get until somebody calls a halt to it?

      Mature forests are pretty few and far between. I don’t see a problem with burning trees from thinning operations or other waste but that must not be particularly  feasible or they would not be needing to import entire trees logged specifically to be burned.

      Ecosystems don’t need added pressure to provide us with fuel along with everything else they already provide.

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      • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 5:19 pm

        Indeed. The challenge is scale.

        For fuel crops to make sense, we’d need to ramp up primary production, and significantly so.

        But before we go there, we need to start using our wastes as a feedstock for reneable energy. You have to figure that with the expenses a city like New York is going to to rid itself of waste, someday soon they’ll find a beneficial use…

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        • By GreenEngineer on November 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm

          No, not really.  Most of the problems with bioenergy (i.e. used for biofuels or burned for energy) crops scale up (in some cases, superlinearly) with increasing scale of production.

          To make bioenergy crops work they need to be low input, rapid turnover plants.  Annuals like switchgrass or hemp are a possibility.  Another option would be the coppicing of mature trees.  Neither option is compatible with the maintenance of a natural ecosystem – these are agricultural products, from what is very much a managed ecosystem.

          The other big barrier to bioenergy crops is the logistics problem, which Robert Rapier (among others) have written about.  Plant matter just isn’t that energy dense, so moving enough of it to serve other-than-local needs is a problem.  Here, I think the solution is to bring the energy plant to the energy source, rather than the other way around.  Move the plant around to follow the harvest, rather than trucking the entire harvest to a single distant location.  This is one reason (among many) why a pryolysis/gasification approach may be better than a wet fermentation process.

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          • By Optimist on November 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm

            Well, at least we agree on pyrolysis/gasification.

            I can’t see any land-based energy crop (including algal ponds, or the even dumber plastic bag type) ever working out for some of the reasons you list. Others include ignoring the fact that plants that can grow in a desert tend to do so slowly and the fact that some solutions only harvest the fruits or seeds. How many ounces per acre per year?

            The place to start, IMHO, is by harvesting the slgae from the deadzone (and cleaning up the environment while you’re at it). Once you have a system that works, go replicate in those vast expanses of unproductive ocean. If that causes problems you can deal with those later. Solutions always have unwanted side effects, but the side effects tytpically are small compared to the problem that was originally solved.

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  4. By SF on December 2, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Biomass electrical generation may be a bad idea in England, but it has its uses in the fire-prone forests of the western United States that are already roaded.  If done right, a thinning for biomass will leave a more fire-resistant forest.  The trees will reach a thick-barked maturity quicker.  Ground fuel will be minimized, tree spacing will be designed to reduce the chance of crown fire while still covering the site,  and fire/drought resistant species will be favored.  Big trees, if logged at all, will still have more value as lumber.  Will it scale?  probably not.  Is it appropriate in some areas.  Definitely. 

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    • By GreenEngineer on December 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Yeah, I’ve done some forest thinning, as parts of a forestry management class that I took.  (Our instructor was a Native American, so we also got a lot of historical information about the old practice of burning.  The forests of the west haven’t been wild for at least a millennium - the forests found by white settlers were very much part of a managed ecosystem.)

       

      Let me tell you, it’s hard, brutal work. It’s quite a bit harder than harvesting row crops, for example.  If you’re trying to actually preserve the forest, you have to do much of it by hand – big machines are of limited use.  And the wood is all small stuff – zero economic value other than as biomass.  So there is very little incentive to do it.  And at least in our area, there is poison oak everywhere (it’s one of the major invasives) which is as much fun to remove as you might expect.

      This work is suitable for prisoners serving time at hard labor.  I’d love to put Jamie Dimon or some of the other bankster parasites on this job, but it’s not the sort of work that most people will willingly do for pay.  I doubt that even most of the migrant agricultural labor force would be willing to take it on, at least for what anyone would be willing to pay them.

       

      That said, it does need to be done.  The good news is that once an area has been thinned, you can (in theory) manage it subsequently with fire – though there is a whole host of barriers on that front as well.

      But it’s not going to be a good ongoing energy source.  If you want to harvest biomass from trees, establish a stand for the purpose and coppicing it.  The logistics of management and harvest are much easier, and the plantation can even provide habitat and biodiversity value if it’s managed properly (though it should not be confused with a remotely natural forest – it is a plantation).

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      • By Adrienne Adams on December 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm

        Greenengineer,

        Yes, coppicing has been used successfully in the humid, fertile lands of Europe and North America. It can be a good source of smallwood for fuel & building materials. I can’t image scaling coppicing to provide enough biomass for conversion to fuel, given all of the input costs.

        And thanks for your insight into thinning. I’ve done a tiny bit on a local woodlot and it is, as you say, hard brutal work. And the point of it is not to take biomass out so much as to reduce competition and improve the health of bigger trees & encourage the undergrowth.

        The problem is that lots of people see management == extraction. It’s how our industrial society sees the land: as a big pot of stuff for us to take from. But sustainability (oh, how we have distorted that word!) means learning how to live off the interest rather than the principal, and that means taking but a small fraction of the earth’s total plant productivity.

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        • By GreenEngineer on December 13, 2012 at 6:28 pm

          The problem is that lots of people see management == extraction. It’s how our industrial society sees the land: as a big pot of stuff for us to take from. But sustainability (oh, how we have distorted that word!) means learning how to live off the interest rather than the principal, and that means taking but a small fraction of the earth’s total plant productivity.


          Exactly correct, and well said.  Thanks.

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  5. By notKit P on December 2, 2012 at 10:32 am

    SF has correctly identified the massive semi-arid forest health issue in North America, Russ lives in a mild climate surrounded by beautiful rain forest. Therefore he has a mindset that everyplace is a mild climate surrounded by beautiful rain forest. A few miles east and the climate is very different. If you look at a satellite view near Pasco, Washington or Boardman, Oregon; ther are large areas of fast growing poplar trees that were planted to be harvested every ten years.

     

    “Will it scale? ”

     

    The correct question is what is the correct scale? While we need large 1000+ MWe base load plants to serve large cities like where Russ lives, we also need smaller power plants to provide local grid management. The correct scale using truck transportation is a 25 MWe biomass power plant serving a radius of 25 miles. An example of such a plant is the one at Kettle Falls Washington.

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  6. By Douglas Hvistendahl on December 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Note that there is a major difference between dominion and domination. Dominion means ruling. Domination seems to mean ruling without regard to the good of the total system. An example would be the difference in woodlands between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They are on the same island, with minor differences in climate. The wood are healthy in DR, mostly in bad shape in H. The dicatator’s family in DR was in lumber, and he was hard on unlicensed lumbering! But it is possible to rule will from less selfish motives.

    A useful trick in the continental US and other such climates is to use materials on the way to the dump for effective improvements. Used fans can blow air through the basement and into the house. This cut our summer cooling bills – this summer we only used the air conditioner a few afternoons. Glass can form a solar on the south. Ours won’t handle a North Dakota winter, but spring and fall (with the fans turned around) usage has cut our heat bill by a third. Also, it was built with enough room for starting early vegetables, and we are harvesting late tomatoes now.

    It has been pointed out that if humans continue to increase at the same rate it would only take (given the technology) a few thousand years to turn the total mass of the known universe into human flesh. We rule, but if we attempt to dominate, only failure is possible.

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  7. By Solar Air Conditioner on December 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Yes it should be stopped before it starts, before other countries starts emulating Britain. For sure it is not going to be a major source then why to destroy our natural resources.

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  8. By Tap Management, Inc. on February 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Just a few years ago, a consensus was building that peak oil had been reached, that the fossil fuel industry was in its dotage and that the world would suffer repeated energy price shocks in the transition to a post-fossil fuel economy.

    Many oil and gas experts were skeptical of the dire prognosis. Today, the rapid expansion of unconventional oil and natural gas production in North America has proven their optimism to be correct.

    News headlines are filled with stories about how the oil and gas renaissance is providing critical financial aid to the struggling U.S. and world economy.

    Oil production from shale has contributed to a 25 percent increase in U.S. oil extraction during the last four years. Compared to 2008 levels, oil production is expected to rise by 46 percent by 2015, and swell by 68 percent by 2020

    Unconventional oil production has helped the U.S. achieve a 20 year high in domestic oil output. Shale development on privately owned lands is responsible for the majority of this spike. Meanwhile, oil production on federal lands declined by 11 percent between fiscal years 2010 – 2011.

    The oil and natural gas industry has become the top job creating sector in the United States. The wages of these oil and gas workers reaches an average of approximately $35 an hour. Meanwhile, job opportunities outside the booming industry are less impressive, and on average pay workers $23 an hour.

    During the recession, oil and gas production provided stability in an otherwise uncertain economy. Between 2006 and 2011, domestic oil and natural gas extraction independently created 119,511 jobs while other sectors lost roughly 4.5 million jobs. Furthermore, the wages of these oil and gas workers grew by 20 percent during the same timeframe.

    According to a report by IHS Global Insight, the oil and natural gas industry will generate roughly 1.75 million American jobs this year. This figure is expected to exceed 3.5 million jobs by 2035.

    The oil and natural gas industry currently supports 9.2 million U.S. jobs, and accounts for roughly 7.7 percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

    Every day, the industry provides over $86 million of economic activity to federal coffers in rents, royalties, bonus payments and income tax payments.

    The average tax rate for the industry between the years 2006 through 2011 was 44.3 percent, significantly higher than the 35 percent general corporate tax rate.

    Between 2008 and 2010, the oil and natural gas industry invested nearly $156 billion each year in America’s infrastructure.

    During this same period, these contributions represented almost 14 percent of all U.S. industries’ capital expenditures, significantly outweighing the financial support of both the utilities and transportation industries combined.

    As you can see, oil and natural gas production has and will continue to be an essential component of our nation’s infrastructure and economy.

    By increasing the domestic production of oil and natural gas, our nation will benefit from an array of conveniences in the form of products, job growth and economic stimulation.

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