Landowners and producers work together to harvest wood in a sustainable manner. Most reforestation in the southeastern US occurs naturally, and many landowners replant their trees.
Thinning and rotational harvesting are common practices that contribute to a continuous cycle of new growth. Unmanaged forests can become net carbon emitters because of fire and infestation.
In the last 20 years alone, forest landowners have planted more than 4.4 billion trees."– Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Wood Pellets are Good for the Environment
Sustainably produced wood pellets deliver real carbon savings when compared to fossil fuels.
Replacing coal with industrial wood pellets has been shown to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides.
Switching to industrial wood pellets from coal can reduce carbon emissions 74-90%"– UK Environment Agency
Industrial wood pellets are low in sulfur, chlorine, and nitrogen. They also have lower concentrations than coal of trace metals including mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, and lead. Using wood pellets instead of coal releases much less of these elements into the atmosphere.
When complete replacement is not possible, co-firing industrial wood pellets alongside coal reduces emissions of pollutants such sulfur, ash, nitrogen, mercury and other pollutants that are harmful to the environment, according to studies by the US Environmental Protection Agency and other government scientists.
Forests and the Natural Carbon Cycle
CO2 molecules are the same regardless of where they come from. But burning coal to produce electricity releases carbon that would have remained sequestered in the ground for millions of years. It is a one-way process that adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and fuels climate change.
Wood pellets, on the other hand, are part of a natural process known as the biogenic carbon cycle. Trees absorb CO2 as they grow. That same CO2 is released during the combustion process and an equivalent amount (or even more) is removed from the atmosphere as the forest regenerates itself.
When the carbon cycle id balanced, the use of wood pellets does not result in a net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. In fact, as land owners continue to plant trees and increase inventories in response to demand, the industry is expected to have positive impact on greenhouse gas levels over the long term.
Realistic Models Show Benefits of Industrial Wood Pellets
When based on current industry practices, model results show zero or very short time periods before net greenhouse gas reductions are achieved.
Because wood pellets are sourced largely from forest byproducts or sawmill residues, their use introduces no, or only small, changes in the amount of carbon stored in US forests.
Given that annual net growth in the forests of the southern US far exceeds total removals, carbon stocks are clearly not declining due to industrial wood pellet uses.
Forest Sustainability and Carbon Balance
Carbon accounting is the process for estimating the addition or subtraction of CO2 in the atmosphere. There is a growing body of research incorporating established carbon methodologies which shows that industrial wood pellets are beneficial for the environment when compared with fossil fuels.
The central finding of a peer-reviewed report prepared for USIPA is that when realistic assumptions based on standard industry practices in the southeastern US are applied, replacing coal with wood pellets delivers substantial carbon savings over time.
Further, there is a critical difference between small and temporary “carbon debt,” when one might exist, and the permanent reductions that come from using wood pellets in the place of fossil fuels that release carbon into the atmosphere that would otherwise remain sequestered in the Earth.
The report shows that some earlier carbon-accounting studies that focused in industrial wood pellets incorporated modeling assumptions that do not correspond with actual industry practices. Those findings were influenced by unrealistic assumptions about wood sources and production levels, as well as choices about how long it takes the forest to regrow and absorb carbon that is released during combustion. These studies also failed to account for the environmental efficiencies that the industrial wood pellet industry has introduced into its supply chain.
Given the impact of these variables on study conclusions, it is essential for policymakers and other interested parties to exercise great care in interpreting such research.