Wood as fuel

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who was bemoaning our use of a wood stove as our primary heating source.  He quoted all the usual arguments – pollution, environmentally unfriendly, dirty, inefficient to name a few.  I thought it interesting that he didn’t seem to mind the electric base-board heat in his house.  Here are a few facts and thoughts on wood as fuel.

  • Burning wood releases the same amount of pollution into the atmosphere as wood left to rot on the forest floor.  There is no difference.  The manner in which it is released is different – combustion versus decomposition – but the net effect is the same.  Although carbon makes up about half the weight of firewood and is released as carbon dioxide when the wood is burned, it is part of a natural cycle. A tree absorbs carbon dioxide from the air as it grows and incorporates this carbon in its structure. When the tree falls and decays in the forest, or is processed into firewood and burned, the carbon is released again to the atmosphere. This cycle can be repeated forever without increasing atmospheric carbon. Heating with wood, therefore, does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Moreover, when wood energy displaces the use of fossil fuels, the result is a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The firewood we gather is from our property so we expend very little in the way of energy (gas for the car or paying a delivery vehicle) to harvest the wood. We haven’t started yet but this summer I plan to start a re-forestation project on our property.  We have enough wood here for probably 20 years or more but it doesn’t hurt to start new trees early.
  • Depending on the source, generating a unit of electricity can actually require three units of energy.  For instance, most electrical energy in North America comes from coal-fired plants.  It requires three units of coal buring to generate one unit of electrical energy which is obviously not a good ratio.  Consider the pollution effect of the coal being mined and subsequently burned and this ratio increases further.
  • Natural gas, oil and other fossil fuel derivatives release carbon from its “stored” state but have no mechanism to re-absorb this released carbon.
  • Wood is natural and renewable.

Ultimately our goal is to build a new house which is completely off-grid and produces 100% of it’s own energy through solar, wind and geothermal sources.  The technology to make this happen is here – we as a society just need to use it.  Until then, we’ll enjoy our woodstove and the wonderfully ‘warm’ warmth it produces.

Categories: Commentary, General interest | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Wood as fuel

  1. Our electric baseboard heating costs a small fortune.

  2. As far as im concerned, pretty much anything that can be harvested above the earths crust is good for energy. Anything below it should stay there. However I dont like the idea of using corn and rice for fuel when so many people are starving on earth.

    • Hi Sean…I agree. I’m definitely not a bio-fuel fan. We only have to look at the massive increase in the cost of flour over the last few years so see how this type of fuel is driving cost up. More bikes, less cars!


  3. Dad

    Hi ben,
    I must admit I had never really thought about the fact that trees, on dying might give off the CO2 they’d absorbed during their lives. Of course it makes sense. I’d never thought that the CO2 given off by a tree being burned would be the same as when it dies naturally…negative effect. Makes sense.
    Did you figure into the cost of baseboard heating with the electricity coming from hydro? You just mentioned that which comes from coal.
    I’m with you all the way regarding the wonderful heat which comes from a stove. There’s nothing like it. Thanks for taking the time to write such interesting posts.

    • Thanks Dad…I haven’t looked into the energy costs for water generated hydro. I imagine they are more efficient than coal. To my knowledge (admittedly thin but increasing daily!) geo-thermal is the best returning energy source, with a production to utilization ratio of about 1:4 (1 unit of power into a geothermal plant creates 4 units of use-able power). Cheers!

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