America’s Wood Pellet Bonanza

Welcome back to my blog!

As promised, let’s talk about the residential U.S. wood pellet market.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has been slow to get statistical numbers regarding the scope and amount of domestic wood pellet fuel in America. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) just started collecting some data on wood pellet sales and production. For instance, in the first half of 2016, the EIA points out that only 18% of the 3.1 million tons of domestic wood pellets was used for residential and light commercial heating, the rest was exported to Europe. The EIA got the numbers from a poll of the U.S. wood pellet industry, so the data is self-reported and voluntary. Those numbers seem unusually low, given the amount of wood pellet stoves and wood pellet suppliers in America. You literally can’t go anywhere in the northern and mountain states without seeing wood pellets for sale at most backcountry grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, and hardware stores. I imagine a good portion of those pellets are not reported in the EIA’s wood pellet inventory.

WoodPelletBag
Residential Wood Pellets – Photo: Andrew_Writer/Flickr/CC

Most U.S. wood pellet producers tout their pellets as clean and environmentally friendly, when in fact, their smoke emissions are a major source of particulate matter (PM) air pollution. Some wood pellet companies will questionably distort the truth about their environmental impacts. For instance, Woodpellets.com LLC, claims their wood pellets are carbon neutral because “all above ground carbon returns to the atmosphere through decomposition if not through combustions. In other words, if the proverbial ‘tree falls in the forest’, normal decomposition of the log will return the carbon from the log to the atmosphere. When wood pellets are burned in a pellet stove, pellet boiler or pellet furnace, the same carbon returns to the atmosphere.” That statement by Woodpellets.com is not true at all.

According to Dr. Mary Booth of Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), “It takes years and even decades for trees tops and branches to decompose on the forest floor, and during that process, a portion of that decomposing carbon is incorporated into new soil carbon. In contrast, burning pumps the carbon stored in this wood into the atmosphere instantaneously. There is a difference of many years, and even decades, between the immediate emissions from burning residues, and the slow evolution of carbon from natural decomposition.”

American forests are at risk from deforestation. The wood pellet producers rely on the timber industry for much of their wood, which drives over-harvesting and clearcuts to meet the demand of the expanding wood pellet industry.

“It takes years and even decades for trees tops and branches to decompose on the forest floor, and during that process, a portion of that decomposing carbon is incorporated into new soil carbon. In contrast, burning pumps the carbon stored in this wood into the atmosphere instantaneously. There is a difference of many years, and even decades, between the immediate emissions from burning residues, and the slow evolution of carbon from natural decomposition.”


Up In Flames, Another Hazard of Wood Pellets – Video by: yorstonnick

PFPI also outlines that forests are declining in southern America from increased timber and wood pellet harvesting. The USDA has taken a pro-biomass stance that brags forest growth is improving, as former USDA head, Vilsack proclaimed to UK’s Secretary, Amber Rudd, “Our latest inventory showed that the amount of forested land in the southern United States increased by 55 million acres (22.26 million hectares) from 2007 to 2012.” But USDA’s own forest assessment deceptively ignored the fact that forest lands from Texas and Oklahoma were silently “added” to the southern forest inventory assessment (FIA) profile, “The forest areas of Texas and Oklahoma are significantly higher than reported in previous national assessments. This is due to the non-timberland forests in the western portions of these States being estimated by FIA for the first time.” Clearly, the USDA was trying to overstate southern forest growth by counting non-timberland forests.

WoodPelletHomes

Additionally, acclaimed U.S. forestry analyst and founder of Maine Low-Impact Forestry Project, Mitch Lansky asserts, “Forests sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Most of the sequestered carbon is either on or under the soil surface; only 25 percent is in live trees aboveground. Forest soil gets carbon from detritus that rots and becomes part of topsoil, and from microbial interactions with tree roots. Mycorrhizal fungi are a major factor in bringing carbon to lower soil levels, according to new research. The fungi help tree roots get more water and nutrients; in return trees provide carbon for the fungi.” In fact, new science indicates an entire network of fungal networks and microbes are responsible for moving tree carbon to deep soil carbon. This is an important part of the natural process of carbon sequestration and long-term carbon reclamation.

Thanks for reading.
Next post I’ll talk about the “carbon neutral” argument by the biomass industry. Cheers.

 

Vermont Pellet
Screen Capture from Vermont Wood Pellet Co. Website

 

 

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