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Featured Is Biomass Carbon Neutral?

  1. Jul 8, 2017 #26


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    Yes from what I read burning some wood is a good idea BUT it depends on the wood and where it comes from. There are probably better articles but this refers to UK government data..


  2. Jul 8, 2017 #27
    Side effect is, that on long term it sterilising the forest. Making it a vulnerable, fragile ecosystem.
    Guess that's not a big problem for the author, since not too far on this track
    coming the hydroponic forest.
  3. Jul 8, 2017 #28
    I reckon that is why they call it Biomass and not fossil fuel.
    Strictly speaking fossil fuels are part of the biological mass that contains captured carbon but the time scale is what is important as far unacceptable warming to the atmosphere.
    If you were to release all the carbon that has been out of the atmosphere then there would be problems with temperature however more recently produced biomass burning will probably produce a negative or neutral effect with regards warming.
  4. Jul 8, 2017 #29

    Dr Transport

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    Interesting thread, enjoying every bit of the discussion here.

    Yes, absolutely true, when I lived at home with my parents, dad and I installed a word burner to heat the house. We only cut up dead trees and went through our 20 acre plot to look for diseased trees to remove. The area actually became healthier and the forest more efficient over a decade. I'm not for clear cutting but for selective removal, you keep the forest going without lags in productivity when you have to wait decades for seedlings to mature so that you can cut them down for fuel.
  5. Jul 8, 2017 #30
    In a way though, isn't keeping the dead trees where they are part of the natural process? When you remove decaying matter you remove important biodiversity?
  6. Jul 8, 2017 #31

    Dr Transport

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    It does, but in a forest where insects are the culprit in propagating a disease, it also reduces the spread of the devastation.
  7. Jul 8, 2017 #32


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    I have a hard time using relevance to tie my thought process together one topic to another, "carbon-neutral" registered more than "bio-mass" and I thought of compressed air, which to me is different from electricity by the fact it performs not only because of pressure but by the heat it carries or is exposed to and the variation of such adjustments. Electricity is pretty cut and dried watt for watt.
    It might be off topic enough to require it's own discussion thread, :smile:
  8. Jul 8, 2017 #33
    When I was a farmer in Ohio for a decade, I sold firewood on the side which made up about 20% of the farm business income. But the firewood production was always secondary to another operation, usually the sale of standing timber to be made into furniture. We'd sell a stand of timber to some Amish timber guys who would drop the trees and haul the marketable timber (big logs) out with horses to be sold to the mills to be cut and go into the furniture pipeline. Then me and my guys would go in behind the timber guys and make the "slash" into firewood. These are the limbs and branches that are too small (or poorly formed) to be made into marketable lumber. At least where I was in Ohio, about 80% of the wood mass ended up on the trucks headed for the mills, and about 20% ended up as "slash" which was what we made into firewood and sold as such.

    I'm not exactly sure the time scale of the sequestration of the 80% that went to the mills, but the part that made it into furniture got sequestered for a long time. The trimmings and sawdust ends up in various applications with shorter sequestration times: paper, pencils, fiberboard, and pressed wood pellets for wood stoves (same heating application as firewood).

    Since firewood (and pellets) and the other shorter sequestration uses are all much less valuable than lumber in most markets, I would reckon that there are very few wood markets where 100% of the wood production gets burned within a year or two of harvest. A sensible discussion needs to quantify how much of the biomass production of the wood ends up in long sequestration applications (homes, furniture) and how much ends up in short sequestration applications (fuel, paper, pencils, etc.)

    At least in Ohio, the slash that becomes firewood would just sit in the woods rotting with a comparable sequestration time if it is not picked up and sold in the fuel markets. Due to the cost of labor, a lot of slash from timber harvests is not used for fuel.
  9. Jul 9, 2017 #34
    Seems like there is a lot of room for continuing use of biomass for energy beyond and apart from simple local use of firewood (because it's there) for cooking and heating - but I think at larger scale it will mostly be as an adjunct to other activities, such as dealing with waste streams from sawmilling (because it's there) or perhaps, in places of high fire hazard (like where I live), harvesting and gasifying flammable plant materials in place of hazard reduction burning around the interfaces between rural and urban (because it's going to be burned anyway). I would be interested to see more development of small scale gasification for rural households - astonishing amounts of highly flammable material get raked into piles and burned or burned in situ each year around rural and forest/park edge households simply to reduce bushfire risks. It's not going to be 100% carbon neutral but it can still reduce emissions by it's participation in the fast carbon cycle. The slow carbon cycle includes mineral weathering, laying down and natural release of fossil carbon via coal and oil - it's the fast carbon cycle, between vegetation, soils, soils atmosphere and oceans that is relevant here and now.

    There isn't going to be one ideal forest management regime - we can manage to maximise timber production, manage to reduce wildfire hazard, manage to preserve local natural ecosystems and biodiversity, manage to deal with immediate problems like weeds, pests and diseases as well as deal with long term ones like achieving those aims with expectations of changing climates and shifting land use priorities. The removal of all dead wood for example, will have impacts on nutrient cycling and availability of habitat for wildlife.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2017
  10. Jul 10, 2017 #35
    The very first thing would be to ask about forest from somebody who has the qualifications to manage a forest. A cycle length for forest management is 30-100 years: even for the less valuable forests it is longer than the whole environmentalism in whole.

    That's what pissing me off about these kind of discussions (especially the ones where the topic is narrowed down to short term carbon management -> thus rendered completely useless).

    I don't know how this work for other countries, but here (Hungary) the starting line is that there is a given percent of wood mass what should remain in the forest, regardless of its quality.
    The actual topic in forest management is the application of a kind of 'rolling cut' instead of regular 'clear cut', so in any area the trees would be with mixed age.
    This one is so 'hot' topic that during the next 30-50 years the whole industry is expected to apply it.

    Now, tell me something in environmentalism what could be planned for even just a decade.



    Sorry, had to vent some steam.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2017
  11. Jul 10, 2017 #36

    Buzz Bloom

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    Hi Rive:

    If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying the issues regarding forest management have a longer time frame than the carbon issues regarding policy about climate change. Also, I gather you conclude that the more immediately urgent carbon issues should not be intruding upon the forest management issues. Have I read you correctly? Are you also concluding that the forest management issues should not intrude on the carbon issues?

    What puzzles me is why discussions about these intrusions upset you so much.

    You also ask
    I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that the international politics regarding carbon require that shorter term agreements be made, for example the Paris Agreement covering 2015-2020, which followed the Kyoto Protocol which "was entered into force" in 2005, which extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I think there are at most a few people, if any, who believe that the Paris Agreement agreement is going to fix the carbon problem, so (hopefully) there will be more short term (and more effective) agreements in the future.

  12. Jul 10, 2017 #37
    I'm saying that as long as the expected survival time of the actual buzzwords regarding (forests,) carbon and climate change are way shorter than the time frame of forest management, hands off from forests.

    Yes: mixing agreements with actual practice and buzzwords is not the way forward.
    A relevant example from the topic: based on those mentioned agreements one actual practice is to import first class wood chopped up to wood chips from Canada to Europe, with higher carbon footprint than coal mined here. And it is still called 'green'.

    Ps.: just noticed that I've used the term 'buzzword' - it is definitely not a reference to your nickname, but (I think) the most correct term to describe the actual trend-controlled world of environmentalism...
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2017
  13. Jul 10, 2017 #38


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    I read somewhere the high price of timber in Germany due to its large biomass power capacity is pulling timber out of eastern europe, some of it black market. Have you seen any references about the issue?
  14. Jul 10, 2017 #39
    I've noticed here a seemingly increased rate of wood trade (which does not fit with the local demand): I know about witnesses who claims that they have seen packed trucks heading for a local biomass plant with quite big (1-2m length...) 'wood chips' and I think it is not impossible that black market reaches as far as Germany, but I did not see any reference for that claim.
  15. Jul 10, 2017 #40


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    Romania seems to be the source of some sketchy timber exports.

    Romania acts to save forests from logging spree

    Agenda report, though with apparently sound references:
  16. Jul 10, 2017 #41
    Rive, the climate problem and need for low emissions energy are not due to Environmentalists, no matter that they are some of the loudest voices on the issues. That these make an opportunity for forest owners and managers in the low emissions energy market is not due to Environmentalists.The large scale use of biomass burning for electricity is, for the most part, opposed by political environmentalism - it is the managers of large scale forestry and the closely tied wood fired generators that seek to create market opportunities out of it and to benefit from it, including (mheslep note) by cutting corners and taking no care or responsibility for where or how the wood is sourced. If they do so without regard for the longer term consequences (the ones that many environmentalists keep going on about), then they are not doing such a good job of it and the burden of responsibility rests with them. Blaming environmentalists for the self interested choices and poor decisions of those who are actually responsible for that management makes no sense to me except as a blame shifting exercise - despite the perception that (elements of) environmentalism are the enemies of commercial forestry it largely supports improved long term management over short term and environmentally damaging exploitation.

    Changes to local and regional climate from AGW will become ever more significant to forest managers - things like changes of rainfall and seasonal temperature patterns, extremes of heat and cold, flood, storm and wildfire to forests and infrastructure will challenge management based solely on traditions. The very mix of species across forested regions and the wildlife they support will change and I expect regions like Europe - where forests are mostly not primeval, but have been managed for centuries - will probably cope better than the minimal management/exploitative practices of places that lack those traditions or reject regulation. Depending on where, there is likelihood of enhanced droughts and increased wildfire risks (with increasing fire mitigation costs). In places like Australia climate change may make forestry unviable across large regions, especially if we collectively fail to bring emissions down and climate moves further from it's familiar range.

    Mitigation of climate change through lowering of emissions is in the long term interests of the owners and managers of productive forests and biofuels can and will play some part in that - not pivotal perhaps, but significant all the same.
  17. Jul 11, 2017 #42


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    Trippling the biomass consumption over the last 15 years in Germany, in keeping with biomass inclusion in EU renewable requirements, caused demand well beyond traditional supply, which in turn caused sharp timber price increases, which always and everywhere is expected to cause black markets in any commodity.

    Blaming the "self interested" "managers" for this outcome is a page from Bolshevik handbook, central planning chapter.
  18. Jul 11, 2017 #43
    Ken Fabos,

    I think you too needs to face it: regardless of the lot of polite speech and agreements, on their tracks right now there is no actual practice exists for biomass which can be said to be green and sustainable.

    In this environment to further propagate biomass as energy source is no different to the practice of those poor farmers who burns up forest in Middle-America just because they have no idea what else should they do.

    Thank you for your understanding, but I'm not interested in anything like that.
  19. Jul 11, 2017 #44
    This is a false dichotomy. One should consider "green" and "sustainable" as a continuous scale rather than black and white. Having the discussion in black and white allows one to keep moving the goalposts where nothing is ever satisfactory. In the real world of energy, nothing will ever be perfect.

    I ask a few questions when considering how "green" and "sustainable" a practice or energy source is:

    1. Is it more sustainable than oil and coal?

    2. Are the net emissions lower than oil and coal?

    3. Is there a path where the long term costs are likely to be competitive with oil and coal?

    If the answer to all three questions are "yes" then odds are it is a step in the right direction.
  20. Jul 11, 2017 #45
    And there are some good biomass examples, and some existed long before the environmental concerns. Ex, Burning the leftover sugar cane stalks to process and manufacture sugar. It is a one year or less, cycle. Corn based biodesel, since it drives up the cost of a food source is not my favorite, but collecting and similarly burning the the stalks would be a good field to study.

    As for the government funding dead end research, it is pretty easy to cherry pick bad (some very bad) examples of politicians being sold BS - or leveraging Govt research spending to bring home the bacon... but this process is nothing new and has nothing to do with Green research, it is a byproduct of our political system. Sen. Byrd anyone? Some cases are just researchers that have never worked / experienced "the real world" and have drank their own coolaid, they believe in their idea, and keep advocating for it, so in some of this I see no malice or fraud, it takes then good, professional and educated people in government and to make policy that determines how to best spend the tax dollars.

    I like Dr. C's post - as I have long subscribed to the thinking that to make significant changes, you should have at least three reasons, don't know why but the successful projects always seem to have 3 or more. Regarding Biomas... there is some good research and development where the objective more than just "carbon focused" - some of the grass projects, that can grow quickly on brown field, or help remediate soil, recover swamp land, provide agrarian buffers and other factors do show promise. Developing plant / algae that feed on our existing waste streams, and consume little additional valuable or important resources - also well worth the R&D cost.

    Still - I see them all as " solar" - that is the source, can we grow plants to capture energy more effectively than PV for example? When only looking at energy - I doubt it. When we look at secondary and tertiary reasons to do this - it should be part of the mix, IMO.

    Like wise - I vehemently hate coal, sorry, it is a dirty business. From questionable land grants, worker exploitation and abandonment, commercial manipulation of the environmental protections, local and global environmental damage AND then the CO2 issue. As a model, each of our households generate waste, and we have to pay (a cost) to have that removed, or we have to change and work to eliminate the waste - not a trivial task. We have been heavily using coal for 150 years - and not paying the bill (cost) of the waste we have been generating. Like one giant Superfund site.

    Napkin Maths..... ~ 9B STonns Coal per year, ~ 24B Tons CO2, ... over 196 M Sq Miles.... 122 TONS of CO2, for every square mile of the planet, year after year - the numbers to me are in the realm of space travel, so large the layperson can not comprehend, and thus the issue becomes trivialized or ignored.

    Making it personal - in the atmosphere above your one acre plot of land - we put ~ 640 lbs of CO2 - every year.

    We have more then one reason to stop using coal. And we need to find ways to accomplish this. Unfortunately - simple answers are hard to come by, they have already been done and they clearly are not enough.

    Ah.. rant over...
  21. Jul 11, 2017 #46
    Another thing I don't like about corn-based fuels (that could be in play with ANY biofuel) is that the increased corn prices encourage farmers to plant more and to use more fertilizer to increase yields (production per acre). Those fertilizers are often petroleum dependent in their production, AND also tend to wash downstream and contribute to eutrophication and hypoxia in bodies of water. The large area of recurring hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico would likely be much smaller (or gone completely) if we ended corn-based biofuel subsidies (with expected reductions in fertilizer use in the Mississippi watershed. )

    The impact of downstream nutrient loading should be considered when weighing how "green" and "sustainable" a given biofuel really is. I like wood-based biofuels better, since they don't tend to increase nutrient loading. Of course, there are some places where moderate nutrient loading can actually improve fisheries production since it can fertilize relatively infertile bodies of water. One needs to consider whether more nutrients downstream is gonna help or hurt.
  22. Jul 11, 2017 #47


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    An all-or-nothing decision on biomass would be a false choice if not for the government RE grid share mandates. Numerous governments are setting high majority share renewable requirements (Germany 80% 2050) in places where hydro is limited, and all the energy source mandates I'm aware of exclude nuclear. It seems clear to me that RE sources like wind and solar will grossly fail to achieve targets of 80% or more due to their intermittent nature, eventually forcing a similarly gross overuse of biomass to meet those targets, especially in the context of i) some nuclear heavy countries that long ago removed carbon from their grid (e.g. France, Switzerland, Sweden), and ii) some dense forest neighbors looking for income.

  23. Sep 3, 2017 #48
  24. Sep 3, 2017 #49
    Some of my own napkin maths - here in Australia the 15 metric tonne average emissions work out at 7500 cubic metres of CO2 per year per person; by volume it is our largest waste product. If it were a column of CO2 with a cross section of an average human body, each person's would be, literally, reach into the stratisphere.
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