Frequently Asked Questions
When the idea of expanding wood for energy is suggested, people often ask important questions about wood supply, carbon storage, emissions, effects, efficiency, and reliability. No energy source, at the level required by our modern society, is perfect, but when it comes to providing local economic and environmental benefits, modern wood heat is a great alternative to traditional fuels.
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Is there enough wood supply in Massachusetts for the expansion of wood energy?
At present, Massachusetts forests grow about five times as much wood as is harvested. Landowners only get a small return from selling “energy” wood, so they will likely only harvest for wood energy as part of routine forest management activities or as a by-product of a timber harvest. Robust wood energy markets can actually improve management opportunities for landowners. Additionally, forest harvesting in Massachusetts is regulated to protect wetlands and water resources, minimize erosion, and protect endangered species. These regulations are intended to ensure that forests can regrow and continue to provide important ecological functions.
Are carbon emissions from wood energy offset by forest sequestration?
Forests “take up” carbon out of the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis, storing it in vegetation and soils. They also “release” carbon back to the atmosphere through respiration and decomposition. This is a dynamic cycle, with both processes occurring simultaneously in a forest. As long as the forests in a particular area store more carbon than is being released, there is a net carbon sequestration. The carbon released when wood is used for energy would have otherwise been released through decomposition in the forest. By removing lower quality wood for energy, forest managers improve the quality of the woodlot so that the wood can eventually be used in long lasting products such as furniture or buildings.
Additionally, local wood energy and other wood products have a lower carbon footprint with regards to processing and transportation than petroleum-based fuels and products.
Are modern wood heat appliances low emission?
Modern wood heat appliances are low emission and comply with state and federal clean air requirements. Modern cordwood, pellet, and chip appliances bear little resemblance to traditional wood stoves and fireplaces which are inefficient and can produce copious amounts of smoke. Properly operated modern wood heat appliances produce minimal amounts of particulates and nitrous oxides. Other carbon-based fuels produce sulfuric compounds, however sulfur emissions from wood are minimal and much like natural gas. Modern wood heat appliances generally perform as well fossil fuel burning appliances. Larger systems often have specially designed equipment to handle their emissions, and newly updated EPA standards are now in effect to limit particulate emissions from residential wood heaters even further.
Are modern wood heat appliances compatible with clean air regulations?
By replacing a traditional wood stove with a modern wood heat appliance, particulate matter can be substantially reduced. Particulate matter is a mixture of small particles suspended in the air, often including smoke, soot, and dust. High particulate matter concentrations can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases. Modern wood heat appliances produce a slightly higher level of particulate matter than a comparable fossil fuel appliance, but do not exceed federal and state clean air regulations. Replacing just one traditional wood stove with a modern appliance can significantly reduce particulate emissions in a community, making a far greater positive impact than would be made by switching from a modern wood heat appliance to a fossil fuel appliance.
Is modern wood heat efficient?
Design features such as catalytic converters and secondary combustion chambers ensure that more of the wood gases are burned completely, and at lower temperatures. Not only does this reduce emissions, it also means that modern appliances can produce the same amount of heat using less wood. Modern wood heat appliances can be over 80% efficient.
Is modern wood heat reliable?
When installed and operated properly, modern wood heat appliances are as reliable as fossil fuel units. A consistent wood fuel quality will also increase the system’s reliability and allow for automatic feeding of the fuel. Wood heat can also be a wonderful complement to variable energy sources such as wind and solar, offering consistent heat on cloudy or still days.