Kelly Burke

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Climate Change Controversy Heats Up on Wood Pellets

Posted by Kelly Burke on Dec 22, 2020 10:48:08 AM

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Controversy is brewing on the issue, of all things, of wood pellets. 

Here in New England, wood pellet stoves have been around forever, and we saw a noticeable uptick in usage when energy prices were high several years ago, as wood stoves offered an additional, lower cost way to keep the thermostat a little lower than you otherwise could. A 40lb bag of pellets runs you about 5 bucks at a home improvement store and will heat for approximately 24 hours, give or take. Plus you get that nice old timey fireplace smell, good stuff. 

So what's the issue with them anyway? The issue is less with residential use and more with biomass generated electricity. Wood pellets are designated biomass by US and International policy - they are designated as a renewable resource because (obviously) trees are regrown. A focus of the growth of wood pellets has been the designation that they are a carbon-neutral heating source. But are they really? 

Scientists in both Europe and the US are arguing that the actual burning of the pellets is more carbon intensive than coal, and that the length of the cycle to replace and regrow the source trees for the pellets ought to be considered - after all, it can take decades for full regrowth, which slows the ability of replanted trees to absorb the carbon. They also argue that the carbon neutrality fails to take into account the transportation impact of Europe's usage. Europe is a major user of pellets, and because of the lack of suitable forestry, they import them, largely from the Southeastern US.  

Why are they such heavy users when they lack the natural resources? Because ten years ago, the European Commission issued a Renewable Energy Directive to its member countries that 20 percent of their energy should come from renewable sources by 2020. The burning of biomass such as wood pellets was one way to meet that goal. Indeed, carbon emissions from burning wood are not counted toward a nation’s emissions output, due to a controversial provision of the Kyoto Protocol.

This faulty logic has led to massive renewable energy subsidies for biomass under the EU Renewable Energy Directive program. With that said, a number of countries have embraced biomass electricity, which scientists argue is actually speeding up climate change, pollution and forest destruction. Currently, biomass represents nearly 60 percent of the EU’s renewable energy total.

Because of the subsidies, it's beneficial for EU nations to import the pellets, and the demand on producers in the US has resulted in deforestration, which scientists warn could make the impact of extreme weather conditions far more severe since forests play a critical role in slowing flooding and erosion, in addition to their obvious role in absorbing atmospheric carbon.

Biomass plants have come under criticism because of all these factors by both scientists and environmentalists, and both legislators and the community seem to be coming to agreement that biomass electricity plants may not be the best way to renewable energy. This year we are seeing permits for new facilities being turned down everywhere from the Netherlands to Virginia. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into the specifics of the objections to wood pellets & biomass produced electricity. You can read that article in its entirety here: Are Wood Pellets Speeding Up Climate Change?

 

 

 

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Topics: climate change, carbon emissions, renewable energy

Environmentalists & Oil Exec's Unite on RFS Volume Reduction

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 14, 2014 9:47:00 AM

A surprisingly unusual coalition of folks have united to support the EPA's reduction of RFS Volume Requirements including food industry leaders, environmental groups, humanitarian groups and oil industry groups. Why is that? 

Everyone involved has concerns about different impacts they believe are created or exascerbated by the mandate, especially if the volumes hold or increase. Refiners, for example are concerned about their ability to breach the "blend wall", where every gallon of gasoline would contain the required 10% - once thats hit it will be extremely difficult for refiners to generate the neccessary RINs, largely because of concerns about moving past an E10 blend.

Refiners and Motorist groups like AAA argue that E15 is not approved for use in a large portion of vehicles, and 13 major car manufacturers will even void warranty coverage in vehicles running E15. That's a huge issue for folks with cars that are not model 2014. Even the Ethanol groups numbers on this issue leave approximately 250 million vehicles on the road that cannot run properly on E15 - that's not good news for Joe Six Pack.

So why are Environmental groups throwing their support behind a Volume Reduction? Isnt Ethanol supposed to be "green"? Well, maybe not. Original numbers put ethanol at 16% greener than gasoline, and then theres the more obvious environmental impacts. An estimated 5 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for conservation have been converted into farm land for corn for ethanol. Fertilizer run offs have worsened a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and contaminated some local water supplies as well, according to an AP investigation. 

Food producers oppose the mandate on the basis that diversion of corn for use in fuel versus the food supply has driven up the cost of animal feed, as well as corn used in processing itself. 

Beyond just supporting the Volume Reductions, the groups in question support a full repeal of the RFS in many cases. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that gets a little more detailed on the RFS Reduction, you can read it here if you are interested: Oil & Energy Magazine 

What are your thoughts on the RFS Mandate and potential Volume Reductions?

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, Biofuels, EPA

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