Monthly Archives: May 2014

Does wood burning emit more pollution than coal?

Biofuel furnace to heat hydroponic tomatoes; it runs 365 days per year.

Biofuel furnace to heat hydroponic tomatoes; it runs 365 days per year (the BOC tank hold CO2 for the glasshouse).

Is large-scale native forest biomass burning coming to Victoria? With NSW jumping in, it seems there’s a good chance that we’ll follow. And with the State Govt. happy to find more markets for ‘forest waste’ (our forests!), Blind Freddy could predict VicForests’ response. We’ve already seen the  impact of one, relatively small biofuel operation (image at left and here & here). Imagine the impact of a power plant producing electricity to run a town or a city – very scary!!

But is burning wood better than burning coal? Leaving the issue of living, breathing, biodiverse, planet-cooling, mixed-age, carbon-rich forests aside…

The furnace in operation.

The furnace in operation.

“.. biomass plants emit nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity produced than coal plants, the study concluded.

“One reason is that wood doesn’t burn as hot as coal, so the same level of emissions produces less power. Another is that wood contains a lot of moisture, so it is a less efficient feedstock than coal or gas.” Read the full US-based report here. If you know of similar local studies, please share.

You might think that a glasshouse only needs heating in winter, but Murphy Fresh run their boiler 365 days per year, even on heat-wave days. Now, with winter approaching “They are really putting through a lot of chips. Coming out from Mansfield in the morning you can see a haze that practically covers the whole Mansfield basin.” (comment from a local).

Burning wood as industrial fuel might sound reasonable, but the devil is in the detail. Once a process becomes industrial and integrated into a broader economy, it develops a life of it’s own – forests beware!

This is what's devouring Tolmie native forest 10,000 T/yr - the full glasshouse operation.

This is what’s devouring Tolmie native forest; 10,000 T/yr – note the log-pile and chips at bottom left.