The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Energy From Wood

One of the issues that most of my professional time is spent on is the societal energy potential of wood. I've written technical notes on the wood energy potential within Pennsylvania, wood pellets, and co-firing coal power plants with wood. However, one issue I don't address in these technical notes is whether using wood for energy is a "good thing."

Since that concept is subjective, I leave that for you to decide. There are pros and cons to the issue; it is also quite complex in many respects, while simple in others. It doesn't surprise me when I see or hear really negative viewpoints about using wood as an energy resource, because so many people have an emotional attachment to the world's forest and the trees that comprise it. I have a couple of trees myself that I regard as old friends, and I'm a little sad when I return to a place of my younger life and find that one of those old friends has been sent on to that great woodpile in the sky.

But I have dedicated my efforts in this area to helping people better understand the entire issue. For starters, we can't ignore the fact that at one time, most of the forests of the eastern United States were cleared for use as lumber to build our cities, for firewood, for railroad ties, for fenceposts, or simply to get out of the way so that the farmers could plow the land. So forests can be depleted if the demand for the wood or the land it grows on exceeds the amount that grows in a place. But let us also recognize that in most of the country, except in those places that have been converted into concrete jungles, the forests have rebounded with amazing vigor. The US Forest Service in a 1958 report "The Timber Resources of Pennsylvania" makes and interesting observation on the resiliency of our wonderful wood...

Today--despite 300 years of hard usage--Pennsylvania still has 15 million acres of forestland, slightly more than half of the state's total land area."

It's possible that you read that and said to yourself "Yeah, but that was back in 1958..." You might be surprised then, that the number of forested acres in Pennsylvania stands nearer to 17 million acres today! Yes, we have more trees today than we had fifty years ago, even more than we had one hundred years ago. And the volume of trees and wood continues to grow at a rate faster than we consume it.

I'll pick up on this in the next post...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most people think more trees in forest are better, trees provide many environmental functions, they think it is tree's responsibility to take care of all emissions from fossil fuel. More fossil fuel get burned, more trees should planted and kept.