Showing posts from February, 2012

Frost, Tolstoy and Wanniski Weigh in on the Folly of Carbon Accounting

Last weekend some old friends contacted me from beyond the grave on the subject of my last post, the issue of carbon accounting. First up on the ghostly cycle was the famed New England poet, Robert Frost. Mr. Frost reminded me that he himself had witnessed the carbon cycle in the woods and written of it. In his poem "The Wood-Pile", published in 1914, he wrote of following a small bird into a frozen swamp until it disappeared behind a wood pile. Of the pile, he wrote,
It was a cord of maple, cut and split  And piled -- and measured, four by four by eight. And not another like it could I see. No runner tracks in this year’s snow looped near it. And it was older sure than this year’s cutting, Or even last year’s or the year’s before. The wood was gray and the bark warping off it And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle. What held it, though, on one side was a tree Still growing, and on one a stake and a prop, These latter about to fall. I t…

Sustainable Forestry, Bioenergy, and the Carbon Cycle - Misunderstood and Misrepresented

Earlier this week I received an email from a colleague directing me to the following video, a product of the Natural Resources Defense Council. On a web page entitled "Our Forests Aren't Fuel" the video and its accompanying text decry the use of forest harvesting for biomass energy, although they admit that "Biomass can be harvested and utilized in ways that reduce pollution and protect forest habitats, but only with sustainability safeguards and proper accounting for carbon emissions -- including carbon released due to deforestation." Under their definition of sustainable biomass production fall agricultural biomass and woody biomass from short-rotation biomass plantations, but not natural forests.

Note the use of the phrase "proper accounting for carbon emissions". Here the folks at NRDC are relying on a policy-targeted carbon accounting framework utilized in the Manomet study we discussed last May in a post entitled "Wood Biomass and Carbon N…

Wood Science 101(3) - Lignin

You'd be hard pressed to find a material more universally researched right now than lignin. Let's talk about it a little today. It's the second most abundant organic polymer on earth, behind cellulose. It's what makes trees stand upright, what makes wood hold its shape, and what makes furniture support your weight when you sit on it. It's been called "God's glue", and "nature's plastic", because it fills the space between plant cells, called the middle lamella, where the lignin is highly concentrated, and binds to the cell walls (which themselves have a lower concentration of lignin mixed with the cellulose and hemicellulose fibrils that make up the primary and secondary cell walls).  It's really sticky, durable stuff, and that's what all the research is about.

It seems that today's scientists, in trying to reverse-engineer plant materials, would like to have an easy way to break down the lignin bonds that hold the other pla…