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Environmental Benefit of Burning Wood Chips Questioned


A scientific conflict over the environmental effect of burning wood chips has emerged in the E.U. The group of 28 nations collectively consumed 27.5 million metric tons of wood pellets to generate electricity in 2018. This was up 35 percent from 2016. Power companies can claim subsidies for using wood chips as a fuel since it is regarded as a renewable energy source.

Demand has resulted in the U.S. shipping wood pellets derived from tops, limbs and from trees unsuitable for lumber or furniture according to Enviva Partners, a major processor of timber into pellets. Approximately two percent of standing forests are harvested annually allowing for regrowth which presumably offsets the carbon produced by burning pellets, albeit over a protracted period.

Studies conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated that burning wood for power releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per unit of power generated than coal. The difference between wood pellets and natural gas is even more extreme.

A recent lawsuit opposing wood chips to power electric generating plants filed with the European General Court by environmental advocacy organizations was rejected on the basis that the plaintiffs did not have standing. The claim was for the E.U. to rescind subsidies extended to wood chips claiming extensive carbon dioxide release and non-sustainability.

Depending on the acceptance of studies both for and against using pellets as fuel, the viability of the wood chip industry is threatened.