The Confusion Surrounding Burning Wood As A Biomass Source And CO2 Emissions In Rainforests

December 3, 2008 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

It’s one of the biggest issues currently being addressed in Poznan; disappearing natural forests because poor people burn firewood to heat their food and housing. Yet there are also many reports indicating wood is increasingly popular as a biomass fuel. So what’s the deal? Can you burn wood and not impact the environment?

It’s a question that many people ask who are considering buying that place or vacationing at that spot which comes with a log fire. The quick answer is that so long as wood comes from a well managed forest, you’re absolutely in the clear.

And in case you are worried about the ecological impact of the smoke and the carbon dioxide emissions, this recent article The Telegraph newspaper points out that because wood is a biomass fuel there ain’t much of a problem. When you burn wood, it releases the exact amount of carbon dioxide that it absorbed when growing. It’s actually better to burn it because when wood decomposes, it slowly lets go of the carbon it soaked up, a process which in many cases goes by unaccounted for.

So long as replanting matches harvesting your burning it will not lead to an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Far more serious is what happens in the rainforests in Asia. The impact of people’s burning of firewood is dramatic because it leads to the loss of natural forests.

Let me give you an example of how in Great Britain, many traditional woodlands should be used to create firewood and charcoal. A large part of Britain’s forests are neglected because there’s no economic incentive to maintain them. So the production of charcoal and firewood -an economic incentive- actually helps to sustain the forests.

The UK imports 90% of its charcoal from Asia. This means that the product has to come from a long distance, impacting on the UK’s national carbon footprint. What’s worse, in many cases the charcoal and firewood comes from uncertified sources, i.e. rainforests. Plus, the products tend to have been treated with harsh chemical solutions.

An organization called the BioRegional Charcoal Company Ltd (BRCC) tries to step in here. It was created in 1995 by the environmentalist organization the BioRegional Development Group, and the British Charcoal Group. Plan is to make Britain self reliant for its charcoal, firewood and kindle requirements. The concept by which the BRCC operates on a daily basis has been tipped as a model that could be used for replication in many other local-to-wholesale projects.

The BRCC comprises a kind of ‘cooperative’ of 25 producers who work together as a single supplier of high quality charcoal, kindle and firewood to retailers throughout the country. Needless to say; each retailer that is supplied is matched with the most local producer in the network. Local to wholesale is the concept from start to finish.

The cooperative has calculated that retailers buying its produce reduce carbon emissions generated from the transport of charcoal from producer to store by 85%. An added attraction is that the local charcoal is invariably of superior quality than any imported charcoal. Same counts for firewood. The reason is that BRCC’s network of charcoal burners and woodland workers use wood feedstock from local coppice woodland and thinnings, according to the network’s spokespeople. They point out that this wood used is independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is the most important guarantee you might find in the world.

“Our producers make UK charcoal, firewood and kindling, using wood from sustainably managed, traditional UK woodlands before delivering them to major retailers as locally as possible,” according to the opening lines of the organization’s website. The network is supported by the World Wildlife Fund and its biggest client is B&Q, a do-it-yourself retailer.

BRCC’s turnover reaches 300 tonnes of charcoal annually and firewood sales average 900 tonnes. Kindling 135 tonnes per annum. “The company has proved that it is technically possible to coordinate a successful supplier network of local producers and develop a domestic income stream that supports woodland communities”, according to a report.

It’s one of those initiatives of which there are so many around in the UK and which people in the US should definitely find out about.

Entry filed under: Green News.

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