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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Industrial Green Energy

Aerial view of Enviva Biomass facility in Northampton County [Courtesy of Dogwood Alliance]

On one hand it seems like a good idea, on the other it just seems a little shady.

People are trying to be 'green', so they are burning wood pellets instead of coal, the idea being that growing trees suck as much CO2 out of the air as is produced when they are burned, so burning wood is considered carbon neutral. If you are one of Greta's acolytes, you might think that's a good thing.

Problem is the world burns about 8 billion tons of coal a year. I don't know if there are enough forests on the planet to compete with those kind of numbers. Whatever, demand has been growing and now there are a bunch of wood pellet factories operating in the southeast United States, cutting down forests, grinding the logs into wood pellets, and shipping them all over, including Europe.

Here's the shady part:

Biomass is contentious not just locally for the adverse impacts on those who live near wood pellet plants, but also globally for the unusual way its carbon emissions are tallied.

Under global accounting rules, emissions from burning wood are calculated where the trees are harvested, not where the material is burned.

That means countries can avoid counting emissions from their wood-fired plants while reporting the coal displaced as a greenhouse gas reduction. - Aljazerra

Wood pellets also cost more than coal:

Anthracite coal costs a lot less than wood pellets per unit of heat (BTU). A pound of Anthracite coal has almost twice the heat as a pound of wood pellets, therefore pellets have to be almost 1/2 the cost of Anthracite coal to be at the same cost per unit of heat. The cost of pellets would have to drop to $140/ton to be equal to the cost per unit of heat (BTU) of Anthracite coal that cost $250/ton. - Heet

Coal, if you buy it by the trainload, is much cheaper, like $40 per ton.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

biomass has potential but only as a way to extract the BTUs from very specific types of waste materials on an extremely small, local scale. Facilities like this make zero sense from an energy, economic or environmental standpoint without a big .gov subsidy and/or consumer "surcharge" (rape).

I attended (2012 or so) a kickoff meeting for a large-scale biomass project and as it turned out the State was pushing it as a consultant financed/designed/managed project that was to be handed over to the State, lock, stock and barrel, after 10 years. Out of the 50 or so engineering professionals in attendance, there were zero takers and as far as I know, the project was scaled back to about 5% of what they were proposing before they finally found some mechanical construction firm that would touch it.

From the moment that I noodled out that the project was an all-around boondoggle, all I could think of was the actual work that I could have done instead of being there.

The mechanical engineers that I would have partnered with (as the Civil) had we moved forward, both got up at the conclusion of the meeting and said, "We want nothing to do with this".