Since 2008, the amount of wood pellet exports from the United States to Europe have increased drastically. The increase is a result of the European Union’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by 2020. After much consideration, the European leaders concluded that wood pellets are the most fuel-efficient option with the least impact on the environment available.
However, some environmentalists have since questioned the impact wood pellet production has on our environment. Most wood pellets are produced from forests in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and other southern states. Environmentalists who oppose wood pellet exports contend that the impact to produce and ship wood pellets damages the environment more than simply using coal in Europe.
In response, Madhu Khanna, an expert in environmental economics from the University of Illinois, researched the topic and found that wood
pellets are a better option than coal. Even when you factor in harvesting and transportation costs, coal still causes more carbon emissions than wood pellets.
You may wonder why wood pellets are a better option as a fuel source compared to coal. Here are a few reasons to use wood pellets as a fuel source.
They Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Electrical plants that use wood pellets for fuel produce up to 85 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than plants that use coal. This greenhouse gas reduction comes by using wood pellets that are produced on lands that sequester carbon.
Typically, most manufacturers use forest biomass to create wood pellets. However, manufacturers can also produce wood pellets from agricultural biomass as well. These sources for agricultural biomass produce significantly less carbon than forest biomass. The reduction of carbon is achieved by sequestering carbon within the soil during plant growth.
Additionally, wood pellets that are produced from agricultural biomass and forests can reduce carbon emissions up to 34 percent compared with other fuel options, such as coal.
They Cost Less
One benefit to switching coal plants to wood pellet plants is that the older coal plants are already built and paid for. The cost to build production plants is often one of the most expensive parts of fuel production. When you use existing coal plants for pellet production, you eliminate the initial capital cost and offset the carbon emissions that occur when you build a new plant.
Since most coal plants that are older than 35 years are already paid off, the production of wood pellets costs far less than other fuel productions. For instance, a pellet plant can create electricity for nearly the same cost as natural gas plants. When you consider the cost to produce pellets, they are one of the cheapest options to produce low-carbon power.
They Create Jobs
The demand for more wood pellets in Europe has created a new industry. Many business leaders are taking advantage of the cost-saving benefits of wood pellets by transforming old coal power plants to wood pellet plants. The conversion of so many plants has created more jobs in the US.
Additionally, wood pellet plants require a greater labor force to operate. To facilitate a 500-MV coal plant, you need around 2,500 people. To facilitate the same-sized plant for wood pellet creation, you need nearly 3,500 people.
They Increase Land Upkeep
To accommodate the increase in wood pellet demand, forest managers have to maintain their lands better. This land upkeep includes planting and harvesting more trees. This type of mass tree production is often referred to as “afforestation.” Afforestation is healthy for the earth and will likely lead to more forest carbon stocks within the next few years.
With the current push to reduce energy emissions, you may wonder how you can contribute to a healthier planet. For information regarding your fuel usage, talk with your local biomass company.