Sunday, November 22, 2015

Export of Wood Pellets from US to EU More Environmentally Friendly than Coal

A new study co-written by Madhu Khanna, right, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, and Weiwei Wang, a postdoctoral research associate at Illinois, found that harvesting wood pellets in the US and exporting them to the EU was more environmentally friendly than burning coal in the EU to generate electricity. (Credit: Photo by L. Brian Stauffer) Click to Enlarge.
As the export of wood pellets from the U.S. to the European Union has increased six-fold since 2008, questions have been raised about the environmental impact of the practice.  According to a new paper from a University of Illinois expert in environmental economics, even after accounting for factors ranging from harvesting to transportation across the Atlantic Ocean, wood pellets still trump coal by a wide margin in carbon emissions savings.

The greenhouse gas intensity of wood pellet-based electricity is between 74 to 85 percent lower than that of coal-based electricity, says published research co-written by Madhu Khanna, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.

"One of the concerns with wood pellet production has been that it's going to lead to an increase in the harvesting of trees in the southern part of the U.S., and that the emissions that go into both the production of these pellets and their transportation to Europe will result in a product that is not going to save a lot of greenhouse gas emissions when it displaces coal-based electricity in Europe," Khanna said.

But Khanna and her co-authors, including Weiwei Wang, a postdoctoral research associate at Illinois, found that across different scenarios of high and low demand for pellets, the greenhouse gas intensity of pellet-based electricity generated from forest biomass such as pulpwood and milling residues is still significantly less than that of coal-based electricity.

"Even if you include all of these emissions that go into the process of producing and transporting pellets, and if you include for all the land-use changes that occur and the fact that you'll be diverting some amount of pulpwood and other forest biomass from conventional forest products to pellets, you can still get emissions reductions that range from 74 to 85 percent compared with coal-based electricity," Khanna said.

"Basically, wood pellets look really good next to coal, even when you account for everything else."

The researchers also found that the greenhouse gas intensity of pellets produced using a combination of forest and agricultural biomass is 28 to 34 percent lower compared with pellets produced using only forest biomass.

"You can produce wood pellets not just from forest biomass, which is how it's currently done, but you can also use agricultural biomass crops like miscanthus and switchgrass, which increases the savings dramatically," Khanna said.  "And that's because agricultural biomass is able to sequester a lot of carbon in the soil while it's growing.  Compared with forests, they sequester much more carbon.  And as a result, the greenhouse gas intensity produced by the pellets made with agricultural biomass is much less.  So the benefits from pellets increase if you're able to source it from agricultural biomass rather than just from forests."

Read more at Export of Wood Pellets from US to EU More Environmentally Friendly than Coal

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