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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Woodstoves, Emissions and the Environment

Jotul Oslo stove installed in Vermont. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Sun, Brattleboro, VT

Jotul Oslo stove installed in Vermont. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Sun, Brattleboro, VT

Heating with wood and the environment

When oil, gas, and coal are burned, the carbon they contain is oxidized to carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. In effect, the combustion of fossil fuels releases ancient carbon (carbon that has been buried within the earth for thousands of years), thereby increasing the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2). In comparison, wood combustion can be considered carbon neutral because trees absorb CO2 as they grow. This process is called carbon sequestration.

Approximately one ton of carbon is sequestered for each cubic meter of wood. When trees mature, die, fall in the forest and decompose, the same amount of carbon is emitted as would be released if they were burned for heat. This cycle can be repeated forever without increasing atmospheric carbon. A healthy forest is not a museum, but a living community of plants and animals. When trees are used for energy, a part of the forests carbon “bank” is diverted from the natural decay and forest cycle into our homes to heat them. When we heat with wood, we are simply tapping into the natural carbon cycle in which CO2 flows from the atmosphere to the forest and back. The key to ecologically sound and sustainable wood energy use is to ensure that the forest remains healthy, maintains a stable level of variously aged trees and provides a good habitat for a diversity of other species, both plants and animals. Ensuring there is a healthy fuelwood market is key to a sustainable forestry plan. Landowners have more incentive to remove low value trees and manage their forests sustainably knowing there is a market for this low value material

The combustion of wood produces small particles that are called PM2.5. Those particles are 30 times smaller than a human hair. They can aggravate certain lung and heart diseases and have been linked with health problems such as asthma. Sources of PM2.5 include combustion under various forms, such as the one used for cars and trucks, wood heating, as well are other industrial processes. While it is true that old technology like open fireplaces and simple heaters could not burn the wood completely, the new generation of wood-burning appliances are designed to burn particles. They produce almost no visible smoke. The wood-heating industry has evolved. The vast majority of appliances sold on the market now meet the particles emissions limits set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA limits emissions of certified wood heating appliances to no more than 4.5 grams per hour. In comparison, older conventional wood stoves average 40 grams per hour.

Wood, when burned in an appliance that has been tested to the EPA standards, emits up to 90% less particles. It is a clean, renewable energy source. Furthermore, the reduction in fuelwood consumption reaches up to 33% when advanced wood combustion systems are used. This is because certified wood stoves and fireplaces are 60% to 80% efficient, compared with 40% to 60% for conventional units.

As for appliances burning wood pellets, they have amongst the lowest particulate emissions of all solid-fuel burning appliances. They are manufactured from waste products and other renewable resources right here in North America. They represent a huge source of heating fuel from material that would otherwise be sent to landfills.

Out of an estimated 12 million wood stoves in the United States, 9 million are antiquated, and belch out more 3 times more dangerous soot particles than new, EPA-approved stoves while wasting vast quantities of wood because they are so woefully inefficient. We need to take a look at whats blasting out of our own personal smokestacks. If you have an old stove, or one that is not EPA-certified, we urge you to go the EPA’s Burn Wise site to find out more and to take action.

John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat confirms EPAs findings by citing actual experience with new stoves: “Many people report using one-third to one-half less wood after switching to a modern stove, while reducing the discharge of CO2 as well as pollutants such as particulates and volatile gases. I would hope a group like the Sierra Club might encourage or educate its members about the benefits of heating with a modern EPA stove vs. the older stoves.”

Tax Credit for Wood or Pellet Stoves Extended

The federal tax credit for purchasing a qualified 75% efficient wood or pellet stove has been extended through to December 31, 2016. The credit covers 10% of the purchase and installation cost, capped at $300. Learn more about this at bit.ly/woodstove-tax-credit-extended.

Incentives to replace wood stoves within all areas of EPA can be found at: http://bit.ly/epa-wood-stove-incentives.

Links:

Alliance for Green Heat: www.forgreenheat.org/about/board.html

EPA’s BurnWise site: www.epa.gov/burnwise.

hearth.com: www.hearth.com/talk/articles/.

A full list of EPA certified wood and pellet stoves can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-08/documents/certifiedwood.pdf

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