Census Bureau Releases Biomass Incinerator Data

- by Erin Voegele, December 3, 2014, Biomass Magazine  

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released new economic census statistics on renewable energy, reporting that revenues for electric power generation industries that use renewable energy resources increased 49 percent from 2007 to 2012, reaching $9.8 billion. In 2007, revenue was only $6.6 billion. Biomass is among the four newly delineated industries addressed by the Census Bureau.

According to information released by the Census Bureau, the 2007 Economic Census included wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar electric power under the broad “other electric power generation” industry, under NAICS code 221119. By the 2012 Economic Census, those industries had been broken out separately, with the “other electric power generation” industry limited to only tidal electric power generation and other electric power generation facilities not elsewhere classified.

Over 1,200 New Biomass Incinerators to be Constructed Within the Next 10 Years?

[These projections may be exaggerated, but with the EPA ignoring biomass CO2 emissions and governments around the world wanting to make it look like they are tackling climate change without actually doing so, this article may be more truth than fiction. - Josh]

- December 4, 2014, AltEnergyMag

Electricity generation from solid biomass continues to increase throughout the world. In late 2013, around 2,800 operational power plants worldwide were incinerating biomass only or very large shares of this fuel. These plants had an electricity generation capacity of about 42 GWel. Additionally, around 350 fossil power plants were co-incinerating biomass. In 10 years, there will be approximately 4,100 active plants with a capacity of around 67 GWel. In 2014 alone, approximately 170 new power plants with electricity generation capacities of around 3.6 GWel will be constructed.

The subsidisation of renewable energies will remain the most important market factor for the development of electricity generation from biomass. Until early 2014, around 140 countries had introduced policies for such a subsidisation. Most of them also had schemes for electricity generation from solid biomass at that time. Vietnam, for instance, introduced a feed-in tariff for biomass electricity some months ago. Around 40 countries throughout the world have such compensations. Other countries have different support schemes. Columbia, for instance, has recently reduced the turnover tax on biomass electricity and Mexico has facilitated the access to the grid for this type of electricity.

USDA Announces Release of Report Charting Path to Commercialization of Cellulosic Nanomaterials

[More U.S. taxpayer dollars to finance the conversion of forests to energy. -Josh]

- by Lynn L. Bergeson, November 26, 2014, JD Supra Business Advisor

On November 24, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has released a report that details the pathway to commercializing affordable, renewable, and biodegradable cellulose nanomaterials from trees.  

The report, entitled Cellulose Nanomaterials -- A Path Towards Commercialization, is the result of a May 2014 workshop that brought together a wide range of experts from industry, academia, and government to ensure that commercialization efforts are driven by market and user materials needs.  

Soil Erosion May Get Us Before Climate Change Does

- by Richard Reese, December 1, 2014, Resilience

Outside the entrance of the glorious Hall of Western History are the marble lions, colorful banners, and huge stone columns. Step inside, and the popular exhibits include ancient Egypt, classical Greece, the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, Gutenberg, Magellan, Columbus, Galileo, and so on. If we cut a hole in the fence, and sneak around to the rear of the building, we find the dumpsters, derelicts, mangy dogs, and environmental history.

The Darwin of environmental history was George Perkins Marsh, who published Man and Nature in 1864 (free download). Few educated people today have ever heard of this visionary. Inspired by Marsh, Walter Lowdermilk, of the Soil Conservation Service, grabbed his camera and visited the sites of old civilizations in 1938 and 1939. He created a provocative 44-page report, Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years (free download). The government distributed over a million copies of it.

Genetically Engineered Trees as Biofuel Feedstock

[Now that corn ethanol has fallen out of favor politically, the bioenergy industry will be focusing more and more on forests. -Josh]

- by Alex Maragos, November 28, 2014, WLFI

Ethanol made from corn already powers millions of cars and trucks on the road, but a group of researchers at Purdue University wants to make biofuel better. Since corn ethanol affects the food supply, this group creates fuel from something nobody eats — trees.

The quest to make better fuel involves several professors and students from the school’s chemical engineering and forestry departments. Every step of the process to make fuel from wood is carefully calculated and tested, starting with the type of tree the researchers need.

Poplar trees grow on three acres at the recently dedicated Richard G. Lugar Forestry Farm at Purdue. These trees are not rare, but this group is one of a kind. They were born in a lab by Purdue forestry professor Rick Meilan. He crossbred different strains to come up with the trees that would resist disease, grow fast and potentially produce the most fuel.

“We can genetically engineer it relatively easily,” Meilan said while walking among the nearly 2,000 poplars he planted. “Ten or 15 years from now we’ll be able to utilize these trees as a biomass source for making ethanol. So rather than relying exclusively on corn for making ethanol to use as a fuel, we’ll be able to use the sugars in the walls of these trees.”

Study: Logging Destabilizes Forest Soil Carbon

- by John Cramer, December 2, 2014, Dartmouth College

Logging doesn't immediately jettison carbon stored in a forest's mineral soils into the atmosphere but triggers a gradual release that may contribute to climate change over decades, a Dartmouth College study finds.

The results are the first evidence of a regional trend of lower carbon pools in soils of harvested hardwood forests compared to mature or pristine hardwood forests. The findings appear in the journal Global Change Biology Bioenergy. A PDF of the study is available on request.

Despite scientists' growing appreciation for soil's role in the global carbon cycle, mineral soil carbon pools are largely understudied and previous studies have produced differing results about logging's impact. For example, the U.S. Forest Service assumes that all soil carbon pools do not change after timber harvesting.

New Law Will Make Biomass Heating Cheaper in Massachusetts

- by Shira Schoenberg, December 1, 2014, Mass Live

A new law that goes into effect in January will make it cheaper to use renewable energy to heat a home – and could provide a boost to the wood industry in rural parts of Western Massachusetts.

"This is going to help (renewable) technologies compete with and replace oil-fired furnaces and other fossil fuels for use for heating ... and cooling," said David O'Connor, a former Massachusetts Commissioner of Energy Resources who is now senior vice president for energy and clean technology at ML Strategies and who lobbied for the law on behalf of the Massachusetts Forest Alliance.

The new law builds on an existing law that requires electricity suppliers to buy a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources. The electricity suppliers can fulfill this requirement by buying "renewable energy credits" from companies that produce electricity through renewable means. The new law creates renewable energy credits for the production of thermal energy – energy used for heating and cooling. This could include the use of solar panels, wood pellet stoves and boilers, geothermal heat pumps, and a range of technology that uses hot water, solar, biomass or other renewable energy forms to generate heat.

Commercial Use of Wood Energy is Heating Up

- by Michael Mccord, November 26, 2014, New Hampshire Business Review

New Hampshire’s recently released 10-year energy strategy acknowledged an ongoing fact of life for the state’s commercial and residential sectors: New Hampshire imports 100 percent of its fossil fuels and natural gas. According to the NH Wood Energy Council, New Hampshire pays more than $1 billion annually to import heating oil, with a large chunk of that paid for by businesses, since the state’s commercial sector is the second most dependent on heating oil in the nation, just behind Maine.

As energy customers realized again last winter, this dependence makes the state vulnerable to wild market swings and, in the case of natural gas last winter, shortages due to limited pipeline infrastructure.

That’s why, among its many recommendations, the state’s energy strategy calls for a greater use of wood as a fuel source. Wood, the energy report says, “offers a promising alternative to home heating oil and other petroleum products, providing a much needed option to extend fuel choice to rural areas of the state. Since New Hampshire is one of the most forested states in the nation, wood also presents an opportunity to capitalize on locally‐produced resources, keeping money in state while promoting land conservation efforts.”

In fact, the growth of a wood/biomass heating alternative for commercial use has been an ongoing under-the-radar trend taking place in more rural areas of New Hampshire. Like the wood stove heating the general store a century ago, biomass heating in the forms of wood pellets and wood chips has become an economically viable option for larger-scale municipal, school and commercial operations.

Ten Things You Need to Know if You Burn Wood

- by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Wood heating is on the rise. 2.7 million U.S. households, making up roughly 2% of the population, are projected to burn wood as a primary heating source over the winter of 2014-2015, a 3.9% increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Approximately 7.7% of households use a wood or pellet stove as a secondary heating source, based on 2012 census data.

In every state except for the balmy locales of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii, wood heating has increased over the last decade, largely due to lower costs in comparison to oil and local sourcing opportunities.

Despite some recent advances in stove technology, wood heating still involves combustion, a process that emits air pollutants that have been linked to various health concerns. With the recent uptick in residential and industrial wood burning, it’s in the public’s best interest to be mindful of the risks that come from stoking up the stove.

1) Respiratory Problems

Residential wood burning “greatly increases” the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air, pollutants smaller in diameter than a human hair, that can lodge deep inside the lungs, as well as enter the bloodstream and organs. Exposure to particulate matter can result in “aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and premature death,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PM can also trigger emphysema and strokes, with children, the elderly, sufferers of lung and heart disease, and those of lower income at highest risk.

A study by the California Air Resources Board reported that “wood smoke can cause a 10 percent increase of hospital admissions for respiratory problems among children, who are at most risk since their lungs are still developing.” Particulate matter can harm lungs during only a four hour exposure and cause even greater damage over the long-term.

The chance of premature death is 17% more likely in cities with high particulates compared to those with cleaner air, with every increase of 50 µg/m3 (microgram per square meter) of PM into the air resulting in a 6% spike in deaths and 18.5% increase in hospital admissions results, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. In some cases, up to 90% of PM pollution can come from residential burning, with wood smoke regularly responsible for half of the California Bay area’s winter PM pollution.

Other health concerns related to wood smoke include “irritated eyes, throat, sinuses, and lungs; headaches; reduced lung function, especially in children; lung inflammation or swelling; increased risk of lower respiratory diseases; more severe or frequent symptoms from existing lung diseases.”

Health costs related to wood smoke particulate matter in the U.S. have been estimated at up to $150 billion a year.

2) Carcinogenic

Despite wood’s natural origin, wood smoke includes known carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with studies demonstrating that wood smoke can cause lung cancer.

Wood burning is the largest source of PAHs in the US, with studies showing it to be the “worst contribution” to the air’s mutagenicity (likely to cause mutations in DNA, including cancer). One study concluded that burning two cords of wood can emit the same amount of PAHs as driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon.

Other studies have shown that wood smoke causes mouth, throat, lung, breast, and cervical cancer, in scientific literature compiled by Dr. Dorothy L. Robinson. Even more studies linking wood smoke and cancer can be found at the Australian Air Quality Group’s website.

3) Toxic Chemicals

Wood burning emits dioxin, one of the most toxic and persistent substances on the planet as well as isocyanic acid, which can cause atherosclerosis, cataracts, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Combustion of wood also re-releases heavy metals and radioactive pollution that have been absorbed by trees, in amounts significant enough that wood ash can qualify as hazardous waste under Europe’s definitions, if the standards for coal ash were applied to wood ash.

4) Worse Than Cigarettes

The health impacts of cigarettes was one of the biggest public health scandals of the 1980’s, resulting in smoking being banned in restaurants, bars, and other businesses and public places around the world. Despite the risks of cigarettes, you’re twelve times more likely to get cancer from wood smoke in comparison to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke, according to the EPA, cited in the Washington State Department of Ecology’s The Health Effects of Wood Smoke.

Wood smoke is thirty times more potent than cigarette smoke, according to “tumor initiation” tests done on laboratory mice, with another study showing that burning hardwood created three times the likelihood of tumors in mice than cigarette smoke, and more than fifteen times when burning softwood.

A fireplace burning for an hour puts out 4,300 times more PAHs than a pack and a half of cigarettes. Additionally, wood smoke “attacks” the cells of the body forty times longer than tobacco, with free radicals from wood smoke chemically active for twenty minutes, with those of tobacco lasting only thirty seconds.

Burning 1 kg of wood can emit more carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene than 27,000 cigarettes and more formaldehyde than 6,000 cigarettes, according to Comparison of Toxic Chemicals in Wood and Cigarette Smoke, while another study calculated ambient air levels of benzo[a]pyrene from wood smoke the same as smoking two to sixteen cigarettes/day.

More comparisons of wood smoke to cigarette smoke are studied in Impact of Fuel Choice on Comparative Cancer Risk of Emissions,by Joellen Lewtas, Health Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

5) Exceeds Federal Standards

The World Health Organization maintains that exposure to fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) shouldn’t exceed 25 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) over a 24 hour average, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a much laxer 35 μg/m3 under its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Yet even with the EPA’s leniency, a single wood stove can be responsible for a neighborhood exceeding even those levels, according to the American Lung Association. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 winter stove season, the greater Fairbanks, Alaska area has logged 48 days that exceeded EPA standards. In November 2012, the air quality in the town of North Pole, Alaska, was measured as being twice as bad as Beijing’s, primarily due to wood smoke.

New Hampshire monitoring showed wood smoke violating PM standards by almost double the allowed levels in January 2009, with many communities in southwestern New Hampshire recording 35 μg/m3 and higher.

A study in New York — where up to 90% of the Particulate Matter measured came from wood combustion — found 26% of the population was exposed to wood smoke, with the poorer, more crowded and less-white populations receiving the highest levels of PM. Spikes of over 100 μg/m3 per cubic meter occurred during nighttime mobile monitoring, with the report linking such peaks to heart and lung problems, including heart attacks and asthma.

6) Smoke Enters Homes

It’s a common misconception that the only exposure to wood smoke occurs outdoors. However, a substantial amount of smoke actually enters the homes of wood burners, with particulate matter levels found to be 26% higher, benzene levels 29% higher, and PAHs 300% to 500% higher in the homes of wood burners, compared to those who use other heating sources. Another study estimated 70% of outdoor smoke can re-enter a home.

Those who don’t burn wood themselves, yet live in a neighborhood of wood burners, experience indoor particulate levels 50-70% of outdoor levels, according to a Seattle study, as wood smoke has the tendency to hang close to the ground and infiltrate homes, schools, and hospitals.

7) EPA Stoves Not Much Better

EPA stoves have improved somewhat upon conventional woodstoves. Instead of emitting 250 times more particulate matter than an oil or gas furnace, EPA stoves now emit eighty-five times more.

In Libby, Montana over $2.5 million financed the replacement of old wood stoves with EPA certified stoves, resulting in only a 28% reduction in emissions. Measures to further improve wood stove emissions are getting major pushback from the wood heating industry and some politicians.

8) Doctors Want Ban

Some medical professionals who have been studying the health impacts of wood smoke are concerned about the health ramifications, while others are calling for a phasing out of wood stoves. Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, wants to see an end to residential wood burning. “We don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “We can accept our air pollution is not solvable, we can stop driving all our cars, we can tell industry to shut down, or we can stop burning wood.”

American Lung Association urges that the public “should avoid burning wood in houses where less polluting heating alternatives are available.”

9) Taxpayer Subsidized

Trends show more and more Americans burning wood to heat their homes, causing shortages of cordwood and pellets in some regions and the resulting price spikes. While an individual may choose not to operate a wood stove, a portion of his or her tax dollars may still subsidize those who do.

A $300 federal tax credit has been available to those purchasing new wood stoves or pellet stoves, with the policy set to expire in January 1, 2014, though industry groups claim an extension is possible. Eight states provide tax credits, rebates or deductions for wood heating, including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, and Oregon, with New York State offering a $1,000 tax credit for the purchase of a new pellet stove.

10) Alternatives to Burning

There are options for those seeking non-combustion technologies to heat their homes. Alternatives include ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, solar thermal, passive solar, and even experimental technologies, such as compost heating. No matter the heating source, the most basic and important step any homeowner can take to reduce energy demands is through insulation and other conservation and efficiency measures.

In some areas, you might not have a choice about whether you burn wood or not. Many states, such as Arizona, California, and Washington, enforce burn bans and restrictions, based on changes in air quality.

Several court cases, including one in Nebraska, have determined that a neighbor’s wood stove is a nuisance. A recently adopted bylaw in the County of Essex, Ontario, Canada states that one or more complaints in regards to smoke that has a “detrimental impact on the use and enjoyment” of property, will result in a cease and desist order barring future burning.

Montreal has taken things a step further, with plans to phase out wood stoves altogether by 2020. 

Sign Comments to EPA on Clean Power Plan - Due Monday!

SIGN ON: Tell EPA to clean up the Clean Power Plan!

www.energyjustice.net/cleanpowerplan

DEADLINE is Monday, December 1st

As you probably know, the EPA has published its Clean Power Plan, intended to reduce carbon emissions from the nation's electricity sector, for public comment. Our comments ask EPA to:

  • Set more aggressive targets
  • Comply with the Civil Rights Act and address environmental justice
  • Regulate power plants (not states) and disallow pollution trading and offsets
  • Close the methane loophole and not bless the move from coal to gas, which is worse for the climate than coal
  • Close the biogenic CO2 loophole, and disallow a shift from coal to biomass and waste incineration, whose CO2 emissions are also worse than coal
  • Disallow nuclear power subsidies
  • Disallow new investment in old coal plants
  • Reject carbon capture and sequestration and enhanced oil recovery

Read the full comments and sign on to them here: www.energyjustice.net/cleanpowerplan

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