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Trees For Drax

September 2, 2014

h/t Ric Werme


There have been increasing concerns lately about the environmental impact of biomass power plants which use wood pellets.

Quite apart from the local environmental impact in the forests where the wood is sourced, it has been claimed by US scientists that biomass plants could actually increase CO2 emissions.

The giant facility at Drax is one of the UK power stations which is starting to convert from coal to biomass, encouraged by subsidies paid for by electricity consumers. They have attempted to defend their operation by claiming that they areusing off-cuts of wood that would otherwise be waste”.

One of their suppliers is a US company, Rentech Inc, which has been developing two new plants in Canada to supply the ever growing international market for pellets. On their website, they show this photo of the “First shipment of wood fibre to the Atikokan facility”, one of the two plants. 


Now, I didn’t do GCE in trees, but they don’t look like off-cuts that would otherwise be waste to me.

  1. September 2, 2014 12:46 pm

    Here is what Drax really says about sourcing

  2. September 2, 2014 12:54 pm

    Those trees are for one of the plants in Canada.
    Is there any evidence that the same trees could be used for Drax?

    • September 2, 2014 3:04 pm

      They may go to Ontario Power, but the two plants seem to use the same sources for wood.

  3. September 2, 2014 1:57 pm

    I’m not sure if the Canadian trees are going to Drax, I’d heard that they were coming from North Carolina. Trees are grown and forests managed in the US and Canada as cash crops. In the Southern US, they are the largest source of agricultural income. So, whether they get converted to pellets for wood burning, pulped for paper or used for construction, they will be cut and replanted and in 20 or so years will be harvested again. I do, however, find it difficult to believe that all the energy going into producing, transporting and burning a lower BTU density fuel will save on greenhouse gasses.
    Canada’s Crown forest management:
    South Carolina forestry paper:

    The US was about 46% forest 400 years ago and is about 33% now.

  4. catweazle666 permalink
    September 2, 2014 2:36 pm

    Well, you have to remember that none other than Chris Huhne is in charge of the British end of the biomass business…

  5. Derek Buxton permalink
    September 2, 2014 5:11 pm

    I thought that the original story implied the cuttind down of mature trees. I also recal that the boss of Drax was boasting that he would like to see all the boilers taking US wood. I would have thought that to have that job you should be aware of the science and engineering side of the job.

  6. winter37 permalink
    September 2, 2014 5:48 pm

    And again.The burning of wood produces more CO2 than burning coal.Check the engineering charts.

    • September 2, 2014 7:13 pm

      But it is theoretically sustainable because you can grow more trees which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere in tens of years. With coal it takes millions of years.
      That is, if you have sufficient land to grow all the trees you would need.
      I have no idea how much land you would need to grow all the trees you would need to meet the demand. There probably isn’t enough, which is why we need to import and why it’s only theoretically sustainable.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        September 2, 2014 8:50 pm

        How much land currently assigned to food production would be turned over to the growing of trees for energy?

  7. Paul2 permalink
    September 2, 2014 6:56 pm

    The picture at the bottom of newnanfrisbee’s link shows fully grown trees and not offcuts. Perhaps they intend sticking them in the ground hoping for them to regrow.

  8. KTM permalink
    September 2, 2014 8:06 pm

    The second half of this video shows what appears to be a UK farmer in utter disbelief at the inefficiency of using arable farmland to produce biomass, solely driven by government subsidies.

  9. September 2, 2014 8:14 pm

    “Additionally, each of our wood suppliers is required to comply with the sustainability requirements of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).”

  10. September 2, 2014 8:48 pm

    Tree farming first started being promoted in Alabama in the 60s. Integrated paper companies started it in the 50s, I think.

    Cutting outside of tree-farms on government land is selective, with the limbs and other ground litter get mulched on the spot whenever possible. When not possible, the limbs go to processing plants for mulching. In the national forest near me, people are brought in to clear underbrush and this gets mulched where possible. Where that isn’t possible, they burn the litter from time to time, with prescribed burns done in the spring and in the fall.

    Some private land owners do clear-cut; but that’s not common and it sticks out when it is done.

  11. September 8, 2014 10:01 am

    For up to date information about Drax and biomass demand in the UK which is driving the growth in Bio-electricity see UK demand is supplied mainly from Canada and the southern US with imports from both more than doubling every year. 59% of US exports went to UK last year. In 2011/12 UK burnt about 3.5m tonnes of wood. If every current project that has permission were built demand would be about 66m tonnes. The total current UK wood production for all uses is about 10m tonnes and set to decline. Do the math! And this is only to meet UK commitment to EU renewables target of 15% by 2020.

    All this is driving increasing clear felling of oldgrowth forest in the US and Canada. See excellent WSJ article for on the ground evidence of why:
    and Dogwood Alliance’s 7 minute film:

    And on top of this many currently operating biomass electricity scenarios are worse for the climate than coal for between 35 and 200 years as shown by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change biomass carbon calculator. and

    This is dangerously unsustainable. Policies and Environmentally Harmful Subsidies must be changed. We must invest in energy saving and real renewables and a flexible grid to cope with them.

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