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Europe’s Green Energy Burning Is Worse Than Coal

January 17, 2018

By Paul Homewood


Meanwhile, yet another study finds that burning wood pellets for electricity is worse than coal, as far as CO2 is concerned:


In the new study, Does replacing coal with wood lower CO2emissions? Dynamic lifecycle analysis of wood bioenergy, the researchers—John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT Sloan School of Management;Juliette Rooney-Varga, Director of the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative; and  Lori Siegel, PhD, Senior Modeler for Climate Interactive—examine the climate impact of replacing coal power generation in the EU and UK with wood pellets sourced from forests in the Southern United States. The research is slated for publication on Friday, January 19, 2018 in the academic journal, Environmental Research Letters. The paper can be accessed online at

The researchers found that wood pellets burned in European and UK power plants, such as the Drax facility in North Yorkshire—which has transitioned some of its coal power generation capacity to wood pellets with the support of UK government subsidies—actually emit more CO2 per kilowatt hour than that generated by coal. This is because wood is both less efficient at the point of combustion and has larger processing and supply chain emissions than coal. Their research shows that using wood instead of coal in power generation increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, worsening climate change until—and only if—the harvested forests regrow.

US forests are a main source for EU wood pellet imports, which have been rising as demand has grown. These forests grow back slowly, so it takes a long time to repay the initial “carbon debt” incurred by burning wood instead of coal. For forests in the central and eastern US, which supply much of the wood used in UK power plants, the payback time for this carbon debt ranges from 44 to 104 years, depending on forest type—and assuming the land remains forest. If the land is developed, or converted to agricultural use, then the carbon debt is never repaid and grows over time as the harvested land emits additional carbon from soils.

  1. Derek Buxton permalink
    January 17, 2018 11:51 am

    So who is surprised? I thought it was well known that wood will be worse than coal, what on earth is our “government” thinking of?

    • Gerry, England permalink
      January 17, 2018 1:59 pm

      Human evolution reversed. Coal replaced charcoal and wood because of higher energy density and greater resource as the trees can’t regrow quick enough.

  2. January 17, 2018 11:57 am

    Does this study also include the carbon cost of transporting the wood mass from forest to Atlantic Ocean, transporting across ocean in freighter, followed by road transfer to Drax. Then up to 100 yrs for partial forest replacement at most. Who makes these decisions? Arts graduates in govmnt, who are susceptible to green pressure and are happy to virtue signal. It beggars belief. UK is “an island of coal surrounded by fish”. We’re leaving the coal in the ground and we’ve given the fish to the Spanish and French!!

  3. CheshireRed permalink
    January 17, 2018 12:44 pm

    O/T Another bonkers article in the Guardian (is there any other sort of ‘climate change’ article in the Guardian?) contains a roll-call of alarmist A-listers, including Rahmstorf, Hayhoe, Mann and Oreskes. They fail completely to answer Scott Pruit’s question of ‘The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?’

    Cue spectacular arm-waving but not much in the way of answers. It’s almost as if they don’t actually know, or if they do are reluctant to precisely identify such a figure. I wonder why?

  4. Jack Broughton permalink
    January 17, 2018 1:38 pm

    As one who is totally unconcerned about the small increase in CO2 flow into the atmosphere, the increased CO2 is an irrelevance apart from in terms of its cost to UK plc. What is important is that a low cost energy supply, coal, has been displaced by a high cost energy supply, wood, on the basis of a hypothetical importance of CO2 to the earth’s temperature. This is the economics of the mad-house and the UK’s continued bleating about leading in climate change reduction while the rest of the world continues as before is good proof that our leaders have little technical or economic knowledge.

    Ethically, it was always a nonsense that CO2 from wood burning is good while that from coal is bad. Wood is a double whammy in CO2 terms in that it absorbs CO2 while growing and then creates it if burnt. If the green lobby were serious the wood would be buried or shipped to the north pole, so as to provide no CO2 rather than being burned.

  5. Gerry, England permalink
    January 17, 2018 2:02 pm

    There will always be some wood available for burning as woodlands and forests need management to be in the best condition for wildlife. Just like the majority of our treasured landscape, they are manmade.

    • roger permalink
      January 17, 2018 2:50 pm

      The best conditions for flora and fauna are to be found where man has not interfered.
      The worst conditions are man managed by children from unis and in green jobs anaesthetising, blood taking, measuring, collaring, netting and molesting, in countless ways and ever increasing numbers, the unfortunate wildlife who willy nilly must form part of their dissertation/ PhD or senseless green notations for politicised funding.
      In short, legitimised persistent cruelty.

    • January 17, 2018 4:48 pm

      Well, it’s kinda yes and no.

      If you rewind the clock to about 6k years ago you would find that the entire UK was covered from lowland to mountains in ‘wildwood’. It did not require management – as a ‘climax’ ecosystem it managed itself. Only in the Neolithic did people begin to make a serious dent in it.

      Our present fragments of woodland probably do benefit from management. They are not large enough or old enough to manage themselves. Left alone for a few centuries they would begin to resemble the original wildwood – although of course various ancient woodland ground flora would be missing.

      Which makes the idea of planting millions of trees to create a ‘Northern Forest’ a nonsense. If you create the right conditions, forests plant themselves (nobody planted the original wildwood). Then you have to leave them be. For a very long time. Not clear them again when the next ecological fashion persuades you.

  6. January 17, 2018 2:36 pm

    All they have to do is invent the instant fully grown tree to replace one-for-one each felled tree.

  7. BLACK PEARL permalink
    January 17, 2018 5:33 pm

    Perhaps a new tax on owning wood burners in urban concentrations should be in order

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