An April 6th article in The Economist entitled “Wood – The fuel of the future” and subtitled “Environmental Lunacy in Europe” outlines some of the concerns the National Firewood Association has regarding some interpretations of the proper use of biomass as fuel.
There are many issues falling under this concern that affect us here in the U.S., and in the Firewood Industry in particular. A rush to meet goals of incorporating “renewable resources” into European energy policy has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in EU subsidies promoting the use of biomass and creating ripples felt in our markets.
Timber Costs Rising
Exportation of biomass to Europe from the American south and western Canada is driving up the cost of raw timber. Hardwood prices in western Canada are said to have increased 60% in just over a year.
We promote firewood as carbon-neutral, but a large part of our equation is based on the fact that a major portion of the firewood produced can be and is consumed locally. Transporting biomass to foreign ports adds significantly to the carbon load of biomass .
In 2012 Europe burned 13 million tonnes (metric tons, about 2200 lbs) of wood pellets — the equivalent of over 4 million cords. In the beginning, the article notes, electricity from wood was a small-scale recycling operation burning branches and sawdust.
Analysts predict the global demand for wood pellets may increase five- or even six-fold by 2020. The article states that Europe already doesn’t produce enough timber to meet their demands, and reminds us that demand from China is also driving this market.