Wood-fired power stations. Truth stranger than fiction

Something for the “you couldn’t make it up” file.

The key to this insanity is that CO2 produced by burning biomass, like wood, is not counted in the audit of emmissions. The result:

The height of eco-madness is the conversion of the Drax Power Station in the United Kingdom from coal to wood fuel. Drax is the largest power plant in Europe, generating up to 3,960 megawatts of power from 36,000 tons of coal per day, delivered by 140 trains every week. In order to “reduce emissions” at Drax, more than 70,000 tons of wood will be harvested every day from forests in the US and shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain.

Conversion of the Drax facility will cost British citizens £700 million ($1.1 Billion) and the new wood-fired electricity will cost double or triple the cost from coal. Drax Group plc will receive a subsidy of over £1 billion ($1.6 billion) per year for this green miracle.

Finding sources of wood to feed ravenous power plants is not easy. The small wood-fired EJ Stoneman power plant in Cassville, Wisconsin is rated at 40 megawatts. Each day it burns 1,000 tons of wood delivered by 30 different suppliers. The 100-megawatt Picway power plant in southern Ohio considered a conversion to biomass, but could not secure a good wood supply. Picway will be shut down in 2015 when tougher EPA emission regulations take effect.

Following President Obama’s direction, the EPA plans to impose CO2 emission limits on existing power plants, requiring the shuttering of US coal-fired power stations. In 2012, 37 percent of US electricity was produced from coal, with only 1.4 percent produced from biomass. Without some common sense about CO2 emissions, look for expanded efforts to cut down US forests to feed a growing number of biomass plants.

The origin of this remarkable situation.

The “carbon neutral” concept originated in a 1996 Greenhouse Gas Inventory paper from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations. The IPCC assumed that, as biofuel plants grow, they absorb CO2 equal to the amount released when burned. If correct, substitution of wood for coal would reduce net emissions.

But a 2011 opinion by the European Environment Agency pointed to a “serious error” in greenhouse gas accounting. The carbon neutral assumption does not account for CO2 that would be absorbed by the natural vegetation that grows on land not used for biofuel production. Substitution of wood for coal in electrical power plants is actually increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

Nevertheless, governments have adopted the “carbon neutral” assumption and continue to promote biomass as a substitute for coal. As a result, nations and utilities are not required to count their CO2 emissions from biomass combustion.

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59 Responses to Wood-fired power stations. Truth stranger than fiction

  1. Julie Novak

    Technological regression unfolding before our very eyes. Astounding…

  2. Rafe

    It is a ill wind that blows nobody any good. It will be great for the US timber industry!

  3. johno

    The anti-industrial revolution.

    That’s what the Greens want!

  4. Ant

    Human corpses are biomass as well. Burning them would be more ecologically sustainable than burning coal.

    The Left could always round up the people they don’t like. Knocking them off might a problem. But that’s what Zyklon B used to be for.

  5. PeterW.

    I don’t understand the supposed error….

    The C in CO2 released by burning biofuel comes from the CO2 absorbed by the plants as they are growing. Are they assuming that plant material harvested for biofuel is not replaced by more growing plants? Are they ignorant of the fact that young forests grown more rapidly – and hence absorb more CO2, than mature forests?

    If you are fixated on fixing C in a solid form, then yes, burning plant material is not the way to go…. but growing and burning is a zero-sum game.

    I only hope that the trains and ships used to transfer the wood are converted to be powered by wood, too….. If they are still running on fossil fuels, then that is, indeed, an error. Are we going to see the return of steamships?

  6. Samuel J

    Bring back the pre1814 punishment for high treason. For that is what people like Stern are guilty of

  7. egg_

    burning biomass… is not counted in the audit of emissions

    Uh oh, aren’t things so desperate in Victoria that they’re burning dwarfs?

  8. Rabz

    Idiotic, inexplicable, insane.

  9. steve

    Couldn’t we lower emissions by freezing all lefties cryogenically? Then when the CO2 levels are low enough, we could bring them all back…………maybe.

  10. cohenite

    Anyone who doesn’t think the Greens don’t to make life tougher for the rest of us should read Hamilton’s Growth Fetish which is reviewed here.

    Burning wood with its nonsense CO2 auditing is a symbol of that intention. But really burning wood is not as bad as wind and solar which do not work at all.

  11. Watching It Unfold

    We’d end up living in grass huts, but eventually, we’d be evicted due to the potential of those huts’ bio-mass combustion potential…..

  12. boy on a bike

    We’d end up living in grass huts

    Grass huts wouldn’t meet BASIX standards, so we’ll end up sleeping on the ground wrapped in tofu skins.

  13. Peter H

    How stupid is the UK, i mean really how could their government be this stupid.

  14. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Puts those Roman hypocausts to shame, it does.

    In Vietnam recently I visited an old brick-making factory which was like something out of medieval England, or even Ancient Rome. Piles of woodchips were used to fuel the brick ovens. Wooden wheelbarrows pushed by sweating men naked to the waist ferried the wood up a wooden ramp to the fires while the cooked bricks were piled onto wooden pallets and moved all by hand. No steel to be seen anywhere. No technology other than fire.

    A greenies paradise. Britain should send observers. By fast wind-blown clipper, immediately.

    Unbelievable lunacy.

  15. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Hey Aliice, you are in Vietnam right now.
    This factory is hidden in the Mekong Delta, you go by boat tour.
    It’s worth a look if you are down that way.
    See if you’d fancy being a US marine too, with Viet Cong hidden everywhere in those wandering waterways. Pretty chilling, if you look at it like that. Today of course tourists are most welcome.

  16. yackman

    I have been involved in assessing the net effect of the use of wood for electricity in a specific region, thus removing the low grade wood from another industry which in turn would have then had to modify its process. The net effect was more total CO2 emitted. There is no mechanism for ensuring that the biomass is replaced by new growth and the whole system hinges on the replacement assumption as well as incentives & penalties such as the RET in Australia.

  17. boy on a bike

    They might as well burn money.

  18. Mk50 of Brisbane, Henchman to the VRWC

    Greenfilth logic – applied.

    Whales are sustainable and eco-friendly

    Whales, when rendered down make a fine, clean burning oil.

    Whale oil is therefore a good fuel for power stations.

  19. duncanm

    PeterW:

    Are they ignorant …

    ummm yes?

    Now.. my real concern for all this foolishness is that these huge investments in crazy-power will mean there are now big players pressuring governments to maintain the subsidies.
    Governments will have locked themselves into suicidal solutions for their power needs – sane future governments, when they return (as they have here in Australia) will have a really hard time undoing the mess.

  20. Motelier

    I have a question for the Green/filfth and Labor.

    If this is correct will Tasmania’s forests be released to replace of the nasty coal fired power stations in Australia?

  21. johanna

    Meh, it’s the same with windmills.

    All that concrete and metal, plus additional wires and poles, access roads, destroying landscapes, and shredding birds and bats. Just to produce enough juice for a few people to boil a kettle now and then. It has nothing to do with real environmentalism, or even reducing CO2 outputs, at all.

    It’s the vibe. Plus the money for subsidy sucking rent seeking wolves in “green” clothing.

  22. manalive

    This could be ‘old hat’ here, I came across it on The Blackboard blog, it sums up the ‘warmest decade in [recorded] history’ meme rather nicely I think.

  23. fred

    more than 70,000 tons of wood will be harvested every day from forests in the US and shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain.
    The US will have no wood to build any more houses, or are they going to build them out of concrete.
    How long will the so called forests last????
    Can’t the US trial this idea in their own country ?????
    What a farce.

  24. gabrianga

    The Cameron Government approved the 2 new Drax power stations.

    The Energy Minister of the day, Hendry, is now on backbenches researching an electricity cable from Iceland using power from a volcano.

    Makes Turnbull and Hunt look like bravehearts.

  25. sabrina

    Few observations:

    1) On a long life cycle basis, net carbon emission from biomass is low, but I do not agree that it is carbon-neutral; claim of carbon neutrality is the worst example of data fudging, but it is adopted by many scientists who behave like sheep
    2) Conversion of Drax was originally based on adapting it to 10% co-firing with coal, but government policies resulted in carrots for the owners. What more do you expect from incompetent governments?
    3) However, it is true that it was going to grow wood pellet industries in the US or Norway where woody biomass pellets going to be sourced when decisions were made in late 2008. Selectively recruited consultants (like Allen here!) came up with longer-term favorable techno-economics for biomass conversion at Drax at the height of GW fanaticism.
    4) Tilbury, another plant, which was going to be fully biomass fired plant in the UK has now been shelved by RWE because they could not secure uniform quality biomass for the life of the plant. RWE are not fool.

    But at the end of the day, this is what happens socialist governments hoodwinked by Green lobbies raise wrong (but green or whatever you call it) policies, and capitalist companies respond to take advantage of taxpayer subsidy available. It will take another Thatcher to change this culture quickly.

  26. boy on a bike

    Got a great idea.

    Instead of having our national parks burn to the ground in raging fireballs every few years, let’s chop down the trees, turn them into pellets, ship them to the other side of the world and feed them into a pommy power station.

    Win-win!

    *pellets may contain traces of koalas, tree dwelling greenies and endangered parrots

  27. Tel

    If you are clearing forests that will never regrow, then the CO2 does get counted.

    If you are continually in the process of growing trees, then chopping them down and using the wood for various things (including burning the scrap) then there’s no reason for the CO2 to be counted, because the same Carbon goes round and round. If you use the wood for permanent things like houses and furniture you are actually storing Carbon for the long term.

    Admittedly, accurate auditing of long term forest management is an administrative nightmare, but the theory is not completely barmy.

    At any rate, there is a huge inorganic Carbon cycle that we don’t even fully understand. Also, coral reefs are made from Calcium Carbonate and reefs are getting larger. Likewise for shells you see on the beach… more stored Carbon, very difficult to measure.

  28. H B Bear

    The UK continues its 300 year decline. This time it is policy.

  29. stackja

    As a result, nations and utilities are not required to count their CO2 emissions from biomass combustion.

    Biomass is plant and animal waste. Sounds like bovine residue to me.

  30. thefrollickingmole

    Here in WA the biomass power plant effectively removed a lot of seconds timber from the market, this was bad for a number of smaller woodworkers who quite liked a cheap supply of wood.

    But we are going one further in our quest to be the dumbest people on earth.

    http://epa.wa.gov.au/EPADocLib/1540_B1083.pdf

    The power station would receive poultry litter from farms across the broad Perth
    region. Delivery would be by covered trucks, which would enter the enclosed litter
    reception shed and tip onto a concrete floor. A front-end loader would be used to
    place the litter on to a conveyor which would place it on the stockpile. The trucks
    would be washed down prior to leaving the site.

    As required, front-end loaders would remove litter from the stock pile and place it in
    the combustor feed hoppers. The poultry litter would then be combusted at 915 to 960
    degrees Celsius with a residence times of 2.8 seconds. An automatic control system
    would activate auxiliary gas burners and restrict poultry feed if the temperature was to
    drop below 850 degrees Celsius.

    The flue gasses would then pass through pollution control equipment (flue gas
    desulphurisation and baghouse filters) before being exhausted through a 40 metre
    stack.

    Heat from the combustion process would be used to raise steam and drive a steam
    turbine to produce electricity. The electricity would be exported to the south west
    interconnected grid.

    Process effluent and potentially contaminated storm water would be discharged to two
    double lined evaporation ponds.

    In other words it will probably create more CO2 than it saves…

  31. Johno

    I’m shocked. It almost sounds as if CO2 was plant food or something like that. How can this be. It’s POLLUTION. Juliar, KRudd and the whole Green propaganda industry has been telling me for ages that CO2 is pollution. They wouldn’t lie to me would they. I mean, even Christopher Pyne called it pollution on theBolt Report this morning. Even the Coalition thinks it pollution.

  32. MickfromVic

    Which Bond film was Drax the main villain?

  33. Brian of Moorabbin

    Dr Hugo Drax was the villain in Moonraker

  34. Bruce

    We had to burn the forest down to save it.

    We had to kill 600,000 bats a year to safeguard their habitat.

    We had to get the licence to kill all those golden eagles in order to preserve the environment.

    We had to send all those climate sceptics to the gulags to preserve our unborn children (which we intend to mandatorially abort for the next 30 years anyway).

    Pick the odd one out. (Hint: there isn’t one)

  35. Rafe

    Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

  36. Oh come on

    Subtract the coal from the power station, add wood. Soon, subtract the power station. Later on, subtract the wood. Mission accomplished. Who needs fire, anyway?

  37. Brian of Moorabbin

    Who needs fire, anyway?

    Bob Brown, for one…

  38. But coal is just old trees buried for a long time* and dug up again?

    *Louis would remind us that some Russians disagree which would spoil my joke

  39. sunshine

    I thnk CSIRO did work that concluded wood burning is realtivly good because the carbon released is as bigger particles that only stay in the air for weeks -compared to decades for other sources .

    When is the new govt s honeymoon period going to be over ? How long can they say they are simply dealing with what Labor left (which they backed 90% of)? . There are lots of potentially spectactular headlines going begging .OK they need some time to learn the ropes but this is a shocker of a start . Close your eyes for a second and imagine the media furore if any of this had happened on Labors watch .

  40. harrys on the boat

    Fuck off, sunshine.

  41. steve

    Hey sunshine, there wasn’t anything bad that didn’t happen on Labor’s watch. How are those red underpants going? tight fit?

  42. Brian of Moorabbin

    How long can they say they are simply dealing with what Labor left (which they backed 90% of)?

    But.. didn’t you and the rest of the Leftists call Tony Abbott “Mr Negative” because he was always saying no to everything the government proposed? Yet now you claim he backed 90% of the Liar’s Pary’s ideas?

    Wow… proof positive that, according to Leftists like sunshine who simply bleat the current meme without applying any critical thought to the backflip from previous positions, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia Eurasia….

  43. Rafe

    Close your eyes for a second and imagine the media furore if any of this had happened on Labors watch .

    What are you talking about? Wrong thread?

  44. Bruce

    I thnk CSIRO did work that concluded wood burning is realtivly good because the carbon released is as bigger particles that only stay in the air for weeks -compared to decades for other sources .

    How do I explain, as a chemist, to someone like Sunshine? That the ‘science’ in this sentence is so beyond the outer limits that light would never be able to exceed the ignorance horizon to reach our eyeballs and brains. Nah, forget it, its Sunday night I can’t be bothered. Sunshine, you really need to do a couple of myriad courses of high school chemistry and physics. Then wash your brain out with Bam toilet cleanser. Come back afterwards and maybe I can have a civilized sciency discussion.

    CO2 is a gas, Sunshine. At normal temperature and pressure it does not come in chunks bigger than 0.25 nanometres. Ever.

  45. H B Bear

    I thnk CSIRO did work that concluded wood burning is realtivly good because the carbon released is as bigger particles that only stay in the air for weeks -compared to decades for other sources .

    This reads like a job application for a Greens policy advisor.

  46. Anyone who doesn’t think the Greens don’t to make life tougher for the rest of us should read Hamilton’s Growth Fetish which is reviewed here.

    The lack of self-awareness is astounding. Hamilton projects his own envy as other peoples’ problems. Just learn to live with the fact that there will always be people richer than you, and stop annoying us about it!

  47. Andrew

    They wanted Green Energy. Trees are green. So what’s the problem?

  48. nilk, Iron Bogan

    So will the ships taking the wood over the ocean be wood-fired also?

  49. Blair

    In Queensland one of the arguments used to justify bans on clearing vegetation for either planting pastures or increasing natural pasture was the resultant net increase increase in carbon dioxide emissions. So if the trees and shrubs pulled down in clearing the land are sent to power stations instead of being burnt or left to rot in the field then it will be win/win all round.

  50. Fibro

    It’s come true……….the lunatics HAVE taken over the asylum.

  51. Leigh Lowe

    I thnk CSIRO did work that concluded wood burning is realtivly good because the carbon released is as bigger particles that only stay in the air for weeks -compared to decades for other sources .

    How long does the shit you are smoking stay in the air for?

  52. Leigh Lowe

    So will the ships taking the wood over the ocean be wood-fired also?

    Nay!
    They be clipper ships, Jim lad!
    Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum detox black-currant juice.

  53. Leigh Lowe

    Close your eyes for a second and imagine the media furore if any of this had happened on Labors watch .

    .

    What are you talking about? Wrong thread?

    Wrong thread?
    Wrong planet, more like.

  54. OK, crisis time: does this mean that eating wood-fired pizzas in front of a blazing log fire on a winter’s eve is good, or bad?

  55. Motelier

    OK, crisis time: does this mean that eating wood-fired pizzas in front of a blazing log fire on a winter’s eve is good, or bad?

    Gee Shoss that is a tough question for a lefty. But I will answer it. GOOD

  56. JamesK

    Electricty Bill is reaching across the aisle as we speak to help ensure a new polite parliament and principled opposition

  57. JamesK

    EBill: “We all know that government policies are in tatters”

    lol

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