A carbon-based fuel cannot be "carbon-neutral"

News and discussion of carbon-free energy sources

A carbon-based fuel cannot be "carbon-neutral"

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Mar 14, 2008 1:07 pm

A carbon-based fuel cannot be "carbon-neutral"

neutral (adjective) def. a position of disengagement; a state of no activity or development

What is "carbon-neutral" fuel? There is only one usable (non-polluting) carbon-neutral fuel: hydrogen.
There is no such thing as a carbon-based carbon-neutral fuel. This is a nonsensical oxymoron.
Neutral means not used. Thus a fuel cannot be both carbon-based, and carbon-neutral.

The whole idea of "carbon-neutrality" has nothing to do with combustive fuels anyway. Instead, the CN
concept has to do with the means of creating usable energy without having to burn something. For
example: wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, and geothermal sources are actually carbon-neutral, since
they do not require a chemical oxidation/reduction reaction to create energy. No flame, no air pollution.

People who burn wood have effectively hi-jacked this term "carbon-neutral," when they should label it
"carbon-offset." They should not call wood-burning "carbon-neutral." It simply cannot be so, by definition.

It is claimed that since trees grow, it is acceptable to burn wood, since it is replaced by new trees, in
new wood, which is formed naturally from CO2 re-sequestered from the atmosphere, (unlike mined
'fossil' fuels, which do not) But even this carbon-offsetting idea remains an unproven theory.

In order to better understand the macro scale of this, we will create a small model: a simplified one-tree
model. One tree, chopped down, has acquired and stored several years worth of solar energy. Combustion
of that tree, in hours, releases that energy, as well as a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Without tree replacement, we have increased greenhouse gases, the same as if we had burned coal, oil,
or gas. With replacement of one tree sapling, we have not done much at all to compensate for this emission,
that is, reduce present atmospheric CO2 concentration. But with the replacement planting of hundreds of
saplings, we may possibly come close to achieving an actual offsetting. But who does this? Are the
woodburners actually going out and planting these new trees?

True carbon-offsetting requires a dedicated and continuing effort on the part of the woodburner:
The burner must conscientiously re-plant hundreds of saplings per year, in order to maintain a true carbon offset.
A newly-planted sapling cannot possibly sequester a similar amount of CO2 as a felled 20-30 year old
mature tree. But acres of saplings might. But is anyone planting these trees?

I have done some calculations of the thermodynamic process of carbon offset wood burning. In order to
claim a true carbon offset, the woodburner must continually replace trees on a plot of land of at least 29
acres. And that effort will heat only a small 860 sq ft bungalow-style house.
(The calculations are published below.)

But there are obstacles to this controversial offsetting:

• A lot of people do not live in such small houses, they prefer the larger 2,500 sq foot monsters, which
would require 62 acres of usable, available trees.

• Not many people actually live on, nor own, sixty acres of land. (Many woodburners have 1-10 acre lots.)

• An actual effort must be made to replant trees on one's own land, hire someone to plant trees on their
land, or on public lands. Better, they should get a job in forestry, planting thousands of trees (better yet,
volunteer to plant those trees) Those thousands of trees can be, at least in part, the solution to global
warming. (as would be not cutting them down at all)

The Energy Advocate wrote:"Connecticut has lots of trees that could be burned. But how fast does the forest renew itself?
You can continuously get about 1/2 cord per acre per year of hardwood from Connecticut's
forests. Note: 1/2 cord represents a certain amount of energy: 15.5 billion joules. 1 year is a
certain amount of time: 31.6 million seconds and 1 acre is a certain area: 43,560 sq. feet =
4047 sq. meters. The acre produces about 500 watts (not electric!); the average power density
is about 0.12 watts per square meter." Copyright © The Energy Advocate

My calculations were close to the Energy Advocate's for the acreage power density. I have used their
500W/acre figure. (Thank you E.A.) (I will publish my own acreage/ energy calculations in another post.)
(note: power = energy/time) that is: 1 watt = 1 joule per second




Using Carbon Offsets to Neutralize Your Emissions
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/Climate_Chan ... eutral.asp

Biofuels not necessarily all that green
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/about_us/Dr_ ... 140701.asp

Physics, Serway-Faughn, Saunders pub. "Laws of Thermodynamics"

With every family requiring 60-acre plots (just for fuel) and another 20 (for food,) such a plan as carbon offsetting, which
may have worked for Colonial America, but does not seem to work well for the overcrowded, overpolluted 21st century.
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

Postby MPA » Fri Mar 14, 2008 3:03 pm

Awesome essay keep it up
Posts: 216
Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2007 9:57 pm
Location: Illinois

Postby FriendofAir » Fri Mar 14, 2008 5:31 pm

Well done.

In the second year would you need less than 60 acres more, since the first year saplings are getting bigger. How about in the tenth or twentieth year?
Posts: 261
Joined: Sun Oct 15, 2006 8:29 pm
Location: San Diego

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Mar 14, 2008 7:10 pm

Good question.

Actually this is a continous process. That is, the lumberjack would fell just enough trees
to heat his house during winter "A," then plant an equal number of trees the next spring "A"
to replace the trees cut down. (This would be on roughly two acres of land.)

The next winter "B," he would cut down another two acres of trees, and replant all of those
in the spring "B." The third winter, "C" spring/ "C" repeated, until he got to the 30th year,
(assuming he is on 60 acres) when at that time, lumberjack would thus return to the first
plot of land he had started with. The trees on those two original acres would now be a
fully-matured 30-years old, ready for harvesting.

This is what it would take to be "carbon-offset" for the owner of an average 2500 sq foot house.

Unfortuantely, a lot of wood burners are cutting the trees, without replacement, and then
somehow imagining they are "carbon-neutral," because of this modern popular mythology.
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Mar 16, 2008 12:17 am

Here you go, woodburners! Now you can pay someone else to
do your carbon offsetting, if you can't (or won't) do it yourselves:

Carbon Offsetting Services/ Tree Planting - Reforestation Certificates
http://www.ecobusinesslinks.com/carbon_ ... uction.htm
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

Postby woodburner » Tue Mar 18, 2008 12:13 pm

A lot of people just burn what falls down on it's own primarily.
Posts: 203
Joined: Mon Oct 16, 2006 4:37 am
Location: Upstate NY

Postby turning_blue » Wed Mar 19, 2008 5:29 am

What are people buying that live in cities? Wood is delivered directly to their porch from a local company. I wonder if that wood is from fallen trees?
User avatar
Posts: 1138
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 9:45 am

Postby Wilberforce » Tue Apr 08, 2008 1:33 am

woodheat.org wrote:"A wood fire does not contribute to global warming because no more carbon dioxide is released
than the natural forest would release if left untouched. Using wood for heat means less fossil
fuels burned, less greenhouse gas emissions, and a healthier environment."

I would like to see woodheat.org to do some real research on this topic. As stated in my article,
at least 29 acres of upkept tree farming is required to heat a very small house of 860 sq ft., and
also maintain a minimum carbon offsetting value.

It is highly unlikely that the wood heaters are lifting a finger to maintain this carbon equivalence,
in the emission/absorbsion ratio of carbon dioxide level. They like to imagine they are "doing
something" for the environment, by being "carbon-neutral" (I hope we have laid that fallacy to rest)
but their outlandish claims are bogus at best, since I highly doubt even a few of them are living up
to their wild claims of atmospheric CO2 equilibrium.

User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

carbon neutral

Postby Smokelessinvancouver » Sat Jan 10, 2009 5:22 pm

As I am just starting to try to understand this, if I do what about the toxicity
in wood smoke it is still there right?
Posts: 34
Joined: Sat Aug 23, 2008 6:02 pm

Time lag and exponential growth

Postby Ernest Grolimund » Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:49 am

There is a time lag between the cutting and the re-growth. If forests are left to come back on their own and hardwood comes back without sucession through juniper to cedar to hardwood, it could take 100 years to take out the carbon dixide. This accelerates global warming in the short term and we need action now. Also, exponential groth in population is occuring so the burning will always be more than the re growing. The woodburners say, it is better than taking the oil out of the ground stored millions of years ago, and they have won over even Gore followers and maybe Gore too since politicians all compromise.

But they forget the pm is warming too, and there is methane in the woodsmoke that is not in the oil smoke. Methane is 23 times as warming. But the main argument is cost. People are burning for the cost and making up stories to say it is really good. They are secondary arguments. Kill the cost and emphasize the health effects. CAR is doing both but could improve the rhettoric perhaps. I don't mean to be critical. I'm just throwing out ideas to help CAR's good work. If we waste time talking about a spurious argument we could lose our audience. One sentance maybe on warming. Paragraphs on threats to life, health. 200 deaths per year from particulate in Maine. Woodburning becoming accepted as doubling pollution, so it kills 200 people per year? Is that a fair argument? Then there are the heart bypass operations that are gruesome. Sawing ribs, pulling chest apart. How about dying a slow death by cancer? Most do'nt care about global warming. CAR people do, but republicans are still not buying it.
Ernest Grolimund
Posts: 413
Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:52 pm
Location: Maine

Postby Wilberforce » Mon Jan 12, 2009 12:43 pm

Republicans (most are conservatives, but not all; some are liberals) are loyal to big business and industry.
You might say that corporations are really the ones running the country, not the government. Think about it:
almost everyone is influenced by a daily barrage of advertizing and clever marketing. BUY! BUY! BUY!
SPEND! SPEND! SPEND! Does anyone really doubt that we are "marketplace drones?" "Keep up with the
Joneses" and all of that. Even the Christmas season has been hi-jacked by retail stores. Easter too!
(Does anyone really doubt that big business runs this country?)

Wood and coal burning furnace makers are part of that mass-marketing. Luckily they haven't attempted
to twist the facts (yet) on wood smoke health dangers, as "big tobacco" has done with tobacco smoke.
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

Postby Wilberforce » Sat Apr 25, 2009 11:36 pm

I've re-done the calculations on the wood-heating of a small house to accurately account for the
seasonal changes of temperature. In my original post, I had not accounted for this parameter.
The original 60+ acre figure would thus apply to a median-size house of 2500 square feet, which
represents a typical American home.

Unfortunately, we still must take on the prophets of these ongoing dubious claims of "carbon neutral,
carbon offset, and renew ability" of wood heating. This post is intended to show that wood heating is
none of these things, unless the claimers are actually trying to make the deliberate effort to get off of
their easy-chairs and get out there into the leveled forest and actually replant the trees! This is no joke.
It is not enough to chop down trees, split the wood, and burn it, all the while imagining that this practice
is "carbon-neutral." Trees must be replanted, because this is part of the process. Merely claiming that
wood burning is renewable, and the genuine reality of it, are two different things all together.
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA

New England stripped clear of trees at one time..

Postby Ernest Grolimund » Tue May 05, 2009 2:59 pm

New England was stripped clear of trees at one time by the loggers and woodburners. In 1900, plus or minus, there were no trees left to burn and coal and oil took over in Massachusetts any how. Foresters say the woods have come back in about 100 years by themselves but the point is that all the carbon sequestering was gone for a while and geographers say that the Sahara desert was formed by woodburners and carpenters cutting every tree down till a desert formed. Sandy desert or rocky desert. Or farmland and housing developments. I give the woodburners the carbon nuetral thing to avoid an argument but push the carbon black theory. The way I see it, we are stopping oil burning in New England to burn wood in mostly old equipment and it is on ave putting out 500 times the pm so it is 500 times worse for global warming. See the NY owb report"Smoke gets in your eyes". Owb's are shown to be 1,000 times more polluting for pm. DEP figures show pm emision rates too. Just divide them. Simple right?
Ernest Grolimund
Posts: 413
Joined: Sun Mar 09, 2008 1:52 pm
Location: Maine

60 acres to heat a house?

Postby JackPine » Fri May 22, 2009 9:13 am

Interesting figures above, but they don't hold true for me. My house is a 2200 square foot, two story house in an area with over 7500 heating degree days per year. My 30 acres of land has easily produed 7 cord of wood per year for the past 16 years. I use 5 cord and sell 2.

This is the only way I heat my house. I have a forest management plan and must have my woodlot evaluated every 5 years. Over the past 4 inspections (original, 5yr, 10yr and 15 yr) the forester has stated the 30 acres have improved in quality and quantity. In fact this coming year he suggested taking another cord out from a specific area to improve the stand there.

The reason for the success is removal of dead and diseased trees, the thinning of thick stands as well as the removal of "wolf" trees (a large tree which takes over an area with many, many branches but has minimal leaves/needles). A portion of my woodlot is now a deer bedding area in the winter due to the ability for the fir trees to grow large canopies and provide shelter for the deer. Another portion will be ready in two years to have some of the hardwood harvested for lumber which will allow the smaller saplings to get more light and take off. I do not replant the trees I cut; I use draft horses to harvest my logs and that allows the naturally occurring saplings to survive.

If it is done properly, a medium sized house such as mine can be heated year after year from firewood taken out of a managed woodlot of 20 acres. I don't claim it is carbon neutral because I cannot quantify the increased amount of CO2 absorbed by the healthier trees as compared to more spindly trees. I can say, however, I am leaving my woodlot in better condition with more diverse wildlife than I received it. The fact I don't have to give money to some other country for natural gas, propane or oil is a bonus as well.
Posts: 38
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2006 11:54 am
Location: Northeast

Postby Wilberforce » Fri May 22, 2009 7:36 pm

That is a real-world application of my calculations. A scientist /researcher always appreciates
when his calculations (theory) are put into practice and verified. Thanks! :)
User avatar
Posts: 6106
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:36 pm
Location: USA


Return to Carbon Neutral Energy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests