Scientists Advocate For Forest Biomass Over Coal

The state of California, wracked by drought, has 66 million dead trees across its landscape. They’ve been killed by both the drought itself and by voracious bark beetles, and now they’re just sitting there — destined to either decompose, burn in a wildfire, or be incinerated, for safety reasons, by state fire managers before the […]

The state of California, wracked by drought, has 66 million dead trees across its landscape. They’ve been killed by both the drought itself and by voracious bark beetles, and now they’re just sitting there — destined to either decompose, burn in a wildfire, or be incinerated, for safety reasons, by state fire managers before the next blaze comes along.

And it isn’t just California. Raging bark beetle infestations, fanned by warmer temperatures and droughts, have also struck forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in recent years. “About 100,000 beetle-kill trees fall every day in Wyoming and northern Colorado, to give you an idea of the order of magnitude,” says Erica Belmont, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming.

Belmont is studying an intriguing solution for what to do with all these dangerous dead trees — namely, burn them for energy. In a recent study in Energy Policy, Belmont and colleague Emily Beagle do the math on whether it would make sense to use the timber in existing coal plants, which can be “co-fired” with wood.

In isolation, it probably costs coal plants too much money to go around rounding up dead trees, carting them back, and then burning them — a big endeavor, Belmont explained. But there are sources of possible funds. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service is currently spending considerable money to treat forests and rid them of these dangerous trees — money that, maybe, could be given to the companies that burn them for energy instead, the study suggests.

Moreover, coal plants are facing strong climate regulations, in the form of the pending Clean Power Plan. In this regulatory context, burning trees that are already destined to decompose, catch fire, or be incinerated — and thus, give off greenhouse gases to the atmosphere no matter what — could conceivably supplant some of coal’s voluminous emissions.

From The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/09/08/so-many-u-s-trees-have-died-that-some-scientists-want-to-burn-them-instead-of-coal/?utm_term=.18740058af08

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