Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wood-Burning Plants Generate Energy in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has 3 million acres of underutilized forestland. They aim to utilize it to produce energy.

The state's Sustainable Forest Bioenergy Initiative seeks to burn wood to make electricity. Even if half the state's annual supply of woody biomass of 4 million tons was used for electricity, it would generate as much as 150 MW. That's enough to power about 75,000 homes.

The state has already invested $1 million in 4 wood-burning plants in the western Massachusetts towns of Russell, Greenfield, Springfield and Pittsfield.

At first, igniting wood seems a bad idea. Burning wood produces carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and other disagreeable discharges.

But modern wood-burning plants are different from your ancient residential wood stove, according to this report from the Bioenergy Initiative (pdf):
...with proper design, operation, maintenance and emission control devices, modern biomass energy systems can produce little or no visible smoke and low emissions.
Besides, wood combustion releases almost the same amount of CO2 as that absorbed by the tree during its growth. Thus, the net addition of carbon to the environment is close to zero.

By contrast, the carbon in fossil fuels has been isolated from the atmosphere for millions of years. When fossil fuels are burned, they emit "new" CO2 into the air, increasing the total amount of carbon in the environment.

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