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Wood fuel (or fuelwood) is a fuel such as firewood, charcoal, chips, sheets, pellets, and sawdust. The particular form used depends upon factors such as source, quantity, quality and application. In many areas, wood is the most easily available form of fuel, requiring no tools in the case of picking up dead wood, or few tools, although as in any industry, specialized tools, such as skidders and hydraulic wood splitters, have been developed to mechanize production. Sawmill waste and construction industry by-products also include various forms of lumber tailings.

The discovery of how to make fire for the purpose of burning wood is regarded as one of humanity's most important advances. The use of wood as a fuel source for heating is much older than civilization and is assumed to have been used by Neanderthals. Today, burning of wood is the largest use of energy derived from a solid fuel biomass. Wood fuel can be used for cooking and heating, and occasionally for fueling steam engines and steam turbines that generate electricity. Wood may be used indoors in a furnace, stove, or fireplace, or outdoors in a furnace, campfire, or bonfire.

Energy contentEdit

A common hardwood, red oak, has an energy content (Heat value) of 14.9 megajoules per kilogram (6,388 BTU per pound), and 10.4 megajoules recoverable if burned at 70% efficiency.[1]

The Sustainable Energy Development Office (SEDO), part of the Government of Western Australia states that the energy content of wood is 16.2 megajoules per kilogram (4.5 kWh/kg).[2]

According to The Bioenergy Knowledge Centre, the energy content of wood is more closely related to its moisture content than its species. The energy content improves as moisture content decreases.[3]

In 2008, wood for fuel cost $15.15 per 1 million BTUs (0.041 EUR per kWh).[4]Script error

Environmental impactsEdit

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Combustion by-productsEdit

As with any fire, burning wood fuel creates numerous by-products, some of which may be useful (heat and steam), and others that are undesirable, irritating or dangerous.

One by-product of wood burning is wood ash, which in moderate amounts is a fertilizer (mainly potash), contributing minerals, but is strongly alkaline as it contains potassium hydroxide[1] (lye). Wood ash can also be used to manufacture soap.

Smoke, containing water vapor, carbon dioxide and other chemicals and aerosol particulates, including caustic alkali fly ash, which can be an irritating (and potentially dangerous) by-product of partially burnt wood fuel. A major component of wood smoke is fine particles that may account for a large portion of particulate air pollution in some regions. During cooler months, wood heating accounts for as much as 60% of fine particles in Melbourne, Australia.[2]

Slow combustion stoves increase efficiency of wood heaters burning logs, but also increase particulate production. Low pollution/slow combustion stoves are a current area of research.Script error An alternative approach is to use pyrolysis to produce several useful biochemical byproducts, and clean burning charcoal, or to burn fuel extremely quickly inside a large thermal mass, such as a masonry heater. This has the effect of allowing the fuel to burn completely without producing particulates while maintaining the efficiency of the system.Script error

In some of the most efficient burners, the temperature of the smoke is raised to a much higher temperature where the smoke will itself burn (e.g. 609 °C[1] for igniting carbon monoxide gas). This may result in significant reduction of smoke hazards while also providing additional heat from the process. By using a catalytic converter, the temperature for obtaining cleaner smoke can be reduced. Some U.S. jurisdictions prohibit sale or installation of stoves that do not incorporate catalytic converters.Script error

Combustion by-product effects on human health Edit

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Depending on population density, topography, climatic conditions and combustion equipment used, wood heating may substantially contribute to air pollution, particularly particulates. The conditions in which wood is burnt will greatly influence the content of the emission.Script error Particulate air pollution can contribute to human health problems and increased hospital admissions for asthma & heart diseases.[1]

The technique of compressing wood pulp into pellets or artificial logs can reduce emissions. The combustion is cleaner, and the increased wood density and reduced water content can eliminate some of the transport bulk. The fossil energy consumed in transport is reduced and represents a small fraction of the fossil fuel consumed in producing and distributing heating oil or gas.[2]

Wood combustion products can include toxic and carcinogenic substances. Generally, the heartwood of a tree contains the highest amounts of toxic substances, but precautions should be taken if one is burning wood of an unknown nature, since some trees' woodsmoke can be highly toxic.[3]Script error

Harvesting operations Edit

Much wood fuel comes from native forests around the world. Plantation wood is rarely used for firewood, as it is more valuable as timber or wood pulp, however, some wood fuel is gathered from trees planted amongst crops, also known as agroforestry.[1] The collection or harvesting of this wood can have serious environmental implications for the collection area. The concerns are often specific to the particular area, but can include all the problems that regular logging create. The heavy removal of wood from forests can cause habitat destruction and soil erosion. However, in many countries, for example in Europe and Canada, the forest residues are being collected and turned into useful wood fuels with minimal impact on the environment. Consideration is given to soil nutrition as well as erosion. The environmental impact of using wood as a fuel depends on how it is burnt. Higher temperatures result in more complete combustion and less noxious gases as a result of pyrolysis. Some may regard the burning of wood from a sustainable source as carbon-neutral. A tree, over the course of its lifetime, absorbs as much carbon (or carbon dioxide) as it releases when burnt.

Some firewood is harvested in "woodlots" managed for that purpose, but in heavily wooded areas it is more often harvested as a byproduct of natural forests. Deadfall that has not started to rot is preferred, since it is already partly seasoned. Standing dead timber is considered better still, as it is both seasoned, and has less rot. Harvesting this form of timber reduces the speed and intensity of bushfires. Harvesting timber for firewood is normally carried out by hand with chainsaws. Thus, longer pieces - requiring less manual labor, and less chainsaw fuel - are less expensive and only limited by the size of their firebox. Prices also vary considerably with the distance from wood lots, and quality of the wood. Firewood usually relates to timber or trees unsuitable for building or construction. Firewood is a renewable resource provided the consumption rate is controlled to sustainable levels. The shortage of suitable firewood in some places has seen local populations damaging huge tracts of bush possibly leading to further desertification.

Greenhouse gasesEdit

Wood burning creates more atmospheric CO2 than biodegradation of wood in a forest (in a given period of time) because by the time the bark of a dead tree has rotted, the log has already been occupied by other plants and micro-organisms which continue to sequester the CO2 by integrating the hydrocarbons of the wood into their own life cycle. Wood harvesting and transport operations produce varying degrees of greenhouse gas pollution. Inefficient and incomplete combustion of wood can result in elevated levels of greenhouse gases other than CO2, which may result in positive emissions where the byproducts have greater Carbon dioxide equivalent values.[2] In an attempt to provide quantitative information about the relative output of CO2 to produce electricity of domestic heating, the United Kingdom Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has published a comprehensive model comparing the burning of wood (wood chip) and other fuels, based on 33 scenarios.[3] The model's output is kilogram of CO2 produced per Megawatt hour of delivered energy. Scenario 33 for example, which concerns the production of heat from wood chips produced from UK small roundwood produced from bringing neglected broadleaf forests back into production, shows that burning oil releases 377 kg of CO2 while burning woodchip releases 1501 kg of CO2 per MW h delivered energy.

The intentional and controlled charring of wood and its incorporation into the soil is an effective method for carbon sequestration as well as an important technique to improve soil conditions for agriculture, particularly in heavily forested regions. It forms the basis of the rich soils known as Terra preta.

Regulation and Legislation Edit

The environmental impact of burning wood fuel is debatable. Several cities have moved towards setting standards of use and/or bans of wood burning fireplaces. For example, the city of Montréal, Québec passed a resolution to ban wood fireplace installation in new construction. However many wood burning advocates claimTemplate:Weasel-inline that properly harvested wood is carbon-neutral, therefore off-setting the negative impact of by-product particles given off during the burning process. In the context of forest wildfires, wood removed from the forest setting for use as wood fuel can reduce overall emissions by decreasing the quantity of open burned wood and the severity of the burn while combusting the remaining material under regulated conditions.

See also Edit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Ray, James, "Wood Usage in Rural Tanzania: An Investigation into the Sources and Accessibility of Fuelwood and Polewood for the Residents of Kizanda Village, West Usambara Mountains" (2011). ISP Collection. Paper 984. http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/984
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External linksEdit

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