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Are we being misled in the production of wood pellets?

The Pinnacle pellet plant here in Smithers is using whole logs, much of which is pulp quality, some private land hardwoods, mill shavings and sawdust from the adjacent PIR sawmill. The plant is not using one ounce of “forest slash” other than some log top experimentation, and their wood haul is being subsidized by the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (public funds from both the feds & province).

Town council & citizens of the Bulkley Valley have been clearly misled by NewPro’s presentations (pellet plant is now primarily owned by Pinnacle), committing that they would not be using live trees as source material. Viable pulp logs and hardwoods have filled their mill yard since start-up to the present day.

Were we not originally assured by the province that live trees would not be used as source material for pellet plants? Since when has live trees become “verified wood waste”? What are the implications for our remaining structurally and biologically diverse forests, notably old-growth and high elevation forests, that are being rebranded as low quality and inferior commercial stands, further opening up access to “biofuel” source material and clear-cut logging? NewPro stated in its Introduction Section to its Technical Assessment Draft provided during its application for a permit: “wood pellet industry creates a useful product from forest industry waste wood slash piles, and prevents slash pile open burning as the waste is salvaged for use.” …this is yet to be seen or a departure from the truth.

Last October, B.C. Premier John Horgan touted a lucrative Japanese export contract for Pinnacle Renewable Energy, by saying the company was “transforming wood waste into industrial pellets to provide Japan with clean, renewable electricity.” https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019PREM0112-002002 Is the Premier aware what the real source material for pellet production is?

Regarding GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, it takes many decades, at least 70 to 400+ years for new forest stands to begin offsetting, through forest stand carbon storage, the massive release of CO2 associated with industrial extraction and processing of logs, transport and shipping of manufactured material, open burning of slash (includes methane release due to incomplete combustion), and accelerated decomposition of organic material in mineral soil. It is imperative to reduce carbon emissions now if we have any chance to slowing down human induced global climatic warming.

The wood pellet industry has been putting out misleading information in its worldwide push to have its product accepted as a form of green energy. In fact, the distortions involved are now part of the claims in the lawsuit filed in the European Union to have the renewable energy certification revoked. See: https://news.mongabay.com/2019/03/eu-sued-to-stop-burning-trees-for-energy-its-not-carbon-neutral-plaintiffs/

The burning of manufactured wood pellets for the production of electricity in Europe and Japan, instantaneously releases CO2. We are not mitigating global climatic warming through the use of this biofuel production, in fact, we are accelerating the process!

In addition, burning biomass to make electricity is old and inefficient; 24% efficiency when burning biomass compared to 33% efficiency for coal, and 43% efficiency for natural gas.

It is time that we wake up to being misled by supposed “clean” energy alternatives, alternatives that provide little offset, if any, that remain heavily dependent on fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources.

There exists alternate markets for logging slash, such as charcoal production (biochar) using a process known as pyrolysis …high temperature in oxygen starved conditions converts wood to charocal which is 80% carbon. Charcoal can last a very long time in the soil and has many beneficial properties, most notably housing micro-organisms essential for soil processes, reducing soil bulk density, moisture retention, infiltration improvement, increasing soil pH (buffering acidity), reduction of nutrient loss through leaching, reduction of nitrogen loss through gaseous emissions (methane and nitrous oxide), and increasing cation exchange capacity essential for plant growth. It is about time that we make better use of a product that is either considered “waste” or “biofuel”, even if it means simply incorporating it back on site for soil enhancement for the next generation of trees, or as coarse woody debris for wildlife.

Len Vanderstar, R.P.F. (Ret.), R.P.Bio

250-847-9729

Canada's growing wood pellet export industry threatens forests,

One Response to “Are we being misled in the production of wood pellets?”

  1. dave says:

    very good Len and I’ll add that standing dead are great wildlife trees, highly likely now harvested with attendant habitat loss

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