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Today’s mailbox: Biomass

Letters to the editor published Jan. 17

Burning wood for energy is climate-friendly, renewable and carbon neutral

The opinions offered by the Wildlife Conservation Society with regard to biomass and its impact on climate is correct in suggesting that wood burning emits carbon into the atmosphere. However, the article doesn’t acknowledge that Yukon needs energy to heat our homes and buildings, and implies that using cord wood and wood chips increases Yukon’s carbon foot print.

It also fails to acknowledge that to meet Yukon’s energy demand for heat, the alternative to wood is to burn more LNG, diesel, propane and heating oil, which are not carbon neutral.

Wood energy is burning biomass carbon that has been part of the natural carbon exchange cycle for millennia. In Yukon, areas harvested for the production of cord wood and wood chip energy must be reforested according to the Forest Resources Act.

By planting or natural regeneration, a reestablished tree takes carbon out of the atmosphere and converts it into stem wood, bark and leaves. Trees in a forest are carbon capture and sequestration factories, with century long life cycles. When a tree or forest dies by natural or artificial means its carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

Wood energy offsets fossil fuel energy and represents an opportunity to leave fossil fuel in the ground. The wood chip boilers that have been installed in Whitehorse and Teslin are high efficiency boilers and burn the wood clean, with flue gas emissions similar to oil fired boilers. These systems are virtually smokeless.

Whitehorse and the Southern Lakes region is surrounded by forests that are approaching the day when a significant stand replacing event will occur. This is due to the age, species and structure of the second growth forest present in the triangle from Jakes Corner to Carcross to Lake Laberge.

The forests in this area were heavily logged for cordwood between 1900 and 1950’s to fuel steamboats, White Pass Railroad, heating buildings and building construction. The carbon released into the atmosphere for energy consumption in the first half of the last century has been recaptured and has grown to become a threat to our communities.

Landscape fuel management plans are under development to identifying the most critical lands requiring treatment to mitigate the risk of a large fire burning out of control in the wildland-urban interface zone where we live.

This work, if it is to be effective, will produce waste wood in quantities that will result in a massive waste disposal challenge. This waste wood represents a significant opportunity to reduce, and offset our fossil fuel carbon emissions. By not consuming fossil fuels, it can be argued that our consumption is lowered therefore, less fossil carbon is emitted.

In conclusion, biomass heating fuel is biosphere carbon and is not adding to the current parts per million of carbon in the air but does reduce fossil fuel inputs.

Biomass is carbon neutral and must be measured in terms of the life cycle of the forest as part of the earth’s natural and ongoing carbon exchange cycle.

Myles H Thorp

Executive director

Yukon Wood Products Association

Society’s position regarding biofuels is flawed

Regarding the recent commentary from Wildlife Society Canada on environmental problems with biofuels, and with sincere respect to the authors, the analysis presented is incomplete and in part flawed.

For the past 15 years, I have been studying biofuels as a byproduct of forest fire risk reduction operations. My study has been confined to space heating and does not consider electrical power generation.

We need to stay warm and we either use fossil fuels, wood, or electricity to do so. Our electricity demand now exceeds our hydro-capacity, so we are burning trucked-in propane to run the generators. Note that this is a fossil fuel.

If we are not using biofuels (i.e. biosphere carbon) to stay warm, we will be using fossil fuels, injecting into the air carbon new to the biosphere.

Solar energy is, and will remain, inconsequential for space heating, the demand for which peaks when the solar input is least. So if we are going to stay warm, shall we recycle biosphere carbon or shall we add new (fossil) carbon to the biosphere? Note also that modern biomass boilers are as carbon-efficient as fossil fuel boilers so there is no “dirty fuel” side to this unless we are talking older model wood stoves.

Here is the incomplete part of the WSC analysis: the real case for biofuels is driven by a dominating public need to remove forest fuels from the Whitehorse urban periphery to manage fire risk. Think Ft. McMurray, California or Australia. This must be done in quantities that will themselves be a massive waste disposal challenge or a fossil fuel replacement opportunity.

If we manage forest slash as a waste, it will be burned in open air piles — a dirty carbon event indeed. If burned as chips in modern biofuel boilers such as in Teslin, the carbon injected in the atmosphere can be equivalent to the fossil fuels that are being replaced. Chipping and scattering the volume of slash to be expected is impractical and wasteful.

A similar case can be made for the wood slash from fire risk reduction activities in the communities.

Until it is better understood, I am skeptical of the case for biofuels for electrical generation, mostly because of problems I see in forest sustainability.

David Loeks

TransNorthern Consulting