(Note: Turns out this refers to a study from three years ago that I covered at the time. Oops.) If Northern New England homes switched from heating by burning fuel oil to burning wood pellets or chips made in the Northeast, they’d cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 54% immediately. Switching from natural gas cuts emissions 59%, a big chunk of which comes from avoiding methane release during drilling and distribution.
That’s the conclusion of a study commission by the Northern Forest Center, which obviously likes the idea of burning wood. You can see their article here, with links to the study.
The environmental effect of burning wood is controversial, as was most obvious from a controversy over a proposal to heat much of Dartmouth’s campus with wood chips. I’m sure many folks will poke holes in this study.
A big conclusion:
These greenhouse gas reductions come from switching to a fully automated, wood pellet heating system that enables the building owner to stop using fossil fuels for heat. But if you can’t switch to an automated wood heat system, you can still reduce your greenhouse gas impact by using a conventional pellet stove, which helps you reduce your fossil fuel consumption. In either case, using wood pellets from northern New England or New York is key; their climate impact is less than pellets from elsewhere that are transported long distances to the mill and to the end user.
The study also shows that the mills serving the Northern Forest make their pellets, on average, 44% from sawdust and scraps from sawmills and wood product manufacturers. This means nearly half the wood fiber going into pellets is recovered waste from manufacturing some other wood product, which significantly lowers the greenhouse gas impact of heating with wood pellets.
The study is here.