Trolasater | Indy Week

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Re: “Burning trees stretches the meaning of "renewable"

The State of Vermont had a very bad experience in the 1980s with whole tree chipping. The Governor decided that the State Government Complex steam plant would be run 100% on whole tree chips. They built many collection stations along the Vermont Railroad (another State supported venture) and collected train loads of tree tops and other waste from logging and land clearing Statewide. I’m not sure, but this may have been mandatory with open burning of debris forbidden by law.

Apparently there hadn’t been a lot of experience burning whole tree chips in the volume needed to fire a large boiler. Big wood-fired boilers are common , power boilers at paper mills being the size of electric utility boilers. These burn wood scraps and/or bark from the mills’ woodyard. No leaves!

According to a presentation on this at an International Renewable Energy Conference that I attended in Burlington, Vt., the leaves of a tree contain most of the tree’s sodium and potassium compounds. Burning large amounts of leaves and needles created a huge amount of fusible ash in the State Government Complex boiler. A lava–like mass completely filled the firebox and wouldn’t drop thru the ash grates. Upon cooling, this
mass hardened and had to be removed with dynamite and jack hammers.

Vermont quickly went back to burning fossil fuel in the State Government Complex boiler.

Also, remember why industry started burning coal instead of wood – it takes a lot more wood to equal the heat input of coal. That’s why there used to be woodpiles every 10-15 miles along early railroads.

You should look into the supply question – with the tree farming operations of Weyerhaeuser and International Paper in Eastern NC being recently phased out, all of the wood gathered for renewable energy will come from chip mills and are ultimately cut by chainsaws. Chainsaws are terrible air polluters like 2 cycle lawn mowers.
Think of how many chainsaws and poorly maintained pulpwood trucks will be needed to run the projected renewable energy goals in NC! Should we restart the whaling industry to make biodiesel?

Richard Lasater

Posted by Trolasater on 08/12/2010 at 3:07 PM

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