What is Woodfuel?



Woodfuel is wood that is burned to generate heat or electricity. It is commonly burned in the form of logs, chips or pellets. As wood is derived from plants, more specifically, trees, woodfuel is considered one form of biomass. While Woodfuel has a number of benefits, the most relevant and significant one today is its potential role in helping to prevent climate change. As woodfuel is a renewable source of energy, implementing its practice can help reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases. Alternatively to fossil fuels reserves, which are highly susceptible to depletion, sustainably managed woodland can produce an endlessly supply of energy for future generations.


Increasing Popularity

U.S. Census data from 2010 demonstrates that the number of households heating their homes with wood grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, which is faster than any other heating fuel. This increased use of wood for small-scale heating is associated with both the rising cost of oil and increasing popularity of renewable energy. Additionally, over the past decade, the number of households using two of the most expensive heating fuels, propane and oil, significantly declined by 16 and 21 percent, respectively. We can attribute these declines with the increasing popularity of woodfuel.

Switching from fossil fuels to woodfuel can reduce a home’s heating bills by half or more, and if individuals cut or collect their own wood, they can even reduce their heating bills to zero. This rapid movement toward woodfuel as a primary heating fuel is mainly a rural phenomenon. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 57 percent of households who primarily heat with wood live in rural areas, 40 percent in suburban areas and only 3 percent in urban areas. Therefore, one can speculate that in the Adirondacks, a predominantly rural environment, the use of wood for heating is following this upward trend.


Implementation: Households and Small-Scale Businesses 

For Woodfuel to be successfully implemented in the Adirondacks, it must be first implemented on the small-scale, in households and small-scale businesses. According to the EPA, currently about 25 percent to 30 percent of the 12 million stoves in U.S. households are clean burning pellet stoves or EPA certified wood stoves, and in general, Americans have installed about 1 million pellet stoves since the 1980s when they were invented. While choosing an EPA-certified woodstove is initially more expensive, it ultimately pays for itself since it burns the wood more thoroughly. The EPA-certified stoves produce far less smoke than older models, and use a third less fuel, which makes for better burning. For individual households, wood-burning stoves can cost anywhere from $1,5000 to $5,000, depending on the style and chimney requirements. As for the wood itself, it can be harvested by individuals themselves, or purchased for $145 to $225 per cord (a stack that is 4-ft. high, 4-ft. wide and 8-ft long) depending on location and type of wood. On average, households will use around five cords per season, which will cost anywhere from $725 to $1,125. In the Adirondacks, hardwoods such as oak and maple are the best burning options since they burn hot and clean.

Approximately 38% of the total energy consumed in the US Northeast is used to heat and cool buildings. Most of this heat is currently supplied by gas, oil, or propane. However, as woodfuel has increased in individual households, woodfuel is also playing an increasing role for heating buildings. According to the US Department of Energy, even though less than 5% of the thermal energy in the region is provided by renewables, more than 90% of that renewable energy comes from woodfuel. For buildings, pellets are the most practical form of woodfuel, and enable the use of small commercial scale combustion systems, such as pellet boilers. One additional advantage in using these pellets over traditional woodchips include is that pellets have minimal moisture contents, which results in an ability to burn hotter and cleaner than wet wood chips, which helps increase efficiency and reduce emissions. Furthermore, pellets have relatively high density compared with wood chips. Pellets are about 2.5 times denser than wood chips, which improve transportation efficiencies and reduces the space required for storage. Lastly, with the drier fuel, it is possible to have a more compact combustion chamber, which is easier to modulate and typically costs less than a system designed to burn green wood chips.


Concluding thoughts

For both individual households and small-scale business owners, the migration from traditional fossil fuels to woodfuel has become an increasingly popular option. Therefore, in the Adirondacks, where wood is of abundance, woodfuel seems to be the most viable alternative to fossil fuels.



Body Text Source: Alliance for Green Heat. "2010 Census Shows Wood Is Fastest Growing Heating Fuel." Biomass Magazine 10 Oct. 2011: n. pag. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Body Text Source: "Wood Energy." Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. N.p., 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. .

Body Text Source: "Woodfuel." Questions and Answers. UK Forestry Commission, 5 Mar. 2010. Web. 08 Dec. 2014. .