One school of environmentalism believes that by using wood or pellets for heating, we'll eventually end up by cutting down every tree. This is an argument that is founded on a certain prejudice and the evidence suggests quite the contrary: given the increase in demand for heating with biomass, reforestation is actually being funded as is the sustainable management of forests, rather than unplanned, indiscriminate felling of trees.
The “lesson” from Austrian forests
Austria, over the years, has learned how to manage its forests and turn them into a significant economic resource. Austria has an even more important message for us though: forests used intelligently to produce firewood have a greater positive effect on the climate than abandoned forests.
Why? Because using wood products for industrial purposes and for producing energy has cascading positive effects. And wood can be used to replace polluting fossil and mineral raw materials such as steel, cement, gas, oil and carbon. This demonstrate the results of a study conducted by prof. Hubert Hasenauer, director of the Department of Forest and Soil Science of the University of Vienna (Universität für Bodenkultur, www.boku.ac.at).
The carbon cycle and lower CO2 in managed forests
Wood naturally stores carbon. With combustion, the solar energy stored in wood through photosynthesis is made available and triggers a sustainable closed carbon cycle. The energy recovery of 1 ton of firewood (beech wood) saves 2.7 tons of CO2. This amount becomes even more significant when we include a set of other positive effects, such as trapping CO2, thanks to the long-term storage of CO2 in wood fibres and the effect of replacing fossil and mineral energy factors. A managed forest covering one hectare can generate, on average, (over 300 years) savings of 1,603 tCO2, i.e. 10 times more than the savings with a virgin forest (146 tCO2). This is because the wood taken with energy recovery strategies replaces fossil energy factors. In practice, the value is even higher as the calculation does not take into account the replacement effect of raw materials (both fossil and mineral ones) with wood.
In the table, overall savings of CO2 in the atmosphere: comparison between a virgin forest and a managed forest over a period of 300 years. Source: Universität für Bodenkultur, Vienna
AIEL - Italian Association of Agroforestry Energy
Valter Francescato is technical director at AIEL, the most important Italian association of the Wood Energy supply chain. It has more than 300 members and is divided into interest groups, that is groups of companies operating in the same specific segment of the supply chain (professional biomass manufacturers, producers and retailers of pellets, biomass electrical appliances, boilers and mini cogeneration applications, biomass systems installers and maintenance technicians).
The association's underlying theme has always been quality, which is essential to strengthen credibility in the sector. This is why the companies which form part of the various groups must have reference certifications: professional manufacturers must follow a program to gain a quality certification to offer chips and firewood that comply with the standard. Pellet producers and retailers must have a certification based on the ENplus scheme and technology manufacturers (stoves and boilers) need to have one based on European reference standards.