WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2015 - Even when factors such as harvesting and transportation are taken into account, the export of wood pellets from the U.S. to the European Union is substantially better than coal when it comes to carbon emissions savings, says a new study by the University of Illinois.
"Even if you include all of these emissions that go into the process of producing and transporting pellets, and if you include for all the land-use changes that occur and the fact that you'll be diverting some amount of pulpwood and other forest biomass from conventional forest products to pellets, you can still get emissions reductions that range from 74 to 85 percent compared with coal-based electricity," says Madhu Khanna, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois.
The researchers also found that the greenhouse gas intensity of pellets produced using a combination of forest and agricultural biomass is 28 to 34 percent lower compared with pellets produced using only forest biomass.
"You can produce wood pellets not just from forest biomass, which is how it's currently done, but you can also use agricultural biomass crops like miscanthus and switchgrass, which increases the savings dramatically," say Khanna. "And that's because agricultural biomass is able to sequester a lot of carbon in the soil while it's growing. Compared with forests, they sequester much more carbon. And as a result, the greenhouse gas intensity produced by the pellets made with agricultural biomass is much less. So the benefits from pellets increase if you're able to source it from agricultural biomass rather than just from forests."
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