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Updated June 2014

FAQ

  1. Can renewable heat make a significant difference in our nation’s energy use?
  2. Is burning wood or other agricultural pellets really carbon neutral?
  3. How much of an impact can one pellet stove make? (or wood)
  4. What’s the difference between biomass and biofuels?
  5. Will we deforest our nation in the process of switching to wood or wood pellets?
  6. How do costs compare to natural gas, oil and propane?
  7. Is America supportive of biomass heating?
  8. What areas of the world are most advanced in their use of biomass heating?
  9. Where can I learn more?

  1. Can renewable heat make a significant difference in our nation’s energy use?
    Heating is roughly a third of our nationís use of energy. Residential wood and pellet heating is already the single largest contributor of renewable energy, outpacing residential solar, wind and geothermal sources combined- and this is without receiving the government subsidies these other technologies enjoy. In Europe, countries such as Sweden, Austria and Germany have already made a significant impact on their oil use through the widespread use of biomass heating.

  2. Is burning wood or other agricultural pellets really carbon neutral?
    No. No renewable energy source is completely carbon neutral. However, Biomass is generally considered to be a very low carbon energy source by experts and US government agencies so long as it is sustainably harvested. Like solar and wind, small amounts of carbon are used to harvest or produce it, but this is relatively insignificant when compared to conventional fuel sources like oil, gas and coal. Wood produces carbon whether it is burned or when it decomposes naturally. Either way, it is part of a renewable carbon cycle. Harvesting practices do make a difference. The fiber supply for domestic residential wood heating tends to be very local, small scale and not connected to any large-scale clear cutting. More than half of all firewood in the US is still collected by homeowners, from fallen or trimmed trees and other very low impact, sustainable practices.

  3. How much of an impact can one pellet or wood stove make?
    Each installation of a pellet or wood appliance in a single-family home in the most northern part of the US (ME, VT, MI, MN, etc.) can displace 4 - 7 tons of carbon emissions annually if the stove or appliance is the primary heat source. In more moderate areas (MD, WV, CO, OR) a stove or appliance would likely displace 2-3 tons of carbon. This is as much of more than a typical set of residential solar panels. Typically, the only thing that creates more carbon than a furnace or boiler at home is the automobile.

  4. What’s the difference between biomass fuels and biofuels?
    Biomass refers to solid fuels derived from forest or agricultural resources. Biofuels are typically refined liquid fuels derived from similar sources like ethanol. Using biomass directly for heat results in significantly more reduction in carbon emissions and makes better use of our biomass supplies.

  5. Will we deforest our nation in the process of switching to wood or pellets?
    Yes, there are vast supplies of underutilized firewood and wood scraps in most of the United States. In most US states, thousands of tons of wood is still be taken to landfills, or chipped just to economically transport and get rid of low value wood that has already been cut for development, tree trimming, storm debris removal, etc. Wood and pellets for heating comprise a very small use compared to the lumber and pulp & paper industries, as well as to biomass used for electricity generation. Biomass electricity is projected to increase substantially under renewable electricity portfolio incentives, but uses biomass resources very inefficiently. There are ample resources in forests, forest residuals, and agricultural byproducts to accommodate continued growth in residential wood heating. The sustainability issues around wood heat are much more challenging when it comes to stovepipe emissions. Many areas already have too much wood smoke, and rapid growth of wood heating would need to be in the pellet sector until wood heating technology improves.

  6. How do costs compare to natural gas, oil and propane?
    Historically, the cost of biomass is much more stable than the cost of fossil fuels and it will remain much more stable in the coming years. Oil, propane and electricity are far more expensive sources of energy for heating purposes. Gas prices are usually comparable to pellet heat. Long-term trends toward depletion of these fossil fuels mean that biomass continues to become more attractive each year.

  7. Is America Supportive of Biomass Heating?
    Biomass heating receives much less government support than wind or solar in the US. Individuals receive a 30% federal tax credit with no upper limit for wind, solar and geothermal, but biomass stoves and furnaces receive 30% with a cap of $1,500 for several years, then a $300 tax credit and as of 2014, no tax credit at all. However, states are starting to provide more incentives. Outdoor wood boilers are often undermining support for biomass heating in America, but the growth of the pellet stove industry shows that biomass heating can be very clean and efficient.

  8. Which areas of the world are most advanced in their use of biomass heating?
    Countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden have pioneered the development of more advanced biomass heating with pellet stoves and automated pellet boilers. One state in Austria has almost phased fossil heating appliances out of new construction and the default technology is now automated, bulk fed pellet boilers.

  9. Where can I learn more?
    Additional information can be found on these related websites:
 
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