Wood pellets boosting efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions

By Sandi Martin | March 24, 2014

European power plants that burn wood pellets imported from the Southern U.S. to generate electricity are emitting less than half the greenhouse gases than when they use traditional fossil fuels, a new UGA study has found.

European power utilities are using imported wood pellets to generate electricity and reduce greenhouse gases to meet a legal mandate that by 2020 at least 20 percent of all energy consumed in the European Union comes from renewable sources.

A new study by a researcher with UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources has found that the wood pellets are living up to their promise of releasing fewer greenhouse gases-producing less than half the greenhouse gas emissions than when power plants use fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. This is good news for the South, which is a leading exporter of wood pellets to Europe, said Puneet Dwivedi, an assistant professor of sustainability sciences in the Warnell School.

Environmental Research Letters recently published these findings. Dwivedi studied the greenhouse gas emissions in the United Kingdom. These renewable sources include energy products derived from woody feedstock such as wood pellets, which are typically made from waste material left over after a tree is harvested or processed for wood manufacturers.

Dwivedi focused on greenhouse gases emitted at a power plant in Selby, home of the largest coal-fired power plant in the United Kingdom. This power plant recently announced plans to generate about 1,000 megawatts of electricity using imported wood pellets from the South.

Dwivedi found that the intensity of greenhouse gases emitted for every unit of electricity generated from imported wood pellets is at least 50 percent lower than when using traditional fossil fuels. Even more, Dwivedi said, his study found that as the power plant’s capacity rose, so did the greenhouse gas savings, which means the higher capacity plants would greatly benefit from using wood pellets. Although many European countries use wood pellets to generate power, it is not used in the U.S. because of the cost.