UPDATE: See 1.5 year old numbers for coal versus wood in USA at bottom
I’m not a big fan of coal. But I do oppose stupidity. Switching from coal (which produces CO2 and particulate matter when burned) with wood pellets (which produces CO2 and particulate matter when burned) that kill forests seems kind of dumb.
How much CO2 and particulate matter is hard to find out. This post suggests wood pellets produce more CO2 than coal when you account for all of the transportation costs.
This article suggests wood pellets costs 150 to 200 a ton when coal is going for 51$ a ton.
“Wood pellets are much more expensive, about $150 to $210 a ton, compared to about $51 for coal in Newcastle, Australia, the global benchmark. Lyra wouldn’t provide a price for sugar-cane pellets, though he said they’re “competitive” with wood.
“These products don’t compete on price,” said Lyra. “Companies that are looking to use renewables as a replacement have assets fueled by coal that has a deadline to disappear.”
It would make sense ( in the green stupidity way) to replace coal with trees and then pay 4x the cost and still produce lots of CO2.
As for CO2, the above referenced article says:
“Bagasse pellets emit about one-16th the carbon dioxide of coal, when burned in Brazil“
That is the key. If you transport the pellets (whether wood or sugar cane) it produces a lot more CO2.
This article is interesting.
“Burning wood pellets releases as much or even more carbon dioxide per unit of energy as burning coal, so in order for burning pellets to be carbon-neutral the carbon emitted into the atmosphere has to be recaptured in regenerated forests, Abt says. Residual wood, such as tree thinnings and unused tree parts left over at timber mills, is the best material for wood pellets, says Abt. But he and others say that not enough of such waste wood exists to feed the growing demand for wood pellets.
So the industry has turned to whole trees.”
“The accounting now used for assessing compliance with carbon limits in the Kyoto Protocol and in climate legislation contains a far-reaching but fixable flaw that will severely undermine greenhouse gas reduction goals (1). It does not count CO2 emitted from tailpipes and smokestacks when bioenergy is being used, but it also does not count changes in emissions from land use when biomass for energy is harvested or grown. This accounting erroneously treats all bioenergy as carbon neutral regardless of the source of the biomass, which may cause large differences in net emissions. For example, the clearing of long-established forests to burn wood or to grow energy crops is counted as a 100% reduction in energy emissions despite causing large releases of carbon.”
“The cost of a unit of electricity consumed within the U.S. ranged between $171 and $175.40 per MWh, depending upon the pine rotation age. The cost of pulpwood procurement (stumpage, logging, and pulpwood transportation) was about 26 percent of the overall cost across rotation ages. Manufacturing of wood pellets and generation of electricity at the power plant contributed about 30 and 40 percent, respectively, toward the overall cost of a unit of electricity across rotation ages. The average unit cost was $173 per MWh, which was 73 percent and 157 percent higher than the average obtained from coal, at $100 per MWh, and natural gas, at $67 per MWh, respectively.
This cost differential is the main reason U.S. electric utilities show little interest in utilizing wood pellets. Therefore, special policy incentives will be needed to promote wood pellets as a potential feedstock, instead of coal and natural gas.”