Wood is increasingly being used to replace coal as a source of electricity generation in many regions such as the European Union, where policymakers have declared it “carbon neutral.” However, new research from researchers at MIT, Climate Interactive, and UMass Lowell reveals that displacing coal with wood for power generation can make climate change worse for many decades or more.In the new study, Does replacing coal with wood lower CO2 emissions? Dynamic lifecycle analysis of wood bioenergy, the researchers—John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT Sloan School of Management; Juliette Rooney-Varga, Director of the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative; and Lori Siegel, PhD, Senior Modeler for Climate Interactive—examine the climate impact of replacing coal power generation in the EU and UK with wood pellets sourced from forests in the southern US. The research is slated for publication on Friday, January 19, 2018 in the academic journal, Environmental Research Letters. The paper can be accessed online at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aaa512/pdfThe researchers found that wood pellets burned in European and UK power plants, such as the Drax facility in North Yorkshire, England—which has transitioned some of its coal power generation capacity to wood pellets with the support of UK government subsidies—actually emit more CO2 per kilowatt hour than that generated by coal. This is because wood is both less efficient at the point of combustion and has larger processing and supply chain emissions than coal. Their research shows that using wood instead of coal in power generation increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, worsening climate change until—and only if—the harvested forests regrow.US forests are a main source for EU wood pellet imports, which have been rising as demand has grown. These forests grow back slowly, so it takes a long time to repay the initial “carbon debt” incurred by burning wood instead of coal. For forests in the central and eastern US, which supply much of the wood used in UK power plants, the payback time for this carbon debt ranges from 44 to 104 years, depending on forest type—and assuming the land remains forest. If the land is developed, or converted to agricultural use, then the carbon debt is never repaid and grows over time as the harvested land emits additional carbon from soils.The research was conducted with the use of a system dynamics model, based on the award-winning Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support (C-ROADS) simulator. Launched in 2008, the model was reviewed by an external scientific review committee, chaired by Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A summary of their review can be accessed here.The researchers also explored an increasingly common scenario in which hardwood forests harvested for bioenergy are replaced with faster-growing loblolly pine plantations. Surprisingly, replanting with fast-growing pine plantations worsens the CO2 impact of wood because managed plantations do not sequester as much carbon as natural forests.They found that continued growth in wood use, as many predict, will worsen climate change throughout the rest of this century, or longer. This is because the first impact of substituting wood for coal in power generation is an increase in CO2 emissions. Even if the forests eventually regrow, notes Prof. Sterman, each year the new carbon debt from increased harvest and combustion outweighs the regrowth, just as borrowing more on a credit card each month than one is able to pay back will steadily increase what he or she owes. For countries using wood bioenergy as a component of their climate policies this could take them backwards. Indeed, bioenergy from wood made up 44% of the EU’s renewable energy production in 2015.“A molecule of CO2 emitted today has the same impact on the climate whether it comes from coal or biomass,” says Sterman. “Declaring that biofuels are carbon neutral, as the EU, UK and others have done, erroneously assumes forest regrowth happens quickly and fully offsets the emissions from biofuel production and combustion. One way to address the challenges raised in this study would be to count emissions where they occur, for example, at a power plant, and monitor and count carbon removed from the atmosphere by regrowth on the harvested land.”Critically, the analysis doesn’t support continued coal use as it is the most carbon intensive fuel and a major contributor to climate change. The researchers stress energy efficiency, solar, wind and storage as the cheapest, safest, and quickest ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions while meeting energy needs.The model behind the research is available for scientists and policymakers to design their own scenarios for bioenergy, conduct sensitivity analysis, and get immediate feedback showing the full dynamics, including both short and long run impacts.Drax produces about 7% of the UK’s power. The picture shows unloading wood pellets at ABP Immingham for this power plant.
Seequent (formerly ARANZ Geo) a world leader in the development of data visualisation software together with SRK Consulting have announced the roll out of global masterclasses in geologically-driven resource estimation. The collaboration will showcase Seequent’s latest solution, Leapfrog® EDGE and harness SRK’s resource estimation expertise.The global roll out is in response to the success of two pilot Masterclasses run in Vancouver and Peru at the end of 2017. Seequent’s General Manager Mining and Minerals Nick Fogarty, explains, “These Masterclasses quickly sold out and we’re therefore delighted to collaborate with SRK to bring more to the market. They will focus on geologically-driven resource estimation and combine SRK’s international consulting experience with our innovative new resource estimation solution, Leapfrog EDGE.”Leapfrog EDGE is a dynamic resource estimation solution that seamlessly integrates with Leapfrog geological models, enabling stronger emphasis on robust domain modelling to underpin the estimate. This delivers major benefits relating to how users can manage change as they continue to interpret geology and make use of the latest information. The result of extensive industry consultation, Leapfrog EDGE includes intuitive and highly visual tools within a streamlined, flexible workflow and has been thoughtfully crafted to improve productivity and reduce training time.SRK’s Corporate Consultant, Peter Gleeson, who has over 30 years of mining geology and resource estimation experience, will be one of the trainers. He comments, “The Masterclass is designed to help improve operational efficiency and reduce the risk inherent in any mineral resource estimation by producing robust estimates that are associated with your geological domains and underpinned by a sound, practical application of geostatistical methods.”The Masterclass is for mining and resource geologists who are already involved in developing resource estimates and who wish to learn about estimation using Leapfrog EDGE. No previous experience of Leapfrog EDGE is required, although a background in resource estimation using other 3D modelling software is preferred.The three-day course includes a series of theoretical presentations and discussions on the key aspects of estimation using Leapfrog EDGE. As an outcome of the course participants will be shown how to produce a validated, classified and robust resource estimate. The course focuses on a real world deposit, chosen specifically to highlight common estimation issues. Topics under discussion include:• Importance of geology in all aspects of resource estimation and domaining• Importance of QA-QC of data• Exploratory data analysis• Variogram selection and fitting• QKNA• Estimation strategies and methods• Block model validation• Classification strategiesPeter Gleeson has worked in open pit and underground production roles on a diverse range of deposits from precious metals through to bulk commodities and is a CP for gold, uranium and base metals. He is an advocate of hands on geology through pit mapping, face mapping and in driving the resource development from the ‘coal face’.Nick Fogarty concludes, “We look forward to welcoming more resource geologists to the Masterclass and demonstrating how they can more thoroughly integrate their geological modelling in resource estimating. We believe that this refreshing new approach will enable better decision making which will increase confidence and reduce risk.”The first masterclass dates to be released include:Toronto, Canada: 2nd – 4th May 2018Hermosillo, Mexico: 8th – 10th August 2018Zacatecas, Mexico: 13th – 15th August 2018Vancouver, Canada: 12th – 14th September 2018