Wood products part of winning carbon-emissions equation, researchers say

July 14, 2011
A Northwest state or private forest, harvested regularly for 100 years, helps keep carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere year after year by storing carbon in long-term wood products (blue) and by substituting wood for fossil-fuel-intensive products like steel and cement, thus avoids carbon dioxide emissions during their manufacture (orange). The chart also shows carbon that remains in a sustainably managed and harvested forest (green and black); and an "emissions" line (cranberry) at the bottom, representing the energy to harvest and process wood, which is partly counterbalanced by the "mill residual" line (yellow) that represents mill wastes burned for energy in place of fossil fuels. Credit: E Oneil/U of Washington

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow, so forests have long been proposed as a way to offset climate change.

But rather than just letting the forest sit there for a hundred or more years, the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere could be quadrupled in 100 years by harvesting regularly and using the wood in place of steel and concrete that devour fossil fuels during manufacturing, producing carbon dioxide.

"Every time you see a wood building, it's a storehouse of carbon from the forest. When you see steel or concrete, you're seeing the emissions of carbon dioxide that had to go into the atmosphere for those structures to go up," said Bruce Lippke, University of Washington professor emeritus of forests resources. Lippke is lead author of a paper in the June issue of the journal Carbon Management that examines and wood use as they relate to the carbon dioxide. Co-authors on the paper are from the University of Washington, Mid Sweden University and U.S. .

Their review identifies many opportunities to use wood in ways that will displace products that cause a one-way flow of carbon dioxide from to the atmosphere, contributing to the risk of global warming.

Lippke said sustainably managed forests are essentially carbon neutral as they provide an equal, two-way flow of carbon dioxide: the gas that trees absorb while growing eventually goes back to the atmosphere when, for example, a tree falls in the forest and decays, trees burn in a or a wood cabinet goes to a and rots.

The co-authors write that the best approach for reducing carbon emissions involves growing wood as fast as possible, harvesting before tree growth begins to taper off and using the wood in place of products that are most fossil-fuel intensive, or even using to produce biofuels for use in place of fossil fuels.

The authors aren't advocating that all forests be harvested in this way, just the ones we particularly want to use to help counter the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Older forests provide many needed ecological values although their ability to absorb carbon dioxide slows down.

"While the carbon in the wood stored in forests is substantial, like any garden, forests have limited capacity to absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they age," Lippke said. "And there's always a chance a fire will sweep through a mature forest, immediately releasing the carbon dioxide in the trees back to the atmosphere.

"However, like harvesting a garden sustainably, we can use the wood grown in our forests for products and biofuels to displace the use of fossil-intensive products and fuels like steel, concrete, coal and oil."

Lippke says tradeoffs are best revealed through analysis – sometimes called a cradle-to-grave analysis – that assesses environmental impacts for all stages of a product including materials extraction, energy for processing and manufacturing, product use and ultimate disposal. The UW and 13 other institutions have been involved in life cycle analysis of for 15 years through the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, based at the UW.

Some of the longest-lived wood products are those used for housing and light industrial buildings, estimated to have a useful life of at least 80 years, the paper said. For every use of wood there are alternatives, for example, wood studs can be replaced by steel studs, wood floors by concrete slab floors and woody biofuels by fossil fuel.

Using life cycle analysis the researchers, for example, compared replacing steel floor joists with engineered wood joists, thereby reducing the carbon footprint by almost 10 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of wood used. In another example, wood flooring instead of concrete slab flooring was found to reduce the carbon footprint by approximately 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of wood used.

"There's really no way to make these comparisons – and get the right answer for carbon mitigation – without doing life cycle analysis," Lippke said.

Not fully applying life cycle analysis can lead to unintended consequences. For instance, narrowly looking just at the carbon lost when wood products are disposed of through burning or being sent to landfills, has led to incentives not to cut trees in the first place, Lippke says.

"What's missing in the analysis and policy making," he said, "is how much can be kept out of the atmosphere by using wood products, instead of those that take lot of to produce."

The authors said that Sweden is far ahead of the U.S. in sourcing their energy needs by using after having adopted taxes on carbon emissions two decades ago. Two of the co-authors, Leif Gustavsson and Roger Sathre, are from Mid Sweden University; other co-authors are Elaine Oneil and Rob Harrison, UW forest resources; and Kenneth Skog, Forest Service's products laboratory.

Explore further: Strategies for increasing carbon stored in forests and wood

More information: Carbon Management, June 2011, Vol. 2, No. 3, Pages 303-333 , DOI 10.4155/cmt.11.24 doi:10.4155/cmt.11.2

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2.3 / 5 (9) Jul 14, 2011
The historical basis of this whole fable of "Industrial CO2-Induced Global Warming" (1972-2011) is exposed here:




We are approaching the last play in the political game played by US President Barack Obama, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and their predecessors back to ~1972.

Their intentions were probably noble, but noble ends do not justify deceptive means,

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo

2 / 5 (8) Jul 14, 2011
Tonight, the global climate scandal is coming apart.

3.8 / 5 (8) Jul 14, 2011
The spate of scientists suddenly realising that trees absorb CO2 is part of softening up the public for the UN REDD scheme, which will pay 3rd world dictatorships to promise not to cut down trees and then treat the difference between trees actually still in the ground and the contrapositive 'trees that would have been cut down' as emissions reductions for purchase on the bankster market.
2 / 5 (8) Jul 14, 2011
The spate of scientists suddenly realising that trees absorb CO2 is part of softening up the public for the UN REDD scheme, which will pay 3rd world dictatorships to promise not to cut down trees and then treat the difference between trees actually still in the ground and the contrapositive 'trees that would have been cut down' as emissions reductions for purchase on the bankster market.

That's possible. Today, as AGW soars and world economies crumble, . . .

1. "Covert" Operations Uncovered at Climate Research Unit


2. Fed Spending Up 299%; Home Income Up 27%


With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2011
RE: Consensus Science behind Economic and Social Unrest


Today I set aside work on the book, "A Journey to the Core of the Sun," to post a comment (#10) on the link between consensus and current social and economic unrest:


I also prepared a 2.5 pdf file of a very brief, concise easier-to-read history of consensus science from 1945 to 2011 and its role in the current economic collapse and social unrest.

My interpretation may be wrong, but it seems to fit a surprising array of observations and events over the past 66 years. E-mail me at omatumr@yahoo.com if you want a copy.

Please feel free to share it with others.

Comments would be appreciated.

3 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2011
I like timber...but I like concrete better!

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