Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

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

Date:
July 15, 2011
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
The amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by forests 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, researchers say in a new study.

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 forest management and wood use as they relate to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Co-authors on the paper are from the University of Washington, Mid Sweden University and U.S. Forest Service.

Their review identifies many opportunities to use wood in ways that will displace products that cause a one-way flow of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions 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 wildfire or a wood cabinet goes to a landfill 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 woody biomass 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 life cycle 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 wood products 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 carbon dioxide can be kept out of the atmosphere by using wood products, instead of those that take lot of fossil fuels to produce."

The authors said that Sweden is far ahead of the U.S. in sourcing their energy needs by using wood 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 forest products laboratory.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bruce Lippke, Elaine Oneil, Rob Harrison, Kenneth Skog, Leif Gustavsson, Roger Sathre. Life cycle impacts of forest management and wood utilization on carbon mitigation: knowns and unknowns. Carbon Management, 2011; 2 (3): 303 DOI: 10.4155/cmt.11.24

Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Wood products part of winning carbon-emissions equation, researchers say." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714132119.htm>.
University of Washington. (2011, July 15). Wood products part of winning carbon-emissions equation, researchers say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714132119.htm
University of Washington. "Wood products part of winning carbon-emissions equation, researchers say." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714132119.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Higgins Breaks Record at Mt. Washington

Driving Sports (July 24, 2014) Subaru Rally Team USA drivers David Higgins and Travis Pastrana face off against a global contingent of racers at the annual Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. Includes exclusive in-car footage from Higgins' record attempt. Video provided by Driving Sports
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins