Wasted Wood

One of the websites that I maintain is www.renewables-map.co.uk. This is a log of all the major renewable energy projects in the UK, generally anything over 1Mw. One area I cover is biomass, I see projects that will result in millions of tonnes of wood being shipped to the UK to be burnt. 

While biomass is certainly renewable energy in that it has a sort of closed loop, trees grow, they get cut, burnt, more trees grow and suck the CO2 out of the air to be burnt again. I do wonder if lareg swathes of forest are being cut down and burnt to allow for fast growing plantations that disturb the soil and overall release far more CO2 than will ever be saved using the biomass ‘loop’.

While developing these huge schemes, chopping down and shipping forests across the Atlantic we are in the meantime ignoring huge volumes of biomass that is burnt as waste.

Ever seen a tree culled from the roadside? That tree is effectively the same wood as is being shipped across the Atlantic, but rather than being used as free fuel, it will be classed as a waste product and must be disposed of. Out in rural areas most likley on a semi legal bonfire, it might end up as landfill at best it is chipped and used as compost.

While we can’t power Britain by using offcusts from the hedge rows, surely we can divert the wood into the biomass fuel cycle and give it a use and value rather than treating it as a waste product  which has a cost.

Too difficult? Not at all, just a function of organisation and management. I can envisage a series of waste wood yards collecting biomass. Define what consitutes biomass and pay for it. Not so much that we have thieves stealing wood, but enough to cover the legitimate users fuel costs in getting it there.  The biomass plants can then have a single local source of fuel to augment their existing supplies.


When is food not food

There is increasing discusion of the sustainability of farming. Of how we can maintain productivity and how we can physically feed all thos eextra mouths that are expected in the coming  decade(s). But little or no mention of the degradation of minerals.

With modern farming the product/crop is always removed from the field. With the crop goes a proprtion, however small, of whatever trace elements are in the soil. To keep crops going we put back fertilizer, but this is not aimed at replacing all that has been taken by the crop but only sufficient (and at the lowest cost) to make the crop grow again.

This years crop of wheat is fundamentally different to the crop from the same field 50 years ago. Add to this the genetic engineering / breeding to ensure the crop looks right and is ‘fat’ in this sense lots of carbohydrate. Its also increasingly the same as the crop from a field 100 miles away.

In the case of wheat. We eat it in bread, our food animals eat it, we eat them. We are moving towards a monotonous unhealthy diet denuded of trace elements. But, the standardized crop suites the food seller. Their job is not to provide a healthy product but something people buy and makes money for them. Take out the trace elements and our thyroid doesn’t work, other parts also start to fail, we head towards being malnourished with growing obesity and failing health  while surrounded by food.

In the case of salt, we have processed what was a super food with 80 and more vital minerals into just sodium chloride. Okay, its white, tastes like salt, is cheap, pours but is no longer food.

So, not only must we look to maintaining the volume of food, but that it remains food in the real sense.

There are many ways of doing this, only one is becoming increasingly used though it is very unpopular. That is the use of sewage, clearly a sustainable way of dealing with  our own personal output and far more sensible than dumping it at sea or burining it. Where I live, this is an annual event, smelly but not that bad. Certainly good for the local fields that are otherwise turning into a desert.

Alternatives exist, the simplest being to physically extract or mine the minerals and dump them on the fields, perhaps as rock dust. Natural processes will then revitalise the fields, however I would expect that is far from that simple.