[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
On March 11th, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called for a “moonshot for energy independence.” He’s set up a task force to look into the large-scale production of solar, wind and geothermal energies. But he didn’t say anything about wood. That’s right: Wood. In the March 13th issue of Science, researchers in the U.S. and in Austria tout wood as a neglected but potentially useful source of energy.
Americans relied on wood for the bulk of their energy until the 1800s, when we fell head over heels for coal. Now in Europe, many countries are turning back to trees, and to advanced wood combustion technologies to supply heat, cooling and power to their communities. Austria alone has built more than 1,000 wood-burning plants that emit remarkably few pollutants, and have thermal efficiencies approaching 90 percent.
If chopping down forests for fuel doesn’t sound like the greenest solution to our energy needs, the scientists note that we’d have to figure out how to manage our woodsheds sustainably, to avoid slashing and burning our way to a toasty home and a bare Earth. But trees are renewable. They’re cheaper than fossil fuels. And they provide more shade than offshore windmills.