“Where there’s fire there’s smoke”: wood heating pollutes more
A European enviromental bureau study states that wood-based home heating accounts for about half of fine particulate and carbon black emissions within the European Union.
The study, titled “Where there’s fire there’s smoke: emissions from home heating with wood,” was carried out by European Environmental Bureau (Eeb), Europe’s largest network of environmental organizations, along with Green Transition Denmark and highlights the large amount of pollution produced by domestic wood burning.
In fact, wood stoves produce 375 g of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) per gigajoule of heating and 465 grams of NMVOCs (non-methane volatile organic compounds). Comparing the figure for PM 2.5 produced by wood stoves with the PM 2.5 produced by trucks, it becomes evident how heating affects much more than traffic: in fact, a truck without particulate filters produces 6.5 grams of PM 2.5 for every gigajoule of heating fuel, which drops to 0.5 grams for trucks equipped with a filter. The situation is also not much different when it comes to CO₂ emission data: a wood stove releases 140 kg of CO₂ per gigajoule of heating into the atmosphere, while a natural gas boiler releases 63 kg. The consequences of pollution also affect health, constituting an additional cost to national health services.
According to the study, therefore, it becomes a priority to rethink heating systems, avoiding domestic wood burning. Although new wood stoves and boilers emit fewer pollutants than older models, they are still more polluting than other methods of heat production, and therefore should not be considered a viable solution for reducing air pollution. It would therefore be more beneficial, both for the environment and for health, to improve the thermal insulation of homes and to focus on different solutions, such as district heating or heat pumps.
A response to Eeb’s study came from Aiel, the Italian Agroforestry Energy Association, which represents 500 companies in the wood-energy supply chain. Indeed, it stated in a statement that “Modern technologies in home heating with wood, pellets and wood chips reduce particulate emissions to a few tens of grams and, in the best cases, with ‘near-zero’ emission technologies, to a few grams. The massive introduction of these technologies will radically change the weight of biomass in particulate emissions. These are goals that have already been achieved in practice in some European countries, as certified by official data.” Aiel also argues that “woody biomass is the main renewable energy source in our country and is a cost-effective choice for many households, but also a real opportunity in the context of combating climate change.” To reduce and solve the problem of particulate matter, Aiel considers it a priority to continue to support the technological replacement of obsolete stoves and boilers with modern, higher-performance systems that can reduce particulate matter emissions.