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Chip and Truck: Comparing the Cost of Using Trees to Heat Buildings

This article is from Issue Bioenergy - Vol. 9 No. 1.

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n the Western United States, many of the forests have too many small trees. These small trees increase the risk of wildfire. Forest managers, therefore, want to remove the small trees. Some scientists believe these small trees may be a good source of fuel. The scientists in this study wanted to compare the costs of and revenues gained from using the small trees for thermal energy with the cost of piling and burning the small trees.

Welcome to the Bioenergy edition

Note to Educators 

Bioenergy Lesson Plan

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science
  • People and Science
  • Technology and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • Growing and Using Trees and Other Plants (Students)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Alaska
  • Forest Products Lab
  • Intermountain
  • International Institute of Tropical Forestry
  • Northern
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Pacific Southwest
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Southern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Some scientists study complex systems. Complex systems are ones in which many different variables are related and affect one another. An example of a complex social system is your school or even your classroom. An example of a complex natural system is a forest, a pond, or even a single tree. Scientists use computer models to help them better understand complex systems. A computer model is a computer program that attempts to simulate an abstract model of a system. The computer model contains the assumed relationships between variables. When data are entered into the model and the computer program is run, scientists can see what might happen under different circumstances. An equation in algebra is a simplified version of a computer model.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Forest managers have a number of choices when they manage an area of forest. Each possible choice creates a different outcome. You face a similar situation in your own life. Think about one situation in your life where a different choice would have created a different outcome. In this research, the scientists wanted to help forest managers understand the outcomes of different choices. When trees are cut from a forest, the largest trees may be used for lumber and other wood products. The smaller trees may be left standing or cut to reduce the threat of wildfire. After being cut, small trees may be piled together and burned. Another option is to cut the small trees into pieces, called woodchips, and take them to a special facility. At this facility, the woodchips are burned to create thermal energy that heats buildings. As you may know, the cost of oil goes up and down. The supply of oil is less secure. One option for fuel is to use woodchips to provide energy. In this study, the scientists compared the cost of using woodchips for thermal energy with the cost of burning the small trees in piles in the forest.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Energy
  • Human impact on natural resources