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A Chip Off the Old Block: Using Wood Energy to Heat Schools

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

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One of the historic uses of wood was for heating. In recent years, however, most heating in the United States has come from other sources of energy, such as petroleum, gas, and electricity. The scientists in this study wondered if using wood for heating would save schools money compared to the way the schools are usually heated. 

Welcome to the Bioenergy edition

Note to Educators

Bioenergy Lesson Plan

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Education Standards Correlations

Additional Resources for this Article:
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)

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

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Research always has a purpose behind it. Is the research being done just to learn something new? Is its purpose to solve a problem? When scientists study a question to satisfy their curiosity about something, the research is called basic science. An example of basic science is when astronomers study the planet Mars. This kind of research is important, as it touches the mysteries of life. Often, basic science provides new information that can be used in the future to help solve problems. Most research being done today is done to solve problems. This kind of research is called applied science. Medical research is applied science, and most natural resource and environmental science is applied science. In the research you will read about in this article, the scientists hoped to solve a problem and help schools save money. Would you call this research basic or applied science?
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
You may have heard about the wildfires that sometimes burn in the Nationís forests. In some cases, wildfires now burn hotter, longer, and over a wider area than wildfires of the past. This is because many forests today contain a lot of fuel. This fuel is often made up of many small-sized trees, which are growing because forest fires have not been allowed to burn there in the past. Before human development occurred in and near forests, wildfires could burn and, when they burned, they burned the small trees and other vegetation near the forest floor. Now that development occurs near and in the forests, we have not allowed wildfires to burn. The result is a lot of fuel in the form of small trees. One way to address this problem is to cut the small trees. Cutting trees is expensive. To many people, it makes more sense to have a use for any tree that has been cut. To other people, leaving the small trees to decay in the forest also makes sense. This is because a decaying tree returns nutrients to the forest soil. This article describes how schools used these trees to help them heat their buildings. In this research, the small trees were used in a wood heating system built just for the school. Do you think this is a good use for the small trees? Why or why not?
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Value of natural environments