The Environmental Impact of Burning Wood or Coal

January 19, 2021 Coal Gun, Wood Gun

With each generation grows an overwhelming passion for being environmentally conscious. Our actions, what we consume, and even what we wear are heavily dependent on our desire to remain environmentally friendly and do our part to promote sustainability.

That being said, it is no surprise that when we talk about wood or coal burning stoves, we are immediately met with one question:

What are the environmental implications of utilizing wood or coal stoves?

Most hear coal and immediately think about how dirty and ashy it is, picturing Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins, dancing on a rooftop in London covered in soot. We think about polluted skies and all of the long-term effects coal can have on both the Earth and our lives.

There is a certain level of concern and panic that arises in all of us, which leads us to wonder if coal and/or wood stoves are really the best option for heat.

So let’s talk about it!

A Brief History of Coal

 The utilization of coal as a heat source dates back over 2,000 years. According to www.energy.gov, there is evidence that suggests the Romans in England used coal to keep warm in the second and third centuries.[1] It later moved from being just a heating source, to the primary source of steam for the steam engine! Fast forward to the 1900s and coal had become a major energy source in homes across America.

And while many other fuel and energy sources exist today, coal is still a classic and great option for many!

The Environmental Impact of Coal Usage

 While it is true that coal plants are responsible for 42% of US Mercury emissions, the main concern with coal is that, when burned, it emits CO2 into the air which has been proven to contribute to global warming.[2] However, with each generation putting a focus on clean, renewable energy, great strides have been made to ensure the use of clean variants such as anthracite coal of the Northeast, and improved technology for burning lower grades of coal, has resulted in dramatic pollution reduction.[3]

The reality is that, while reduction of coal usage is desired to reduce the amount of CO2 that is put into the air, our economy still heavily depends on coal usage.

The Answer: Anthracite Coal

 If you’re new to our site, be sure to check out our blog “Burning Coal for Residential Heating” to learn more about the history and different types of coal. If you’re familiar with our site, then you’ll know that there are two types of coal we talk about regularly: bituminous and anthracite. For the sake of keeping things short, bituminous coal is the dirty, black, ashy coal most people envision when they hear the word “coal.” Like we said in the beginning, think Dick Van Dyke on the rooftops in Mary Poppins. Bituminous coal is the type of coal that has more risks associated with burning it, as it emits more CO2 into the air.

How? Bituminous coal produces extra particular matter (soot and smoke) when not burned properly. And because it has a high sulfur content it contributes to acid rain.[4] Acid rain occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are emitted into the atmosphere and then spread by wind and air. Those elements then react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form sulfuric and nitric acids before mixing with water and other materials and then eventually falling to the ground.[5] Bituminous coal combustion is one of the leading causes of air pollution.

Anthracite coal, on the other hand, is our personal favorite! Anthracite coal is abundant in Northeast America and contains little sulfur, produces virtually no smoke or particle emissions, and is clean to the touch.[6] In fact, Anthracite coal can be used in areas where wood stoves are banned or prohibited due to air pollution and forest fire risks from chimney embers.

Click here to learn more about Anthracite coal!

What about wood stoves?

 Wood burning is a popular source of heat today, and its history dates back to prehistoric times. In a previous blog we discussed the benefits of wood stoves, which you can check out here. Once you’ve read through that, you’ll understand that there are a lot of benefits to wood burning as a fuel source, although fireplaces are not the most effective way to heat your home. That being said, wood burning can still have an impact on the environment.

Wood stoves and fireplaces that are not built efficiently release more pollutants into the air which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular issues for some people. However, newer wood stove models, like our Wood Gun are specifically designed to drastically decrease the amount of particles released into the atmosphere. Wood itself is a renewable resource and readily available in many areas of the US. For some, they have plenty of wood available in their own backyard, making it not just easy to obtain, but free!

The truth of the matter is that, when burned properly, wood stoves can actually be environmentally friendly. Burning wood also contributes to national and personal self-sufficiency. In our blog, “Wood Gasification as Next-Generation Wood Burning Technology,” we discuss the benefits of wood burning. Wood is a renewable resource. “Unlike fuel sources like petroleum, there is no danger of the wood supply being interrupted because of events taking place on the other side of the world.”[7] To learn more, click here.

How can I ensure I’m making the right choice for myself and the environment?

 When it comes to choosing what fuel source is the best for you, it is important to consider cost factor as well as availability. Do you have a forest in your backyard? Maybe a wood stove is the right fit. Do you not enjoy chopping wood and prefer to buy it? Wood stoves are still and option! And if a wood stove doesn’t feel like the right fit and you prefer the efficient nature of coal burning, a coal stove is a great option!

If you’re not sure which is right for you, between a wood and coal stove, check out this blog. You can also call us and we can talk you through the options to make the right decision for you and your family!

 

 

 

[1] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-coal-4586414

[2] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-coal-4586414

[3] https://alternateheatingsystems.com/resources/blog/burning-coal-for-residential-heating/

[4] https://www.thoughtco.com/bituminous-coal-characteristics-applications-1182545

[5] https://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what-acid-rain

[6] https://alternateheatingsystems.com/resources/blog/burning-coal-for-residential-heating/

[7] https://alternateheatingsystems.com/resources/blog/wood-gasification-as-next-generation-wood-burning-technology/

[8] https://alternateheatingsystems.com/resources/blog/the-benefits-of-coal-and-wood-stoves/