EUROPEAN FOREST BELT IS GETTING GREENER

European nature lovers remember still the pessimistic decade of 1980s when the forests seemed to be drowning of acid rains. Widespread forest deaths were a real threat, and alarming sceneries of decaying forests were photographed especially on mountainous areas. The main cause for the acid rain was sulphur dioxide that originates in coal-based electricity generation and in steel industries.

In the beginning of 2000s the big European battle against sulphuric rains has been won, thanks to enviro-technological development in cleaning the flue gases. Sulphur emissions are sinking all over Europe. In the most forested country, Finland, the sulphur dioxide has been filtered from the power plants and blast furnaces so efficiently that the emissions of 2000 were only one sixth of the level of 1980. The diminishing trend continues in the recently enlarged European union (EU25). During the twelve year period 1992-2003 the total sulphur dioxide emissions dropped by 60 percent.

European forests have responded positively to the improved air quality. The forests are greener and the forests are growing better; we can see it even from the space. Satellite-based Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) told to Liming Zhou and his collaborators of Boston University that the European forest belt in 1999 was 12 per cent greener than in 1981. The greener the forested landscape is under the satellite, the more it has accumulated woody biomass.

European Forest Institute (EFI) data tell that the net annual forest growth 2000 in Europe is 40 per higher than in 1980. There is an increasing surplus in the forests. The annual forest growth exceeds now the annual harvests by a factor of 1.6. The desired sustainability in using a natural resource, is well in place.

The battle against acid rains took over a quarter of a century. The effort, however was successful and it gives hope for the next big battle. That will be run against the atmospheric carbon dioxide rise. European forest belt (as well as the other woody biomass sources from countries of sustained forestry) will have a role also in that battle, as it was recently discussed as key seminar topics in the EU capitol, Brussels.

As compared to the acid rains, the battle against carbon dioxide rise is bigger and will perhaps take two generations, instead of one. Petroleum and coal contribute 40 per cent each to the carbon dioxide rise. New innovations are needed for both of them, if we want to push really heavy brake to the climate change. On the coal side the challenging opportunity is in the Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS). It was one of the outcomes of the Brussels seminar that woody biomass, as densified into pellets, will have a new role in CCS. Woody biomass needs just to be co-fired with coal in electricity generation.

In sustained energy forestry we will capture the carbon dioxide twice. First, the growing trees capture the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while they are growing as sun-powered by photosynthesis. The carbon is intermittently stored in wood pellets. Then the carbon dioxide is captured for the second time, while the wood pellets are co-fired with coal, and the flue gases are cleaned with new methods of Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage.

By introducing Double Capture of Carbon dioxide we will get synergy and even an advantage over coal. The carbon dioxide emissions from coal originate from below ground, from the coal mines. The carbon dioxide emissions from woody biomass originate from above ground, from the atmosphere. As the single capture of coal-based carbon dioxide merely neutralizes the emissions to zero level, the double capture does more. It gives immediate way to reduce the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. Greener European forests, combined with sustained forestry practices, give a good starting point for a new environmental effort.

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