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What is Wood Energy?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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Any energy that comes from using wood as a fuel source may be referred to as wood energy. While the term is not a common one, it accurately describes the fuel source and the benefit. Wood energy was once the dominant source of energy used in the world, but has since been replaced by fossil fuels in most areas. Still, there are many people who still depend on wood as a fuel source for energy in a number of different ways.

The most common way to get energy from wood is to burn the material. The heat produced from the fire can be used in a number of different ways. It can be used as space heating, such as with campfires or fireplaces. Also, it can be used for cooking, or even as a way to produce mechanical energy through the creation of steam, such as in locomotives and some power plants. That steam is then used to power gears or turbines to produce electrical or other forms of energy.

Currently, the United Nations estimates that wood energy supplies 14 percent of the world's energy needs. This percentage is much higher in developing countries, where other natural resources, or the ability to acquire fossil fuels, is not as great. Countries in such a situation tend to turn to the resources they have most readily available, which is often wood.

The use of such natural resources has led the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Program to help developing countries by formulating a sustainable plan for wood energy specific to the needs and supply in those countries. This helps these countries maintain a level of energy independence while their economies get a chance to develop further. Many of the countries currently using a great deal of wood energy are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The benefits of wood are numerous. In addition to being available in many different areas, wood also is considered a renewable form of energy because it can be replaced in a relatively short period of time. Also wood provides other benefits while growing, such as animal habitat and even carbon dioxide consumption.

The use of wood energy also is criticized by some. Many fear that harvesting wood disrupts wildlife too much, and may be used in a way that is unsustainable in some areas. In addition, although it helps take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, burning wood puts at least some of it back into the air.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon166822 — On Apr 10, 2011

so when wood is burned, is what is released considered light energy?

By lokithebeak — On Jan 31, 2010

So wood energy is renewable energy, but not "green energy" because it releases carbon dioxide right?

And what exactly is considered a "relatively short time" for the trees that are cut down to be replaced? Surely it takes years for the trees to reach maturity. We could burn through one tree each day per family if that's all we had, and then it would take 5 years to replace that one tree..that doesn't seem like a short time to me.

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