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:: Home > The People > Facts: Wood as Fuel

Wood As Fuel





Ann and Rosa making tortillas over a wood fireWho would have thought that "about 55 percent of all the wood harvested in the world is used as fuel?"

A Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Approximation


Rosa, a mother of nine, prepares a meal of corn tortillas. Rosa lives in a Qeqchi Maya village in the mountains of north-central Guatemala, Central America. In much of the world, wood fires are commonly used for cooking and heating, as is the case with Rosa and her family.

Wood as fuel isn't limited to the rural population of countries like Guatemala, however. In Oregon, for example, many households still use wood stoves for some, or all, of their heat. In addition, wood is used as fuel worldwide in the form of charcoal— hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill is a common sight during Oregon's summer. Nationally power plants and factories generate heat and electricity by burning charcoal or wood.

A lot of wood is used for fuel, but in some cases the wood doesn't come from forests! According to the Food and Agriculture Organization*, an organization that works internationally in agriculture and forestry, developing countries in Asia have approximately 3/4 of the world's woodfuel users, but only 1/4 of the forest cover. "We now know that over 60% of fuelwood originates from non-forest sources and the supply from these non-forest sources appears to be sufficient to 'fill the gap'." The author continues, offering that "...fuelwood harvesting from forest land is not necessarily non-sustainable, and that fuelwood use is not necessarily linked to deforestation. Now, fuelwood use is no longer [generally] considered a major or general cause of deforestation."

In Asia at least, most of the wood used as fuel is harvested from tree crops grown on non-forest lands. This includes village lands, agricultural lands, tree plantations, trees in wind rows and fence rows. Worldwide the relationship is probably similar. Wood used for fuel is seldom the main reason forests are cut down.

We sometimes forget how important wood is as a fuel source. Oregonians typically have easy access to electricity thanks to hydroelectric power generation. But wood as fuel worldwide is important, now and in the future. The rise in woodfuel consumption is projected to continue for some years to come in many fast growing, economically developing nations.

Not all wood used for fuel comes from trees harvested specifically for that purpose. For example, wood stoves that burn sawdust or wood pellets are burning industrial "wastes." Mills using "hog fuels" to generate heat and/or steam use these same wastes, generated on-site or shipped in by train and truck. Wood wastes and hog fuels are wood chips or dust burned as fuel.

*FAO Working Paper number 34