Developing carbon capture technology is proving to be quite difficult in many different industries. Luckily, the lumber industry has a unique advantage when it comes to this particular challenge.
Although talking about the environment can be considered controversial or political, it doesn’t have to be. At Conner, we know how important environmentalism is in manufacturing, regardless of politics, and we work hard to be good stewards of the environment.
With carbon capture technology, many people feel like there’s some imaginary barrier of entry they need to cross before they can talk about it. You don’t need a Ph.D. or master’s degree to understand what we’re going to talk about. Hopefully, after you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to share this information with whoever’s willing to hear it!
In this article, we’ll be taking a deep dive into what exactly carbon capture technology is, how trees are the ultimate carbon capture technology, how the lumber industry is greener than many other industries, and what the lumber industry does to ensure trees are here to stay.
What is Carbon Capture Technology?
Carbon capture technology can seem pretty straightforward, but some nuances are worth looking into.
On our planet, much of its carbon is stored long-term in materials like oil and natural gas. As we continue to use these resources, the carbon stored in these materials is released into the atmosphere. The rapid release of this long-stored carbon is what concerns many companies and has led to the development of carbon capture technology.
Let’s take a look at what the current attempts at carbon capture technology look like.
Carbon capture technologies can look very different from one another, but there are two main types. Some prevent CO2 from being emitted by manufacturing processes, and others work to capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere.
Let’s talk about the first example. Manufacturers use the first type of carbon capture technology as a filter, making sure that less CO2 is being released during the manufacturing process. A great example of this is carbon powder, an invention designed by Professor Zhongwei Chen at the University of Waterloo. Chen’s carbon powder is used in energy plants and placed above exhaust vents. CO2 would typically escape through these vents, but with the carbon powder, it’s simply filtered out.
The second type of carbon capture technology is called an ‘air scrubber’, removing CO2 from the atmosphere directly. Currently, there are many projects dedicated to increasing the efficiency of these air scrubbers. For example, in Iceland, some companies have implemented air scrubbers on the ground that pull in the air with a fan, filter out the CO2, then release the rest of the gasses back into the air.
Now that we’ve talked about how other manufacturers are using carbon capture technology, let’s talk about how the lumber industry is using it.
How are Trees a Natural Carbon Capture Technology?
The lumber industry has a unique advantage when it comes to using carbon capture technology, and it all comes down to one simple fact – trees themselves are one of the most efficient carbon capture technologies we’re aware of.
We all know that trees are good for our planet, but what do they do?
To not sound like a science lesson, we’ll try to keep this explanation as straightforward as possible. After all, we’re here to talk about lumber, not living trees.
As a tree grows, it engages in a process almost everyone knows about – photosynthesis. The tree takes the light from the sun, nutrients from the soil, water, and CO2 from the atmosphere to create energy for itself in the form of a compound called glucose. The byproduct of this process is the oxygen that every organism needs to live and breathe.
At night, when the tree is no longer engaging in photosynthesis, the tree engages in respiration. This process expels the tree’s excess oxygen and carbon into the atmosphere as CO2.
What’s so important about these processes isn’t necessarily what the tree takes in from the atmosphere and puts back out, but what it keeps as it creates its energy. Although trees ‘exhale’ CO2 during respiration, trees keep much of the carbon they take in from photosynthesis. Roughly 50% of a tree’s total volume is made of the carbon it takes in!
The whole goal of carbon capture technology is to prevent carbon from entering our atmosphere. As of right now, trees are drastically more efficient than any of the carbon capture technology manufacturers have developed.
Now that we’ve talked about what a living tree does regarding carbon, let’s take a look at what we’ve all been waiting on – lumber.
Lumber’s Environmentally Friendly Life
The carbon stored in a tree doesn’t just magically dissipate when it’s felled, it stays in its lumber.
When lumber reaches manufacturers, it’s hardly ever burned as fuel releasing its carbon, but rather used in the creation of wood products. Because of this, the lumber industry and manufacturers who specialize in wood products, typically have substantially smaller carbon emissions than other industries.
Critics of the lumber industry continually point out that the life span of wood products is relatively short compared to other manufactured products. This is true, and it’s one of lumber’s greatest strengths.
Although wood products like pallets and crates or industrial lumber may not be used forever, they are one of the most frequently used products across the globe. These wood products see use every day. After years of use, the products’ strength may fail, but they are commonly recycled into other products such as horse bedding, wood chips, and more.
When heavily manufactured products reach the end of their life cycle, they sit and slowly erode. Lumber products, on the other hand, decompose back into the earth. As lumber products decompose, it gives its carbon as fuel to the organisms decomposing it – keeping carbon in its natural cycle.
With all of these benefits, it’s hard to deny that trees are the ultimate carbon capture technology. But this raises the question for some, isn’t it wrong to cut them down if they’re so great for the environment? Let’s take a look at what lumber companies do to mitigate this problem.
A Replenishable Carbon Capture Technology
As trees grow over time, they naturally accumulate more and more carbon from the atmosphere, and this is a wonderful thing! In a perfect world, we would let these trees continue to grow and continually enrich our environment – unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
As humans continue to build up and out across the globe, we need to create infrastructure, shipping solutions, and homes that have minimal impact on the environment. Lumber is the perfect solution for these problems as of right now.
Harvesting trees has always been a necessity for human beings, and it continues to be! We recognize that this requires a TON of wood, that’s why lumber companies in the United States alone plant 900 million trees each year. This not only ensures that there will be lumber to harvest in the future, but that trees can continue to do the important work of filtering the Earth’s air every year.
Lumber – The Ultimate Eco-Friendly industry
Now that we’ve laid all of that out there, isn’t lumber great? It’s natural, it’s an incredibly efficient carbon capture technology, and it can be used in so many different ways. Who would’ve thought that using wood products such as pallets, crates, or just using lumber, in general, could help maintain our planet?