Maryville College's Good Wood

McCall says he wants to do an energy study of the plant's efficiency, to find out exact costs. He would like to recruit graduate students to come and do the study for a thesis project.

McCall further explains that burning wood is also okay for the environment and its carbon dioxide emissions are in line with the 1990 Clean Air Act. "Wood has no chemical residues, like coal, and it does not produce hydrocarbon pollutants like coal and oil," he says. "And gas is not renewable nor does it get rid of waste that would find its way to the landfill, like burning wood remnants does." McCall says that energy officials have told him that if you look at the smokestack and see nothing but heat waves coming out, the wood is burning clean. If you don't see visible particulates - smoke - then it's okay. "Also, if the furnace is well maintained, the wood will burn clean," he adds.

That's not to say that burning wood does not pollute. Dr. Carol Norman, environmental engineering researcher at the University of Tennessee, says it's true that burning wood doesn't produce the dangerous sulfur emissions that contribute to acid rain formation like coal and oil, but burning wood does have its share of pollutants. Nitrogen is emitted, as it is when burning coal and oil, and some particulate matter from ashes of the burned wood. She explains that whether burning wood is good or bad for the environment depends on the area of the country and what pollutants are in that area.

But Norman does agree that using a renewable energy source, such as wood, is a good idea.