Burning coal vs. wood

Updated February 21, 2017

With today's energy crisis at its maximum, alternative fuel sources must be found. Biomass, specifically in the form of wood, has the potential to be an excellent replacement for fossil fuels. When compared to coal, wood is neither better nor worse. Wood has advantages and disadvantages when compared to coal.


Ever since man took his first steps, he has depended on energy. From the simple fires of the prehistoric era to today's large power plants pouring out electricity, we need energy to survive. The U.S. and many modern nations depend on coal for energy production. In 2010, 48.2 per cent of power in the U.S. was created by burning coal. Combustion of natural gas and nuclear fission, which ranked second and third on the list, together only made up 40.8 per cent of U.S. energy needs.

Benefits of Coal Energy

Coal is inexpensive, costing about one-sixth of the price of petroleum. Burning coal is also about half the price of burning natural gas. Additionally, coal remains abundant in the U.S. Coal will be available well into the future, allowing scientists plenty of time to find an alternative fuel source. Coal is also very popular because most power plants are outfitted to burn it. Converting plants to burn other materials would be costly and time consuming. During site conversion, a plant would be unable to create energy at its maximum potential.

Benefits of Wood Energy

Wood is grouped into a scientific category known as biomass. Other examples of biomass include ethanol from crops, alcohol and landfill gas. Biomass products can be grown and created, unlike coal which takes millions of years to form. So wood can provide sustainable energy well into the future. Additionally, burning wood is much better for the environment. Replacing coal with wood would lower air and water pollution.

Disadvantages of Coal Energy

Although coal is beneficial in some areas, it still has its disadvantages. No matter how much coal is currently in the ground, the supply will eventually run out. Also, burning coal is very bad for the environment. The modern climate change crisis is due to humans burning coal and other fossil fuels for energy. Burning coal also releases other toxic compounds such as various types of mercury, an element harmful to human health.

Disadvantages of Wood Energy

While burning wood may seem the perfect solution to the energy crisis, it too has disadvantages. For example, wood combustion produces carbon monoxide, a toxic, colourless, and odourless gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in severe illness and even death. Burning wood also produces ash and other particulates that can congest the air.

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About the Author

Charles Alex Miller began writing professionally in 2010. He currently writes for various websites, specializing in the sciences. He is a full-time employee in the chemicals and environmental sciences industry.