What To Do With That Christmas Tree?

Once the holidays are over and the glitter and glam is stripped from the fir, chances are the Christmas tree ends up in the trash. Perhaps the trees could be useful even after they lose their glow. Why not turn them into woody biomass for energy? A few companies, such Biomass One, are doing just that.

Biomass One, which has been recycling Christmas trees for the past four years, estimates it will receive 4,500 trees this year. According to Biomass One Vice President Gordon Draper, this amount “equals out to approximately 56 dry tons of wood biomass, which can provide about an hour and a half worth of power to the company’s wood-fired cogeneration power plant.” This is only a tiny amount compared to the 325,000 dry tons of wood it grinds up annually to power the plant. And an even smaller amount compared to the woody biomass the state of Vermont is using to heat schools and other public buildings.

Burning wood for energy is, of course, an ancient technology, but as Steven Bick points out in a new PERC case study, wood can provide an economic and environmentally viable solution for high heating costs in many parts of the country.

Bick goes on to explain that beginning in 1985, the state of Vermont developed a program using mill waste to power boilers in public schools. At the time, most schools in the state were heated with expensive electricity. Replacing electric heaters with wood-powered boilers resulted in considerable savings in heating costs. Vermont is now home to nearly half of the facilities in the United States using woody biomass for heat. Other states are starting to replicate Vermont’s success and few  private companies, including Lockheed Martin, are beginning to convert to woody biomass heating.

“Thermal energy from woody biomass is not a panacea to all heating needs,” writes Bick, “but Vermont and other cold locations have proven it is a viable and renewable option.”

You can read the case study here.


  1. John Harrison, Atlanta, GA USA says:

    Recycling the tree is not a bad thought, but probably the wisest thing to do–from an LCA perspective–is simply to drag it into the backyard and put it in a woodsy corner (given you have a yard). This is what I do every year. After three years, a tree is basically decomposed to a few broken sticks. In the process, however, the old trees provide good ground cover for fledging birds to hide from my dogs (I grew tired of finding dead baby birds from our birdhouses, who wandered too close to the house). When a decomposed tree is down to the few sticks phase, it then ends up in the outdoor fire pit (a primitive biomass conversion device) which the kids use to roast marshmallows.

    Of course, if you can’t drag the old tree somewhere woodsy to let it decompose, then curbside pick up for recycling–given you have that–would probably be the next best thing since it would be disposed of without additional driving around.