Abstract and Figures

One of the most widely accepted rule of thumb of bioenergy production has been that burning wet wood should be avoided. This advice has guided the development of harvesting, logistics and combustion of wood chips. However, experimentations in Finland have challenged this approach by showing that it may be possible to considerably improve the energy efficiency of heat and power plants by burning the wood chips as soon as possible after harvesting them from boreal forests. The high energy content of fresh wood has been known for a long time, but this knowledge has not been widely acknowledged as the guiding principle in the development of the energy use of wood chips. This study analyses public (non)debate of wood chip burning in Finland based on conceptualisations of non-recognition and discusses the implications of knowledge use and non-use for sustainable energy transitions. It is concluded that various forms of non-recognition can significantly hinder the development and implementation of more sustainable energy solutions. The importance of the varieties of ignorance and their societal consequences should not be forgotten from the sustainability transition studies. Graphical abstract Open image in new window
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Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy (2019) 21:1143–1153
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10098-019-01699-9
ORIGINAL PAPER
Burning wet wood: varieties ofnon‑recognition inenergy transitions
JariLyytimäki1
Received: 30 November 2018 / Accepted: 20 April 2019 / Published online: 27 April 2019
© The Author(s) 2019
Abstract
One of the most widely accepted rule of thumb of bioenergy production has been that burning wet wood should be avoided.
This advice has guided the development of harvesting, logistics and combustion of wood chips. However, experimentations
in Finland have challenged this approach by showing that it may be possible to considerably improve the energy efficiency
of heat and power plants by burning the wood chips as soon as possible after harvesting them from boreal forests. The high
energy content of fresh wood has been known for a long time, but this knowledge has not been widely acknowledged as the
guiding principle in the development of the energy use of wood chips. This study analyses public (non)debate of wood chip
burning in Finland based on conceptualisations of non-recognition and discusses the implications of knowledge use and
non-use for sustainable energy transitions. It is concluded that various forms of non-recognition can significantly hinder the
development and implementation of more sustainable energy solutions. The importance of the varieties of ignorance and
their societal consequences should not be forgotten from the sustainability transition studies.
Graphical abstract
Keywords Combustion· Energy policy· Transition· Knowledge utilisation· Renewable energy· Sustainable
development· Wood chips
Introduction
“It’s true! Fresh wood burns better than dry wood”.
(Heikkinen 2018, p. 35).
A feature story published by a widely read Finnish mag-
azine challenged the commonly accepted view that fire-
wood should be as dry as possible when burned. Despite
* Jari Lyytimäki
jari.lyytimaki@ymparisto.fi
1 Finnish Environment Institute, Latokartanonkaari 11,
00790Helsinki, Finland
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1144
J.Lyytimäki
1 3
the title creating an impression that all fresh wood burns
better than dry wood, the story actually only focused on
wood chips burned in large combustion plants. It argued
that about 10–20% more energy can be obtained from
burning fresh wood chips. This storyline strongly sug-
gested that old lessons about the importance of using only
dry wood chips as an energy source should be put aside.
Some uncertainties and lack of comprehensive knowl-
edge over the issue were noted. After all, the surprising
results leading to positive expectations about possibilities
to improve energy efficiency were sparked by results from
the test burning of fresh chips in just one facility. However,
the story also emphasised that the test results are sup-
ported by scientifically plausible calculations of energy
contents and the best current theoretical understanding of
the combustion process.
If the expectations are proven true, they may have con-
siderable implications on the national energy system. Even
if not proven true, such publicly presented expectations
can play a role in societal debates since they can be used to
strengthen and legitimise or weaken and destabilise claims
related to energy policy. Such discursive acts can have
considerable impact on energy policy, since media, public
and policy agendas are closely intertwined (Fischer 2003;
Skjølsvold 2012; Anderson etal. 2017). Policy priorities of
renewable energy are influenced by public opinion that is
influenced by media contents that, in turn, are partly shaped
by policy priorities.
The replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy
sources, bioenergy in particular, has been one of the key tar-
gets of the Finnish energy policy (Huttunen 2017). Finland
is a country of 5.6 million inhabitants and about 0.6 million
forest owners. Forest-based biomass is the most important
renewable energy source in Finland with a share of over a
quarter of all energy consumption. The share of wood chips
of all solid wood fuel consumption in heating and power
plants is over a third (LUKE 2018a). Largely due to abun-
dant forest resources and the importance of the forest sector
in the Finnish economy, the energy use of wood has been
widely accepted, contrary to many other countries (Fytili
and Zabaniotou 2017). Two-thirds (66%) of Finns want to
increase and only 8% want to decrease the share of bioenergy
in energy production (Energiateollisuus 2017). Forest energy
mainly comprising of by-products of the pulp industry, small
wood and logging residues has been favoured by the key
energy policy actors as an environmentally friendly domestic
energy source with considerable employment opportunities.
In particular, forest-based energy is an important source of
revenues for many rural areas suffering from high unemploy-
ment. In rural areas, firewood and wood chips are commonly
used for heating. In urban areas, wood is commonly used as
a secondary heat source for detached houses. Small-scale
wood burning is also culturally important. For example,
almost all of the 0.5 million summer cottages of the country
have traditional saunas heated with wood.
Wood chips are widely used in the heating of agricultural
farms, greenhouses and industrial facilities, even though
most of the chips are burned in heat and power plants of
towns and cities. Wood chips originate mainly from pre-
commercial thinning operations that are publicly subsidised
because of silvicultural reasons. Thinning enhances the
growth of remaining trees and enables future commercial
wood harvesting. Small- and medium-sized enterprises and
co-operatives have an important role in operating small- and
medium-size energy plants (Kuitto 2005; Peltola 2011).
The energy use of forest chips is also publicly subsidised
in order to improve their competitiveness. The use of wood
chips started in 1950s and increased as a result of oil cri-
sis in the late 1970s. Changes in prices of competing fuels
decreased the use in the late 1980s, but the use increased
again in 1990s with growing interest towards bioenergy
(Hakkila etal. 2001). The increase in the 2000s is also
partly explained by the public subsidies for bioenergy and
the supply and pricing of competing fuels. The supply of
wood chips has also been influenced by the development of
forest harvesting technologies and logistics. Recently, wood
chips have lost some of their competitiveness in combined
heat and power plants.
Partly due to intensive forest management activities, the
annual growth of trees in Finnish forests has clearly sur-
passed the volume of logging over the past decades (Fig.1).
Despite this, the increasing use of wood has recently raised
public criticism because of carbon dioxide emissions
from energy production, fears for the sufficiency of wood
resources, biodiversity effects in forest ecosystems and
other harmful environmental effects. In particular, negative
environmental impacts of the removal of tree stumps for
wood chips production have received critical media atten-
tion (Kangas etal. 2018). Concerns have been increasingly
voiced about a decrease in forest carbon dioxide sinks as
a result of increased wood harvesting (Soimakallio 2017).
An increasing demand of biomaterials and recent massive
investments in pulp production have placed more pressure on
the sustainable use of forest resources and have highlighted
the need to improve energy and material efficiency.
Overall, an improvement in the energy efficiency of
wood chip burning could provide a win–win solution for
the energy and climate policies. It provides an opportu-
nity to reduce the need for wood chips which automati-
cally reduces all harmful environmental impacts, at least
if no major rebound effects are assumed (Gillingham etal.
2016). Alternatively, it allows the increased use of wood
materials for other purposes. Increased energy efficiency
can also decrease the need to transport great amounts of
wood from the forest areas to the energy plants. Further-
more, a more efficient and carefully controlled burning
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1145Burning wet wood: varieties ofnon-recognition inenergy transitions
1 3
process is likely to decrease emissions that are harmful
to the human health and the environment.
Such a variety of expected benefits together with the
societal prominence of bioenergy in Finland makes it
reasonable to assume that there would be an intensive
debate over the energy efficiency of wood chip burning.
However, this is not the case. This study focuses on the
public debate on the energy efficiency of wood chip burn-
ing. The aim is to analyse various reasons why potentially
relevant science-based knowledge may remain non-recog-
nised in public debates and how this absence of informa-
tion may forestall the diffusion of innovation.
The context of the study can be characterised as a
mature energy production regime with established actor
positions and knowledge claims (Peltola 2011; Kivi-
maa and Mickwitz 2011). Energy transition studies have
widely addressed the importance of new information and
innovations challenging the existing conventions and
regimes (Geels etal. 2017). In particular, ample schol-
arly attention has been directed to find out the reasons
why certain issues become prioritised by policy mak-
ers or energy entrepreneurs (e.g. Nygrén etal. 2015;
Duić 2015). Some studies have focused on the visibility
of renewable energy in media agendas (e.g. Skjølsvold
2012). Less attention has been paid to the absence of
information, unawareness and non-knowledge. This study
starts from the basic assumption of ignorance studies:
there exists a variety of forms of absence of informa-
tion with different societal dynamics (Gross and McGoey
2015). The question is not necessarily about the simple
symmetric relation between the existence and non-exist-
ence of knowledge, but about the different reasons and
complicated societal consequences of not knowing.
Materials andmethods
Study design anddata sources
An interpretive case study design is adopted here because
it is well suited to analyse the construction of meaning
embedded in a specific temporal and spatial context (Fly-
vbjerg 2006; Astbury and Bell 2018). The empirical data
for this study originate from public representations in
various media arenas, including newspapers, magazines,
online news and online and social media discussions.
Media are an interlocutor between the spheres of science
and policy, public and private and formal and informal
communication. Therefore, media contents can provide
an important source of data for applied energy analysis
(Fischer 2003; Skjølsvold 2012; Kangas etal. 2018). The
ability of the media to make an impact varies between
different issues and contexts. Here, it is assumed that the
media play an especially influential role when there is
asymmetric distribution of knowledge or disagreement
between different actors. In these cases, the media can
make a difference by setting an agenda that highlights or
omits certain issues, as well as by framing certain meas-
ures as reasonable and by dismissing others (Downs 1972;
Entman 2007).
The data focus on news media contents and other public
debates on burning fresh wood chips in national, regional
and local media in Finland. Newspapers were the main
data source. Newspapers have been widely read, and the
societal role of high-quality newspapers is still relatively
strong in Finland (Harrie 2018). Finland has a strong
national public service broadcasting company along with
Fig. 1 Total forest use in 2017 (left panel) and the long-term development of the energy use of wood chips in Finland (right panel) (Hakkila
etal. 2001; Hakkila 2005; LUKE 2018a, b)
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1146
J.Lyytimäki
1 3
commercial television and radio. Overall, the communi-
cation system of Finland can be labelled as democratic
corporatist (Hallin and Mancini 2004), characterised by
early development and broad diffusion of mass media, a
high degree of professionalisation and self-regulation of
media and independence from political groups.
A wide variety of data sources were utilised in order to
gain a comprehensive picture of the debate. Data sources
were screened through online Google searches, searches
from the ePress database containing full access to about
200 national, regional and local newspapers and searches
from the web portal of the National Broadcasting Company
(YLE). The online archives of two prominent newspapers
were screened separately. These included the largest national
newspaper, “Helsingin Sanomat”, and “Maaseudun Tule-
vaisuus”, a widely read newspaper focusing on rural issues,
agriculture and forestry. Both newspapers can be character-
ised as high-quality newspapers.
All types of publicly presented journalistic material,
as well as columns, op-eds and letters to the editor and
other commentaries, were included. All relevant hits were
included regardless of their publication time. Because of
differences in databases, the combinations of search strings
varied somewhat but included at least the following terms:
“chips” (in Finnish: hake), “wood chips” (puuhake), “fresh”
(tuore), “wet” (märkä) and “burning” (poltto). The initial
searches generated a high number of hits. Together with
earlier research, this suggests that wood chips are a rela-
tively widely debated topic in Finnish energy policy (Kuitto
2005; Peltola 2011; Kivimaa and Mickwitz 2011). Items
only mentioning the burning of fresh wood chips in passing
were not included for this study, but they were manually
screened for possible references pointing to potential addi-
tional news items related to the debate. Table1 presents the
items included in this study.
A qualitative content analysis approach was used to inter-
rogate the data (Krippendorff 2004). The analysis focused
on both manifest and latent contents. Manifest content refers
here to the factual claims, value positions and other proper-
ties directly expressed through wordings or visualisations.
Latent contents refer to between-the-lines type of infor-
mation, such as indirectly presented claims, visual cues,
omissions of certain viewpoints or data and background
information required for the understanding of the message
(Neuendorf 2017). Identification of such “hidden mean-
ings” involves subjective interpretation, and assumptions
made taking into account the specific context of the studied
phenomena. In order to reduce potential bias caused by the
Table 1 Materials for the study
Type Time Title
Newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus” 15 February 2000 Fresh chips provide heat efficiently
National Broadcasting Company “YLE” (regional
office)
17 January 2012 Chip burner invention makes water combustible
National Broadcasting Company “YLE” 16 October 2013 Fresh wood warms better than dry wood
Professional magazine “Energiauutiset” 13 June 2016 Frontrunners are brave
Regional newspaper “Ilkka” 22 September 2016 Chemists will verify the theory
Newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus” 23 December 2016 Beliefs turned around: Fresh wood burns better than
dry wood
Online debate, professional magazine “Metsälehti”,
discussion thread with 39 comments
27 December 2016 (start date) Burning of felling-fresh wood
Newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus” 14 June 2017 Even better experiences from burning fresh chips: “We
have been amazed”
Several regional newspapers: “Etelä-Saimaa”, “Kou-
volan Sanomat”, “Itä-Savo”, “Kymen Sanomat”,
“Länsi-Savo”
22 January 2017 The dominance of dry wood is cracking
Newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus” 14 February 2017 Fresh wood burns happily in a growing number of
power plants
National Broadcasting Company “YLE” 17 February 2017 Slip-up in a power plant produced a surprising discov-
ery: It’s not worthwhile burning dry wood
Online debate, “Suomi24” discussion thread with 10
comments
17 February 2017 (start date) Drying wood is a mug’s game
Online debate, “Suomi24” discussion thread with 19
comments
17 February 2017 (start date) Fresh wood burns better than dry
Newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus” 24 November 2017 The research confirms: Fresh wood burns more effi-
ciently than dry
Magazine “Suomen Kuvalehti” 12 January 2018 It’s true! Fresh wood burns better than dry wood
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1147Burning wet wood: varieties ofnon-recognition inenergy transitions
1 3
subjective judgements inherent to the qualitative approach
(Alasuutari 1995), the material was analysed through multi-
ple rounds of interpretation, guided by the insights from the
literature of non-recognition and other literature. Conceptual
framework that guided the analysis is presented in the next
section.
Conceptual background: types ofnon‑recognition
This study analyses the public discussion of wood chips
based on conceptualisations of non-recognition developed
by ignorance studies and models explaining the dynamics
of media coverage (Gross and McGoey 2015; Hansen and
Cox 2015). The dynamics of media coverage have been
widely studied. Empirical studies have increasingly used
longitudinal data from newspapers and other data sources
to describe the ups and downs of attention given to various
societal issues such as climate change (Schmidt etal. 2013).
Models aiming to explain the dynamics have mainly focused
on the reasons explaining the rise of certain issue into public
agenda (Downs 1972; Carvalho and Burgess 2005; Mazur
2006; Holt and Barkemeyer 2012). Less attention has been
paid to the reasons leading to the decline of the media inter-
est or the potential reasons for the non-recognition by the
media.
Non-recognition refers to various types of lack of infor-
mation, not knowing and ignorance (Smithson1989; Proc-
tor and Schiebinger 2008; Gross 2010; Gross and McGoey
2015). It has been studied from various perspectives rang-
ing from theoretical work aiming to build a comprehensive
understanding of the phenomenon to practical applications
of the effects of non-recognition in organisations, policy pro-
cesses or individual decisions in everyday life (e.g. Kutsch
and Hall 2010; Owens 2017). This study takes a typology of
six types of non-recognition as a starting point to organise
the discussion. The types are developed from earlier research
(Gross 2010; Lyytimäki etal. 2011; Lyytimäki and Ass-
muth 2017). The typology aims to provide a widely appli-
cable framework to describe different motivations for non-
recognition. It is based on two dimensions: whether or not
the information already exists and whether or not the actor
is willing to acquire the potentially missing information or
communicate it to others (Fig.2). The resulting six types
of non-recognition are dynamic and partially overlapping.
The framework highlights that the state of not knowing
can be deliberate or unintentional. First, deliberate nondis-
closure occurs when an actor possessing the information
restricts communication or refrains from communication
altogether. The motivation may be the perceived need to
avoid unwanted consequences of information sharing, such
as securing commercial or political interests, avoiding
the creation of misunderstandings or unnecessary worries
among the audience (Mazur 2004; Owens 2017). Deliberate
nondisclosure can be passive non-communication or an
active dismissal of information requests.
Second, deliberate inattention occurs when an actor
deliberately chooses not to acquire missing information that
already exists. The concept closely relates to what has been
labelled as informed ignorance (Fernler 2015). The infor-
mation may be considered to be a completely off-topic, or
acquiring and understanding it may be perceived as being
too difficult or costly in relation to the potential benefits.
Examples of such information include a scientific article that
is freely available but difficult to find or a relevant scientific
article behind a paywall, making the information too costly.
Deliberate inattention may also be because of legal or moral
obligations, such as sectorial boundaries between authorities
or taboos reflecting cautionary restrictions placed on action
based on what is deemed to be inappropriate (Kutsch and
Hall 2010; Fernler 2015).
Third, deliberate unawareness describes a process in
which an actor acknowledges that information about a
certain issue is missing but considers that generating new
knowledge is not necessary or possible and hence consid-
ers the state of unawareness as acceptable. The issue may
be perceived as being not interesting or unimportant, and
therefore, it makes no sense to invest resources in knowledge
generation. Deliberate unawareness may also be a strategy
aimed at avoiding producing potentially unpleasant new
information, such as “inconvenient truths” about environ-
mental degradation (Rayner 2012). Deliberate unawareness
can prevail under false premises, when an actor wrongly
assumes that all relevant information needed to assess the
need for new knowledge is already possessed. This type of
unawareness can be seen as one form of wilful ignorance
(Perl etal. 2018).
Fourth, unintentional nondisclosure refers to a failure of
communication. Such a failure to share information can be
Not
existing
Unintentional
Owned
but not
used
Information
Action
Existing
but not
owned
Deliberate
nondisclosure
Deliberate
inattention
Deliberate
unawareness
Unintentional
nondisclosure
Unintentional
inattention
Unintentional
unawareness
Deliberate
Fig. 2 Schematic typology of forms of not knowing and their
dynamic interaction (based on Lyytimäki etal. 2011; Lyytimäki and
Assmuth 2017)
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1148
J.Lyytimäki
1 3
caused by a lack of resources for active communication or a
lack of interest from the potential audience. Disciplinary or
organisational borders and dividing lines between societal
sectors often lead to unintentional nondisclosure (Mazur
2004). Furthermore, local or lay knowledge can be omitted
from expert debates simply because of a lack of appropriate
technical vocabulary and capacity to communicate. Like-
wise, scholarly knowledge often fails to reach lay audiences
because it is too technical or because it comes too late to
make an impact on the topical debate.
Fifth, unintentional inattention refers to a situation in
which potentially relevant knowledge exists but remains
unnoticed. Several reasons can lead to unintentional inat-
tention, including personal routines of communication and
interaction, heuristics of information acquisition, culturally
shaped blind spots, disciplinary boundaries or institutional-
ised practices of communication and non-communication.
Information and communication technology can both fore-
stall unintentional inattention by automatically suggesting
relevant information and lead to inattention by creating echo
chambers that filter out information received by the indi-
vidual (Jasny etal. 2018). As noted by Schwarzkopf (2018)
from the perspective of organisational ignorance, uninten-
tional inattention can emerge because of an overflow of too
much data. Unintentional inattention can also refer to a pro-
cess in which existing information becomes erased from the
memory of an individual or institution.
Sixth, unintentional unawareness refers to a complete
lack of any knowledge, also labelled as nescience (Gross
2010). Such unknown unknowns can only be recognised in
retrospect. Unintentional unawareness arises from both the
dynamics of knowledge generation and limitations in human
perception. Issues characterised by unintentional unaware-
ness are outside the scope of human communication, but the
retrospective recognition of such unknown unknowns can
lead to more active forms of inattention or attention.
News challenging theprevailing wood
wisdom
Overall development ofthedebate
The debate over using fresh wood as an energy source has
been scattered, and the volume of the news coverage and
other public debate has been very low until recent years.
The first news story was found from 2000. This item was
published by the newspaper “Maaseudun Tulevaisuus”
(MT). MT is a widely read national-level newspaper focus-
ing on agriculture and forestry issues. The news item entitled
“Fresh chips provide heat efficiently” described how unsea-
soned chips are burned in a local heat plant also using waste
materials as fuel. The relatively high energy content of fresh
chips was discussed, but the news item focused more on the
potential risks of the emissions from waste incineration and
the low profitability of the utilisation of trees for energy
production. This news item did not raise any wider debate or
follow-up coverage despite the promising—but not reliably
verified—results from the burning of fresh chips.
Another case was discussed over a decade later. In 16
October 2013, the National Broadcasting Company (YLE)
published a domestic news piece highlighting that “Fresh
wood warms better than dry wood”, but also casting seri-
ous doubts over the issue. The news described how a local
energy entrepreneur had unsuccessfully tried to convince
energy experts about the feasibility of new combustion
technology developed by his firm and capable of burning
fresh wood chips with improved energy efficiency. The
news reported about a new collaboration with a local energy
cooperative aimed at demonstrating the benefits of the tech-
nology. However, the news also created sceptical and even
comical framings of an innovator aiming to “burn water”.
It was also mentioned that the details of the invention were
kept in secrecy due to commercial interests. Earlier coverage
by the regional office of the National Broadcasting Company
(17 January 2012) discussing the same case mentioned that
even the location of the test facility was kept in secrecy.
A more voluminous debate emerged in 2016 focusing on
another case. No reference was made to the earlier cases. A
news piece by MT entitled “Beliefs turned around: Fresh
wood burns better than dry wood” was published on 23
December 2016. It claimed that energy efficiency can be
increased by tens of per cents with new domestic technol-
ogy designed for the combustion of biomass in large energy
plants. It was emphasised that this information is “com-
pletely at odds with all prior conceptions” and that it will
revolutionise the future energy use of wood. The news story
described that the possibilities to improve the energy effi-
ciency were first noticed during the previous winter when a
load of fresh chips was accidentally burned in a heat plant.
The operators of the facility observed that much more energy
was obtained from the fresh chips and that the burning pro-
cess was especially “clean”. The news item emphasised that
the issue is being studied by a working group involving sev-
eral professor-level researchers. Another news piece with
essentially the same information was published a little later
(17 February 2017) by the National Broadcasting Company.
Several regional newspapers also covered the topic (22 Janu-
ary 2017) emphasising that “fresh winter wood has the best
heat content”.
The existence of prominent spokespersons or organisa-
tions advocating an issue is one key precondition for societal
salience (Downs 1972). A new kind of public recognition
was achieved when a prominent Finnish policy maker, for-
mer Commissioner of the European Commission, current
Governor of the Bank of Finland, Mr. Olli Rehn gave a
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1149Burning wet wood: varieties ofnon-recognition inenergy transitions
1 3
speech during the opening ceremonies of a new power plant
designed to use fresh wood chips, as described, e.g. by the
magazine “Energia-Uutiset” (13 June 2016). The participa-
tion by a nationally distinguished figure gave some visibility
and social credibility to the launch of the new kind of energy
technology. However, long-term issue advocates (such as
prominent non-governmental organisations) dedicated to
keep the issue high in the public and media agenda were
missing.
Overall, the news coverage from the late 2016 onwards
was characterised by positive and even enthusiastic framings.
Under these positive framings, only a few reservations and
sceptical views were presented. For example, the regional
newspaper “Ilkka” (22 September 2016) highlighted the
need to verify the first experiences with more rigorous test-
ing. The representatives of the heat plant responsible for the
preliminary tests expressed how they were amazed and how
they found it difficult to believe their own good results from
test burnings.
Results from new studies become available in late 2017.
The newspaper MT (24 November 2017) reported about
tests showing that the burning of fresh birch (Betula pube-
scens, Betula pendula) chips produces 17% more energy
for heating than burning dry chips. Fresh pine (Pinus syl-
vestris) chips produce 12% more energy. The news high-
lighted that, in fact, the facilities designed to use dry wood
require a double amount of wood. The energy efficiency
of facilities using fresh chips is improved partly because
of the advanced heat recovery from fumes. The CEO of
the heat plant conducting the tests commented that “The
difference is incomprehensible. Logging waste trees dried
in piles should not be burned at all”. These results were
noticed by several other news outlets.
The news coverage generated some online comments
featuring more critical and polarised debate, especially
in spring 2017. A polarisation of views commonly occurs
in online debates (Lyytimäki 2010; Karlsen etal. 2017).
In this case, the controversies were partly based on con-
fusions created by poorly justified assumptions and false
generalisations resulting partly from the media coverage
not discussing the details of the technology. Some com-
ments referred to burning in small-scale fireplaces and
stoves, even though the claims of improved energy effi-
ciency were about combustion processes in specifically
designed relatively large heat plants. Wet and old wood
material was also referred to even though the focus here
is strictly on fresh wood chips chopped during wintertime
when the growing season is over and when the relative
moisture of wood is low. These misunderstandings were
soon corrected by the replies of other debaters.
The main topics publicly discussed focused mainly on
energy efficiency and left other issues largely untouched.
Potential benefits and disadvantages of burning fresh chips
are summarised in Table2. The media coverage focused
predominantly on issues directly related to combustion
process itself. Other potential benefits and disadvantages
of burning fresh chips received only marginal attention
even though several different topics have been identified
by the research (Autio 2017; Lahti etal. 2016, 2018).
Table 2 Potential benefits and disadvantages of using fresh wood chips and their media coverage
**Issues often highlighted by the media
*Issues mentioned only occasionally
Benefits Disadvantages
Environmental Environmental
More efficient and clean burning process** Risk of increased emissions from transportation of heavy
chips
Avoidance emissions to air during the seasoning process
Avoidance of potential discharges to water from storage Increased nutrient losses from forests endangering future
growth of trees
Minimised risk of insect damages
Minimised health risks caused by microbial activity
Economic Economic
Economic gains through improved energy efficiency** Investment costs of new burners in heat plants*
Reorganisation of the logistics
Increased transportation costs of heavy chips
Difficulties of pricing fresh chips
Decreased storage costs*
Easier and more cost-efficient chipping process
Faster turnaround rate of the capital
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1150
J.Lyytimäki
1 3
Varieties ofnon‑recognition
As noted by Stocking and Holstein (1993, p. 187), through
the lenses of non-recognition and ignorance, we can see
knowledge in ways we might not have otherwise—as more
or less relevant, or as more or less certain, complete, accu-
rate or unbiased than our assumptions might have allowed
us to see. Several types of non-recognition can be discerned
from the news and public debate over burning fresh wood
chips. Complete lack of media coverage before the mil-
lennium and very low level of debate in the early 2000s is
noteworthy. It is likely that many of the actors of energy sec-
tor faced a state of unintentional inattention at least before
the issue gained some salience in late 2016. Burning fresh
wood remained a non-issue for actors who had uncritically
accepted the rule of thumb of dry wood chips as a preferred
energy source also in large-scale combustion. Both experts
and other actors may be unwilling or unable to adopt new
information that challenges the deeply rooted conceptions,
mental models and everyday routines and heuristics (Huk-
kinen and Huutoniemi 2014). Such routines and conceptions
have been purposefully created by information campaigns
emphasising the importance of burning only dry wood. Even
though these information campaigns have focused on lay
people and on the small-scale burning of wood, they have
created framings that influence conceptions about all wood
burning. Furthermore, the use dry wood chips is accepted as
a self-granted premise in guidance documents, practices of
wood chip contractors, commercial contracts and standards
that define the maximum moisture content of wood chips
used in large-scale commercial plants (e.g. Kuitto 2005;
Lepistö 2010; VTT 2014).
Despite the lack of news coverage, not all actors were in
a state of not knowing. Forest energy potentials—including
the possibilities to use logging residues—have been exten-
sively studied in Finland (e.g. Korpilahti 1998; Kuitto 2005;
Huttunen 2017; Pöykiö etal. 2018). There also exists the
literature that convincingly shows that the energy content
of wood is decreased during the seasoning process, ranging
from international refereed research to academic thesis and
more practice-oriented reports and guidebooks (e.g. Kärk-
käinen 2007; Hakonen and Laurila 2011; Routa etal. 2018).
However, the international scholarly literature remains
largely behind paywalls and it is characterised by technical
or theory-loaded language inaccessible to other than a small
group of dedicated experts. Hence, the debate has been influ-
enced by unintentional nondisclosure of existing scholarly
knowledge. Possible reasons for the nondisclosure include
lack of resources and motivation of experts to communicate
with larger audience and lack of interest by the journalists
and other knowledge brokers.
Deliberate nondisclosure was present as well. As indi-
cated by the news coverage by the National Broadcasting
Company in 2012 and 2013, not all knowledge originating
from practical experimentations and commercially based
development was publicly shared. The news coverage
pointed out that secrecy about technical details of energy
invention allowing the burning of fresh chips was deliber-
ately upheld in order to secure potential commercial profits.
The inventor of the new technology commented that he “…
does not want to open up the detailed process because the
whole idea of the invention would be exposed” (National
Broadcasting Company 16 October 2013). This lack of open-
ness was one reason that inhibited the wider debate. It also
questioned the credibility of the invention and the inventor.
Deliberate nondisclosure by the entrepreneur did not allow
verification of the claims, but instead lead to comical public
framings of a foolish “mad scientist” trying to burn water
(Haynes 2003). The risk of being ridiculed is a strong factor
preventing participation in public debate (Billig 2005).
As noted by Geiger and Swim (2016), nondisclosure of
existing knowledge may indicate a situation where actors are
reluctant to share information because they wrongly assume
that their peers are more doubtful about the new insights
than they actually are. Consequently, a ring of silence pre-
venting the communication may prevail because people are
afraid of losing their prestige—or even being ridiculed by
their peers. As indicated by the results from this study and
the literature of strategic niche management (Schot and
Geels 2008), niche-level experimentations can provide pro-
tected spaces that allow actors with radical new ideas to
challenge the prevailing conceptions. However, system-level
changes beyond individual facility are likely to require a
more wide public recognition of the limits of current knowl-
edge and long-term experimentation involving co-evolution
of technology, user practices and conceptions and regulatory
structures.
The emergence of public debate during late 2016 was par-
tially explained by the operation logic of the media empha-
sising the unexpectedness and violation of norms as one of
the key news criteria. The new results from the test burning
of fresh chips provided the media with surprising informa-
tion challenging old conventions and beliefs. Unlike in 2000
and 2012–2013, this time the information was framed as
trustworthy, as it was comprised of concrete and openly
shared information provided by operators of a heat plant
with strong practice-oriented experience and theory-oriented
information provided by independent and recognised schol-
ars. Existence of information providers recognised as trust-
worthy is a key precondition of the rise of an environmen-
tal or science-based issue to public agenda (Downs 1972;
Mazur 2004; Carvalho and Burgess 2005). Importantly,
potential uncertainties and unknown issues subject for fur-
ther studies were emphasised by the information providers.
This suggested the possibility of unintentional inattention or
even unintentional unawareness related to burning of fresh
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
1151Burning wet wood: varieties ofnon-recognition inenergy transitions
1 3
wood chips. Thus, ignorance was recognised and used to
persuade the audience of communication about the impor-
tance of the issue and rationality of the activity.
Distribution of the latest science-based information to
the early adopters is one prerequisite of energy transitions
(Nygrén etal. 2015; Geels et al. 2017). Scientists were
given a voice in news coverage, but published peer-reviewed
results were not referred in their interviews. News cover-
age did not provide audiences with direct links to published
scientific studies. This was partly because journalistic con-
ventions and presentation formats of popular media favour
interview comments over references to the literature. An
earlier study has indicated that research results are typically
not referred to directly by the media coverage related to sus-
tainability of wood chips originating from tree stubs and
roots (Kangas etal. 2018). Another explanation was that
high-quality peer-reviewed scientific studies were not yet
available. For example, a web page of the research project
mentioned by the news did not contain any results from test
burning or links publications (TUOHI 2018). Only a short
description of the research focusing on the logistics of fresh
energy wood was given. Likewise, the press release outlin-
ing the final results of the project briefly described the key
results without giving links to more detailed data (SeAMK
2018). Such absence of openly available expert and scholarly
information may inhibit or delay the diffusion of innovation.
The public debate mostly focused on regional and local
news outlets in rural areas or specialised newspapers, maga-
zines and online discussion groups. Thus, it seems that unin-
tentional inattention characterised many of the most influen-
tial national-level news outlets, such as the country’s most
widely read newspaper “Helsingin Sanomat”. The volume
of the news reporting and other debate returned to a low
level after the peak of late 2016 and early 2017. Overall, it
can be interpreted that the debate is still at the first phase
of the societal issue-attention cycle (Downs 1972). This
phase is characterised by some expert-based debate, but a
low level of media coverage and lack of awareness by most
audiences. Weak signs of the second phase of issue-attention
cycle—alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm—were
found, but the low overall volume and scattered nature of
the media coverage indicate that the topic still remains
non-recognised by larger expert audiences interested about
renewable energy.
Conclusions
Theoretical underpinnings and practical consequences of
knowledge nonproduction and lack of communication are
poorly known, if compared with scholarly understanding
related to knowledge production and science communica-
tion. Sustainable energy transitions provide one relevant
case where explorations of non-recognition are important.
Both intentional and unintentional forms of non-recognition
may hinder the verification of the feasibility of proposed
solutions, technology diffusion and changes in current prac-
tices that are needed to induce energy transformations. In
short, different types of ignorance can create societal inertia
stabilising current regimes.
The case of burning fresh wood chips studied here showed
how an issue with potentially considerable implications on
energy efficiency and national-level energy policy may
remain outside societal spotlights. Despite the temporarily
increased public salience resulting from research based on
local-level experimentation, no long-lasting major impact
on the public agenda could be discerned. Media attention
of burning of fresh wood chips still remains on a low level.
The production of new knowledge is an obvious but not
always the best way to eradicate unwanted forms of non-
recognition. The case of burning fresh wood chips serves
as a reminder of the importance of targeted and clear com-
munication of existing information in order to avoid unin-
tentional inattention. In the current information intensive
society recognition, the recovery and re-utilisation of knowl-
edge may be even more important than the production of
new information.
Acknowledgements Open access funding provided by Finnish Envi-
ronment Institute (SYKE). This study was supported by Academy of
Finland project “Towards a future oriented ‘Energiewende’: An antici-
patory multi-level approach to the decentralised renewable energy tran-
sition” (FutWend) (297748). I thank anonymous referees for insightful
comments.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Crea-
tive Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creat iveco
mmons .org/licen ses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribu-
tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate
credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the
Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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... Media analysis has been used to study different actor positions related to sustainability transition developments, as well as the ways in which incumbent technologies become delegitimized and novel technologies and business models promoted in "collective sensemaking" [56][57][58]. The media provides an arena where the science and policyas well as private and public viewsof the energy issues collide [59]. The traditional news media, as well as novel social media platforms, can thus act as a mediator between different views, positions and experiences in relation to rapidly emerging technologies and solutions [60,61]. ...
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In the acceleration phase of energy transitions, the role of community and citizen action is emphasised. The role of active, smart and experimental communities and individuals adopting novel practices and technologies is often contrasted with more conventional and mundane everyday practices, which change only slowly. In this context, the role of news media is central in disseminating information, mediating confrontations, and offering a space for shared societal frames on transition. This article examines Finnish media storylines on emerging energy technologies and practices in housing cooperatives, which manage most of the apartment buildings in Finland and thus have a key role in energy transition. Focusing on 17 years of development in three mainstream media, we first identify three main phases in media discourse intensity, focus and level of detail. Next, we analyse the ten main storylines on stabilising and reconfiguring the role of housing cooperatives in energy system change. Finally, we combine these storylines with cross-cutting societal frames on governmentalizing energy communities from the perspectives of technological anticipation, saving potentials and governance interventions.
... Consequently, it is crucial to acknowledge also the context in which a certain innovation or technology is functioning, as this is sometimes the reason it is not taken up. Socio-technical systems transform slowly, and their infrastructure, institutions and other constituents are often tailored, or only inadvertently evolve, to maintain the existing technologies (Lyytimäki, 2019). Such path-dependent development is partly the reason why radical transitions rarely happen. ...
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This article focuses on a key framework of sustainability transition studies, the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions (MLP), and its potential and relationships with futures studies. We propose that there are various co-benefits in creating convergence between the two fields of study. Out of established frameworks in sustainability transition studies we focus on MLP due to its popularity and flexibility in analysing the dynamics of societal changes. Our analysis shows that there are various conceptual, content-based and methodological connections between MLP and futures studies that have been under-represented in both fields of literature. There are considerable similarities between scenarios and development pathways; weak signals and niche innovations; megatrends and landscape pressures. So far, MLP has been underutilized to analyse the variety of alternative futures. The MLP framework gives a structure on the systemic dynamics in societal change and futures studies provide apt methods to construct alternative pathways to societal transitions. We conclude that futures studies and the MLP framework, along with other theories and approaches in transition studies and management, have a high joint potential and thus contribute to better understanding of the dynamics of change for more sustainable futures. Realization of this potential requires further convergence of the approaches.
... For example, currently, the emphasis is on changing regulations rather than technological innovations that utilise woodchips more efficiently. Earlier research has suggested that current structures and deeply rooted practices of woodchip processing, logistics, and burning prevent the diffusion of new innovations, such as the more energy-efficient use of fresh chips harvested during the winter months (Lyytimäki, 2019) . ...
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Wood is the most widely used renewable energy source in the world. However, there are competing views on how wood should be used in the future. The objective of this study is to examine conceptions related to alternative futures for the use of woodchips as an energy source in Finland. We construct futures images based on two data sources describing the views favoring the use of woodchips: thematic interviews with woodchip users and newspaper articles. The futures images are constructed based on two key themes that emerge from our data. First, the alternatives are imagined for the types of the operators using woodchips in the future, varying between small- and large-scale use. Second, the strong role of regulations, particularly at the European Union level, will be the key driver of the future use of woodchips as an energy source. The results show wide variation in the potential goals of public governance, ranging from regulations designed to strongly support the use of woodchips as an energy source to almost complete conservation of forests. Focusing on the regime level, we identify possible transition pathways illustrating how the use of woodchips could change in the future and discuss possible policy implications.
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The sustainable use of forest resources is an intensively debated topic, raising environmental, socio-cultural and economic concerns. The debate culminates around forest bioenergy. The bioenergy debate has been characterized by a strong polarisation between different perspectives on environmental impacts. In particular, the claims about carbon sequestration have been contrasted with other ecological impacts. This article focuses on the debate over the use of tree stumps as a relatively novel source of forest bioenergy. To shed light on the constellation of the different arguments and actors in the debate on the sustainability of forest bioenergy, we conducted an empirical qualitative analysis of Finnish argumentation on tree stump removal, using media and interview data and relating the emerging sustainability arguments to the dimensions debated in the EU biofuel sustainability policy. The analysis shows the variation of views across Finnish expert stakeholders and the fora where the arguments are made. Climate impacts dominate the media discussion, while other sustainability dimensions are covered in expert discussion. Our findings have implications for the interpretation and use of scientific arguments in energy debates, in particular regarding environmental sustainability.
Chapter
Communication is typically understood in terms of what is communicated. However, the importance of what is intentionally or unintentionally left out from the communication process is high in many fields, notably in communication about environmental and health risks. The question is not only about the absolute lack of information. The rapidly increasing amount and variability of available data require actors to identify, collect, and interpret relevant information and screen out irrelevant or misleading messages that may lead to unjustified scares or hopes and other unwanted consequences. The ideal of balanced, integrative, and careful risk communication can only rarely be seen in real-life risk communication, shaped by competition and interaction between actors emphasizing some risks, downplaying others, and leaving many kinds of information aside, as well as by personal factors such as emotions and values, prompting different types of responses. Consequently, risk communication is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the risks themselves, the kinds of knowledge on them and related uncertainties, and the psychological and sociocultural factors shaping the cognitive and emotive responses of those engaged in communication. The physical, economic, and cultural contexts also play a large role. The various roles and factors of absent information in integrative environmental and health risk communication are illustrated by two examples. First, health and environmental risks from chemicals represent an intensively studied and widely debated field that involves many types of absent information, ranging from purposeful nondisclosure aimed to guarantee public safety or commercial interests to genuinely unknown risks caused by long-term and cumulative effects of multiple chemicals. Second, light pollution represents an emerging environmental and health issue that has gained only limited public attention even though it is associated with a radical global environmental change that is very easy to observe. In both cases, integrative communication essentially involves a multidimensional comparison of risks, including the uncertainties and benefits associated with them, and the options available to reduce or avoid them. Public debate and reflection on the adequacy of risk information and on the needs and opportunities to gain and apply relevant information is a key issue of risk management. The notion of absent information underlines that even the most widely debated risk issues may fall into oblivion and re-emerge in an altered form or under different framings. A typology of types of absent information based on frameworks of risk communication can help one recognize its reasons, implications, and remediation.
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The value chain of forest biomass for energy always includes storing of the biomass. Biomass in natural conditions is always exposed to biological processes, some of them harmful. Dry matter losses caused by biological processes, such as composting and decaying, were studied by the weight monitoring method. After defining dry matter losses as 0.07–1.52% per month for small size delimbed roundwood under study, the total amount and economic scale of losses were calculated to gain an understanding about the phenomenon from the value chain management point of view. Losses during energy wood storing may be significant even with 3–6 months of storing. With 1-year storing time, economic losses varied between 91,000 and 373,000 euros, if the amount stored is 100,000 m³. The economic losses were 4–17% of the energy wood procurement costs, depending on the storage time, raw material and dry matter loss rate. Energy content of the storage can increase during the 12-month storage period if the dry matter losses are low, which requires careful storage management of energy wood.