- What is woodfuel? And what is biomass?
- Why use woodfuel? What are the benefits?
- How does woodfuel compare on quality and efficiency to oil, coal and gas?
- If woodfuel is such a great idea, why are we not using more of it already?
- But isn't cutting down trees bad for the environment?
- So how do I know whether my woodfuel has been produced in a responsibly managed forest?
- How is woodfuel use a balanced cycle? Is more carbon being emitted than is being absorbed?
- Does burning wood cause air pollution?
- What about quality assurance? How can I be sure that what I'm buying is up to the job?
- Where will the wood come from? Is there enough woodfuel in Britain to go around?
- Are you encouraging potential supplier and user, such as wooded farms and estates to get involved?
- If I convert my heating to a wood-fuelled system, can I get a reliable supply at a fair price?
- If I want to become a woodfuel supplier, would I find a reliable market for my product?
- Are there any grants available to help me get involved?
- Can I make a decent profit from supplying woodfuel?
- Can I visit any existing wood-fuel operations to find out more?
- What research and development work are you doing to support the woodfuel industry?
- What's government policy on woodfuel?
- Key features and further information
Woodfuel is wood that is burned to generate heat or electricity. It is usually in the form of logs, chips or pellets. Woodfuel has traditionally been used in the form of logs burned in open fireplaces, log-burning stoves or furnaces. However, wood chips and pellets which can be burned in sophisticated, modern stoves and boilers - some of which have thermostatic controls and automated ignition and loading systems - are becomingly popular for their convenience and ease of handling.
The term ‘biomass’ is shorthand for ‘biological mass’. It is fuel material derived from any biological (plant or animal) source. Woodfuel, being derived from plants in the form of trees, is therefore one form of biomass.
a) It's competitively priced: Woodfuel can compete on fuel price with the fossil fuel alternatives, although the costs of installing woodfuel systems can be higher than fossil fuel systems. We recommend you seek advice on the comparative economics of your woodfuel proposal, because they can vary with the different types of woodfuel and the type of fossil fuel they are being compared with, and your location. See No. 19 below for the contact details of woodfuel advisory services.
b) It's carbon-lean: Woodfuel has a number of benefits, but the most significant one in the 21st Century is its potential role in helping to prevent dangerous climate change. That's because it can result in lower nett emissions of greenhouse gases than those emitted by burning fossil fuels.
Woodfuel produced in sustainably managed forests is ‘replaced’ by the next crop of growing trees, which reabsorbs the same amount of carbon that is emitted by the current crop being burned. The only nett emissions are those caused by the harvesting, transport and processing of woodfuel. No such balanced carbon cycle exists for fossil fuels except, perhaps, one measured in millions of years. Their emissions are effectively all one-way traffic from the Earth's crust to the atmosphere.
c) It's renewable: Unlike fossil fuel reserves, sustainably managed woodland can produce an endlessly renewable source of energy. In contrast, once fossil fuels have been used, they are gone for millions of years.
d) It's good for the woodland environment: Sustainable management of woodlands for woodfuel is good for wildlife, biodiversity and woodland health and vigour, because the thinning, harvesting and coppicing of trees for woodfuel opens up the woodland floor to the sunlight. This encourages a greater range of plants, animals and insects to flourish than if the woodland were left to become rank, dark and overgrown - a state that foresters call "over-mature" or "under-managed".
e) It encourages woodland conservation: Foresters have a saying: "the woodland that pays is the woodland that stays". This means that the prospect of earning an income from their woodland can give owners an incentive to manage their woods sustainably, keep them in good condition, and protect them from dying of neglect. This might involve, for example, keeping out the browsing and grazing animals that would prevent young trees from regenerating.
f) It's good for business and jobs: Woodfuel can generate new business and job opportunities, often in economically fragile rural areas, and it can offer woodland owners an extra source of income from their trees.
g) It's good for fuel security: Woodfuel reduces our dependence on unsustainable and declining fossil fuel resources, and people who use locally produced woodfuel can be shielded from some of the vagaries and fluctuations of the international oil, gas and coal markets.
h) It can relieve fuel poverty: Woodfuel can help to combat fuel poverty by providing an alternative source of energy in areas that are off the gas grid.
i) It's convenient and simple to use: Modern, wood-burning boilers and stoves can compete on ease of use, cleanliness, efficiency, convenience and maintenance with the fossil-fuelled alternatives, especially if they burn chips or pellets.
There is no simple answer to this question because there are so many technical variables that must be taken into account. It really depends on individual circumstances. If you are considering using woodfuel, you should seek expert advice about your requirements. A good place to start is the Biomass Energy Centre (www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk), your local Forestry Commission woodfuel advisor in England or Scotland, or the WEBS people in Wales – see No 19 below for contact details.
We are using quite a lot already – Forestry Commission studies suggest that about 1.1 million tonnes of woodchip and 0.5 million tonnes of pellets were used in 2008, together with significant quantities of logs.
Wood was indeed British people’s primary heating and cooking fuel for thousands of years. However, woodfuel fell into short supply as the population grew to tens of millions and most of Britain's forests and woodland were removed. Coal, which was plentiful, took over as the primary fuel, later to be joined - and partially supplanted - by natural gas. Gas is popular because it is clean to handle and transport, clean burning, and very convenient, requiring little or none of the daily attention usually associated with solid fuels.
We are now in a situation where we are not using all the wood we are growing, we are increasing our forest area again, and modern technology is making woodfuel competitive with oil and LPG on cleanliness and convenience.
Not necessarily: it depends how it's done. Tree felling and coppicing, when they are carried out as part of a sustainable forest management plan, are good for the woodland environment, and mimic events that would happen in a pristine natural forest. (Even in a pristine natural forest with no human intervention, trees are frequently brought down or removed, and openings created, by events such as landslips, fires, floods, wind storms, lightning strikes, insect attacks, diseases, death from old age, and by being eaten, trampled or pushed over by animals.)
Opening up spaces in the forest allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, which enables a wider range of plants, insects and animals to live in the woodland than would be able to if it were left to become dense, dark and rank. Foresters describe such woodlands as "over-mature" or "under-managed". This increase in woodland "biodiversity" (biological diversity, or the variety of living things) boosts the woodland's overall health and vigour.
Sustainable forest management (managing a forest in a way that sustains it perpetually as a forest) also means that new trees will be planted to replace those felled, just as a farmer plants a new crop of wheat or corn after each harvest. This means that tree felling is not always the same thing as 'deforestation', or permanent forest removal. Deforestation is a serious problem in some parts of the world, and causes nearly one-fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
We are working on ways to demonstrate and assure customers of the sustainability and environmental credentials of woodfuel. There are suggestions that existing independent forest certification standards, or new rules specifically introduced for biomass, could be used. However, there are concerns that the costs and other implications of these solutions might discourage some owners of small woodlands from bringing them into sustainable management for woodfuel production.
So we're working with the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) to engage fully with the European Union in its discussions on sustainability criteria to come up with solutions that reflect the range of situations in the UK.
Meanwhile, though, you can be assured that most British forest managers are environmentally responsible people who comply with the Government's world-leading UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). The UKFS sets some of the strictest forestry standards in the world. These include the minimum levels of sustainability and environmental and wildlife protection that woodland management must achieve to comply with legal requirements and qualify for government grants and Forestry Commission felling licences and forest plan approvals. This means that you can use British-grown woodfuel confident that it has been grown in sustainable, responsibly managed forests.
In addition to complying with the UKFS, many British woodland owners also have their woodland management "certified" against the independent UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS). This means they can display the logo of the independent, international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC) on their products as an assurance to customers that the product comes from well managed forests.
7. You say that each new crop of woodfuel reabsorbs the carbon that's emitted by the previous crop being burned, in a balanced cycle. However, it takes years for a crop to grow, but perhaps only months for it to be burned. How is that a balanced cycle? Surely that means more carbon is being emitted than is being absorbed?
Think of it another way, in a whole-woodland context. Imagine a 200-hectare woodland being sustainably managed to produce woodfuel on a 20-year rotation: that means we harvest and burn 10 hectares every year, and we replant 10 hectares every year. So every year, while 10 hectare's worth of burning woodfuel is emitting carbon, there are 190 hectares of growing trees absorbing carbon. In other words, there are always many more trees reabsorbing the carbon than there are emitting it. That's how the balance is achieved.
It could, but the use of clean wood from existing woodlands by small to medium-scale heating systems produces relatively low levels of emissions.
In addition, provided the fuel has been adequately dried to get its moisture content down to a specified level, and it is burned in equipment for which it is specified, woodfuel emissions will comply with the air quality standards required in our cities.
So before buying wood-burning equipment you should check with the supplier or your local Council's environmental health department that its specifications meet local air-quality requirements.
Similarly, you should also be sure to buy your woodfuel from a reputable supplier who guarantees that the fuel's moisture content complies with the industry standard and your equipment's specification.
We continue to work with the environmental authorities in each country on measures to ensure that the risk of air pollution from woodfuel is minimised. For information about Smoke Control Areas, see http://smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/locations.php
We're on the case. We - and most of the people already involved in the industry - are aware that equipment and service failures, and too much variation in the quality of the fuel entering the market, will damage the industry's reputation and slow its development. This will serve nobody's interest. It is, for example, essential that woodfuel is supplied at the right specification for the equipment.
Many suppliers now operate quality control procedures, and we're working to get these standards applied consistently across the supply chain. To help achieve this, we've brought together a forum of key trade associations to promote a co-ordinated approach to the development of the woodfuel industry, including quality assurance.
HETAS (the Heating Equipment Testing & Approval Scheme) is conducting a pilot project for establishing an accreditation scheme for woodfuel quality, to be known as the Solid Biomass Assurance Scheme.
Britain is a comparatively lightly forested land by European standards, so we cannot hope to grow enough woodfuel to supply everyone. This means that woodfuel can only ever be one element in a mix of renewable energy measures that we must take to meet our targets for reducing carbon emissions.
However, we could use a lot more British-grown wood as fuel without harming the sustainability or environmental quality of our woods and forests, and without impinging on wood supplies to other users and customers. That's because there is still a lot of woody material that is not currently being used that could be used for woodfuel.
For example, Forestry Commission England estimates that up to 2 million tonnes a year could be produced from currently "under-managed" woodland in England alone, saving 400,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Its England Woodfuel Strategy is particularly targeting this resource for market development because not only will it bring more woodfuel to the market, but also by encouraging owners to manage their woodlands for fuel production, the woodlands will benefit too.
Other potential sources include:
- Some of the "lop and top" material, or “brash”, left over after forestry operations, that is, the treetops and branches that are stripped off the logs before the logs are taken to the mills;
- sawmill residues, such as the irregular-shaped off-cuts from the outsides of logs that result from the logs being "squared" before being converted into planks. (Indeed, most of this resource is already used). Sawdust is another sawmill residue, which can be compressed into pellets for use as woodfuel;
- arboricultural "arisings", that is, the trees and branches that result from the pruning and felling of non-forest trees, such as trees in streets, parks and gardens. It is estimated that 68 per cent of arboricultural arisings from built-up areas and along transport corridors in England does not currently find a market, with most of it going to landfill; and
- recovered wood, that is, previously used wood that has come to the end of its first use in the form of pallets, buildings and furniture etc, and could be converted into fuel rather than sent to landfill. (A Defra study identified that using clean recovered wood as fuel presents one of the greatest opportunities for carbon savings in waste management, and was preferable to land-filling or recycling the wood.)
In addition, the UK, Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments have policies for increasing the area of forest and woodland in each country, and at least some of the new woodland area will produce new sources of woodfuel over time.
Yes, very much so, because farms and estates with their own woodlands that can produce woodfuel, and a number of buildings that need heat and hot water, can be among the most carbon-efficient woodfuel users of all. The transport emissions generated by same-site use can be very low, and the economics can compete strongly with those of fossil fuels. This is especially true for those who can produce a surplus for sale, and who can use existing farm machinery for some of the operations rather than buy new equipment.
The supply picture varies across Britain - some regions now have relatively well developed woodfuel supply chains, while others are still in the early stages of development.
However, we and our partners in other government departments and agencies are working hard to put in place the factors needed to create market confidence everywhere. A key element of this work is to gather information so that we know what we've got; from that we can work out what is still needed. So we're working to gain better estimates of the actual and potential woodfuel resources available, improved information about current levels of demand and supply, and greater price transparency.
We have networks of regional woodfuel advisors across England and Scotland, and a team supporting woodfuel development in Wales, working to gather and provide local information and advice. They are also helping to bring local "clusters" of suppliers and customers together to stimulate the market and give both sides of the supply chain the confidence to invest.
The Commission supplies some woodfuel from its own forests, but we're constrained in the amount we can supply by our existing long-term contracts. However, in Wales we've ‘ring-fenced’ up to a maximum of 35,000 tonnes a year of small roundwood as part of a start-up mechanism to help emerging woodfuel suppliers to the local heat market. (Small roundwood is the small-diameter logs arising from forest thinning operations). This can be used if local companies experience difficulties in maintaining supplies from their own sources. In England and Scotland we're exploring the potential for freeing up some woodfuel-grade material to offer on the open market.
However, our key thrust across Britain is to help and encourage private woodland owners, who have the largest potential resource, to bring their wood to the market.
Further useful information about the relative costs of woodfuel is available on the Biomass Energy Centre website at www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,59188&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
For a list of woodfuel suppliers in your region, visit www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=77,225275&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
Much of the answer to No. 12 above also applies to this question. The number of potential customers varies from region to region, and we're working to help more suppliers and more customers to enter the market and give each side of the supply chain the confidence to take the plunge.
We are using our own and other government departments' grant schemes to try to get the balance of support right between the supply and demand sides of the industry. (See No. 14 below)
And the network of advisors referred to in No. 12 above is also playing an important role in bringing together local clusters of suppliers and customers.
Yes, the Forestry Commission and other government departments in all three countries have a range of grant schemes to help new suppliers and users with the cost of equipment, and to help woodland owners get started on woodfuel production. Some of these schemes are not specifically directed at woodfuel, but can be applied to it. We recommend you contact one of the information sources listed at No. 19 below for specific advice on the grants available in your country. You can also visit the Biomass Energy Centre website, www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=77,15133&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL, for details of current grant schemes available.
Many suppliers are already achieving a good return on their investment. As with any business, the answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including whether you can turn over enough volume to pay for any up-front investment. It can be a significant help if you already have some of the equipment and facilities that will allow you to diversify into woodfuel. If you are a farmer, for example, it is likely that you already have machinery that can be used for woodfuel operations.
The Renewable Heat Incentive, which is due to become available in 2011, should provide a significant boost to the profitability of woodfuel production and supply.
Yes. Our regional advisory officers in England and Scotland, and the Wood Energy For Business Scheme (WEBS) in Wales, hold frequent seminars and site visits to introduce would-be suppliers and users to the industry. These events provide opportunities to talk to those who are already involved. You can find out about forthcoming events in your area by getting in touch with your local advisor in England or Scotland, or the WEBS people in Wales - see No. 19 below.
In addition, a number of case studies are presented on the Biomass Energy Centre website at www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/portal/page?_pageid=75,15194&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL
Our Forest Research arm has a full programme of research and development projects that are constantly producing new data and developments that we feed into our programme to support the woodfuel industry’s development. For more information about this, wee www.forestresearch.gov.uk/woodfuel.
The UK, Scottish and Welsh Assembly Governments all recognise and support the use of renewable forms of biomass, including woodfuel, in the mix of measures they are using to achieve the UK Government's target, and their own targets, for reducing carbon emissions. The UK targets are 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, and 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Some of the available support measures, such as grants, are provided by the UK Government in all four countries of the UK, while others are specifically provided by each of the country governments to support the industry in their country.
A key, UK-wide government support scheme due to come into effect in 2011 is the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which will subsidise heat production from renewable sources, and on which the UK Government was due to consult in February 2010. This has the potential to transform the finances of the woodfuel industry, and make it a much more attractive business proposition.
You should consult the appropriate contacts from the list in No. 19 below for detailed information about government policy and support measures in your country.
• Grant support - Scottish Biomass Heat Scheme and Scottish Rural Development Plan.
• Web: www.usewoodfuel.co.uk.
• Contacts: Rebecca Carr, firstname.lastname@example.org,
0131 314 6398, or:
your local woodfuel advisor – see www.usewoodfuel.co.uk/Contactus.stm.
• Watch for - launch of the Woodfuel Implementation Plan in 2010.
• Grant support - England Woodland Grant Scheme (Forestry Commission); Rural Development Programme for England (Regional Development Agencies); and Bio-energy Capital Grant Schemes and the Bio-energy Infrastructure Grant (Department for Energy & Climate Change - DECC).
• Web - www.forestry.gov.uk/england-woodfuel.
• Contact: Angela Duignan, email@example.com,
0117 906 6029; or
• local woodfuel advisors – see www.forestry.gov.uk/website/forestry.nsf/byunique/infd-7wmf8f for contact details.
• Grant support - WEBS2 ("Wood Energy for Business") and the Better Woodlands for Wales grant scheme.
• Contact: Mike Pitcher, firstname.lastname@example.org,
0300 068 0300.
Biomass Energy Centre
• Web - www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk
• Contact: Ian Tubby, Geoff Hogan or Will Rolls, email@example.com,
• Contact: Stephanie Roux, firstname.lastname@example.org,
5 March 2010
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Senior Communications Officer
Corporate Communications Branch
0131 314 6500