Wood is our oldest form of fuel and continues to be the main fuel for heating and cooking in many parts of the world today.
In Britain the Industrial Revolution led to coal, oil and gas becoming our dominant fuels and the use of wood declined.
Increasing appreciation of the finite nature of fossil fuels and the wider impacts on the environment of their use is encouraging us all to consider other fuels which can be sustainably sourced. Well-managed woodlands are a good source of wood as a low carbon, renewable and sustainable fuel.
A renewable, sustainable and low carbon source of heat
As trees grow they absorb carbon as CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into wood. When wood is burned this carbon is released as CO2. In a well-managed woodland harvesting of wood is in balance with the growth of the wood as a whole – while some trees may be felled each year, new ones are planted to replace them and others continue to grow bigger.
In harvesting wood some fossil fuel is used in felling, extracting and converting the wood into fuel (as logs, chips or pellets) for example in powering chainsaws, but this is small in comparison to the energy embedded in the wood itself, so we refer to wood as ‘carbon lean’. Fossil fuels are used in sourcing, processing and transporting fossil fuels too.
Using wood from local sustainably managed trees reduces net CO2 production compared to traditional fossil fuels, so we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for heat production whilst reducing our CO2 emissions.
A simplified biomass carbon cycle. Source: Biomass Heating – A practical guide for potential users – Carbon Trust
Woodfuel produced from sustainably managed woodlands offers a host of other benefits. Bringing unmanaged and undermanaged woodlands back into management increases levels of biodiversity; opening the woodland up as a result of appropriate timber harvesting allows sunlight in, enabling a wider range of species to flourish.
Productive woodlands can also support local employment and create opportunities for forestry workers through to woodfuel suppliers.
Woodfuel production has the potential to provide a financial return which can be used to support further management activities and aspirations.