Woodfuel supply chains involve a number of stages and stakeholders from managing woodland through to delivering woodfuel to a biomass boiler.
The journey varies depending on what woodfuel is being used, but each involves a range of skills, knowledge and specialist equipment.
The woodfuel element of any biomass heating scheme is vital to its success. Community groups will need to decide what level of involvement they want to have in their woodfuel supply chain.
Producing your own woodfuel may or may not be your priority, or the main objective for your community group. In the case of community projects with a focus on supplying logs for use in local stoves, it may be that managing a local woodland, harvesting and processing logs is the aim of your project. Depending on how you operate, logs may be given to volunteers in exchange for their time and labour, or they may be sold to local people for use in stoves.
If you are planning a large-scale biomass heating scheme, sourcing a sustainable supply of woodfuel may be an objective rather than managing a woodland and producing the fuel yourselves. In this case, setting up a contract with a local woodfuel supplier may be a good option. However, if you want to get more involved in all or part of your supply chain, there are opportunities to do so, depending on your community circumstances and priorities.
Factors that will determine how involved you could be include:
- existing woodland management knowledge and skills in the group and commitment to learning new skills
- time available for woodland management planning and implementation and woodfuel production
- finances available to buy/lease/hire the necessary equipment, infrastructure and professional support to manage woodland and produce woodfuel
- ownership of or access to local woodlands that are currently unmanaged or are looking for a market for their timber
- how much woodfuel you need per year, how quickly the first supply needs to be available
- the existence of a community woodland group already operating in your area which you can link up with
- availability of a site for storing and processing material.
This section takes you through the stages involved in a woodfuel supply chain: woodland management, processing wood into woodfuel and supplying woodfuel to a heating system.
You should identify what skills and resources you currently have and what you will need to develop based on your woodfuel supply chain objectives and the level of involvement you are looking for.
The long-term commitment required for woodland management and woodfuel production should not be underestimated. It is worth noting that the average lifespan of a biomass boiler is around 25 years and district heating pipes could last for decades. However, if the commitment is there, woodland management and production of fuel for use locally can be a very rewarding activity; there are various illustrative case studies throughout this guide.
It’s important to note that if you are unable to produce enough woodfuel for your project from your own activities, it may not be easy to buy in a top up supply of woodchip from another source as this could compromise the viability of your project due to fuel contamination and liability issues.
Before you decide how involved your group want to be you may want to consider the following:
- Skills and time resources: Do you have the skills required to undertake woodland management activities effectively and safely, process and deliver woodfuel to your heating system? You will need to do this for the lifetime of your heating system and beyond for the woodland.
- Contacts: Do you know of (or can you identify) local woodland owners who may be willing to supply wood or processed woodfuel for use in your heating system?
- Lag times: If the woodlands you plan to work with are currently under-managed, it could take 1-2 years to establish a management plan and get to the point of harvesting timber. Add on a year for drying the wood and it could be three years before you are able to produce any woodfuel.
- Think carefully about how woodfuel fits into your community group’s objectives: If self-production of woodfuel or woodland management aren’t core objectives for your group, you can buy your fuel from a woodfuel supplier. Alternatively, link up with an existing woodfuel initiative who may already be in a position to provide you with suitable wood/woodfuel. You can always review the situation in the future.