New research focuses on ‘best use of wood fibre in Scotland’

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Recent research on the best use of biomass and the carbon impacts of biomass energy generation was the focal point of a Forestry Commission Scotland seminar this week (Tuesday 20 December).

Held in support of the Renewable Obligation (Scotland) (ROS), the event brought together policy makers, climate scientists and representatives of the timber, panel and energy industries.

Independent reports by Forest Research and North Energy Associates were presented to the meeting (3) along with a policy analysis on setting thresholds for small scale energy generation (4).

The reports highlight a carbon ‘hierarchy’, where the biggest benefits in carbon terms is in putting wood fibre in to sawn timber, construction products, wood panels and promoting heat and CHP over electricity. CHP’s performance is dependent on over all efficiency and transport distances of the feedstock. Although biomass electricity provides significant carbon saving when compared to fossil fuel feedstocks, it performs relatively poorly in carbon terms.  

On thresholds, Xero Energy suggested that a 10MW threshold and a limited deployment would be appropriate in the context of available Scottish wood fibre.

Cameron Maxwell, of Forestry Commission Scotland said:

“The questions posed in the ROS consultation are critical to helping ensure we have a balanced approach to using wood fibre in Scotland and also sending the correct messages to the UK Government on their Renewable Obligation proposals.

“This research has gone a long way to answer some key questions about the best use of biomass in carbon terms and what type of energy applications make the most efficient use of what is a limited resource. It is in everyone’s interest that the future vigour and vitality of both existing wood using industries and the energy sector is secured and all stakeholders have their say and contribute to the Scottish Government’s Renewables Obligation consultation.”

The event and the reports will be used to inform both government and stakeholders during the ROS consultation, which formally ends of January 13 2012.

The presentations are available at:

Notes to Editors
1) Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government’s forestry directorate managing the 660,000 hectare national forest estate in ways that continue to protect, manage and expand Scotland’s forests and woodlands in a way which helps in the fight against climate change.

2) The three independent reports were presented which will help inform the ROS consultation and Scottish Government policy on biomass.

3) The reports looked at which specific types or sources of wood are best suited for use in heating, combined heat and power (CHP) generation, or in power-only plants.

4) Xero Energy presented a policy analysis on setting thresholds for small scale electricity generation.

5) Report Highlights include

• The benchmarking ‘hierarchy’ of the use of wood fibre shows the biggest benefits in carbon terms is in putting wood fibre in to sawn timber products.

• The importance of “good quality” CHP for new wood-fired plants, to achieve carbon savings.

• On a 1 MWh heat to 1 MWh electricity basis, heat and CHP plants have lower total GHG emissions than power only plants.

• Supplying material across Scotland is feasible, with lower total GHG emissions for roundwood pellets for domestic heating, roundwood and unclean waste wood chips for commercial and industrial heating, and roundwood and clean and unclean waste wood chips for CHP, than supplying on shorter distances to power only plants. 

• The Scottish Government would be justified in setting a threshold capacity, both due to greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, and because of constraints on available domestic resource.

• While some threshold beneath 50MW can be justified, a level from 50MW down to 20MW would be insufficient (i.e. too high) to limit wider impacts on Scotland’s wood fibre resource. Analysis suggested that a 10MW threshold could support a low deployment of plants (up to 5).