Woodfuel - introducing the benefits

Using woodfuel will help to reduce the reliance on burning fossil fuelsThe use of bioenergy confers many benefits but, in particular, it reduces landfill pollution and emissions and promotes biodiversity through the sustainable management of woodlands. At the individual level it offers economic advantages in terms of fuel costs and rural employment.

Developing a successful woodfuel industry in Britain

In Britain it is reasonable to assume that we can produce wood to acceptable standards at economically viable costs, particularly where production is part of an existing ‘product stream’, and sell this material at an acceptable price.

For the successful establishment of an indigenous woodfuel industry we need:

  • A strong and well-defined national and regional energy policy with an increase in the use of woodfuel to generate energy as one of its core objectives
  • An integrated approach to farming and forestry which recognises that both are potential sources of woodfuel
  • Collaboration between the various sectors within the industry to achieve solutions
  • The ability to recognise and treat acceptable sources of woody material as a valuable resource
  • A simple but flexible approach to woodfuel harvesting and chipping at a variety of scales.

Benefits of woodfuel

  • Correctly managed, woodlands are a sustainable resource
  • It is possible to offset the carbon emissions from burning against the carbon uptake of the trees during the growth of the crop
  • Woodfuel releases lower quantities of atmospheric pollutants
  • Producing and using the woodfuel locally will help to minimise the impact of haulage costs
  • Regions and communities with limited alternative natural resources for energy production an achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency in their energy requirement
  • Woodfuel provides opportunities for new companies to develop
  • Woodfuel provides a potential market for small dimension early thinning material
  • Woodfuel harvesting can have environmental and amenity benefits
  • Currently a large proportion of wood residue and arboricultural debris is disposed of at  landfill sites. This material could be used for energy generation and help to reduce the burden on limited landfill resources.

The global carbon cycle

Carbon is a fundamental element in forming organic substances, from fossil fuels to DNA. Carbon circulates through the land, oceans and atmosphere. Trees play an important role by taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into carbohydrate through the process of photosynthesis.

One of the principal ways in which humans influence the carbon cycle is through the burning of fossil fuels. This burning releases into the atmosphere carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) that has been bound up in plants, rocks and fossil fuels.

Global warming and climate change

Certain gases, mainly carbon dioxide, but also methane, nitrous oxide and volatile organic compounds, play an important role in regulating the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. These are called ‘greenhouse gases’. Human activities are increasing the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to a gradual warming of the earth’s climate. It is this enhanced greenhouse effect that is generally referred to as ‘global warming’.

One of the possible consequences of global warming is climate change.

The principal sources of greenhouse gas emissions are the combustion of fossil fuels in electricity production and transport. Globally, about 75% of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions result in this way.

As previously stated, one of the principal advantages of woodfuel as a renewable energy source is its ability to offset carbon dioxide emissions through carbon sequestration.

International initiatives that aim to combat this global problem

  • Rio and Kyoto
    The 1992 Rio Earth Summit set new targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide and sulphur emissions. This was followed in 1997 by the Kyoto Climate Change Conference which established legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 8% by 2010 from 1990 levels in the EU as a whole.
  • UK Government targets
    Recently, a policy shift has taken place with the aim of increasing the use of renewable resources as an energy source within domestic and industrial markets. This shift includes a commitment by government to produce 10% of the UK’s electricity from renewable resources by 2010 and an aspiration to produce 20% by 2020.           

What's of interest

This is a selection of the respective information in the Woodfuel Information Pack. The full pack comprises fact sheets giving more extensive information.

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