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Is there enough wood in the UK for biomass?

Posted by Jon Edge on 24 August 2010 at 5:02 pm

As the market for biomass boilers grows in the UK, there is concern that the wood supply will not be able to meet this demand, now and in the future. There are many factors that affect the answer to this question, but the short answer is yes, there is enough wood for a local UK biomass industry.

Biomass boilers have been used well for a long time in Scandinavian countries and Austria and Germany. These countries have a lot of woodland because managed forestry has continued to be a priority, and wood a valued natural resource. One of the great learnings we can take from these countries is how well microgeneration works, with individuals and communities taking responsiblity for their local, sustainable fuel supply.

We can apply a similar model to the UK, where we have regions with extensive woodland in varying degrees of management as well as space to continue to grow wood crops for the future. Austria gets around 40% of its heat from biomass; we get less than 1% at the moment, although this is rising. We need to get to around 15% though to make a meaningful contribution to hitting our 2020 carbon reduction commitments as legislated in the Climate Change Act 2008.

Increasing our woodland management to harvest in a sustainable way keeps woodlands healthy, enables trees to grow to full size and absorb more CO2 from the air than trees growing too close together, strangled by their proximity and shading.

Biodiversity improves in actively managed woodlands, as animals have evolved to rely on humans over many generations and without it biodiversity does not thrive. The skills and expertise in woodland management are growing once again and this can only be a good thing, for biodiversity, carbon reduction and a local biomass energy industry.

So the golden age of fossil fuels is coming to an end, with dwindling reserves, increasing cost pressures on prices, environmental damage and wars. Oil and gas are getting more noticeably expensive and this is set to get worse, as extraction gets more costly and this increased cost is passed on to the consumer. Also oil and gas need to be processed and then travel great distances, from Russia, Nigeria and the Middle East so the carbon footprint is large before it even gets to the end user.

A pragmatic view is needed, since fossil fuels are far from perfect and biomass still has a way to go in the UK. At the moment it could be argued that getting cheap imported pellets from countries such as Finland is actually a lower carbon solution than growing, harvesting and processing wood in the UK. In Finland there are wood pellet plants that use the twigs and leaves to generate electricity in a combined heat and power (CHP) plant, in order to process pellets; so a truly low carbon if not carbon neutral solution. The slow boat to the UK can then give less of a carbon footprint than transporting lorry loads of pellets from Scotland to the Midlands or elsewhere in Britain.

The Finns are doing it better because they have been doing it longer. But now fossil fuels are dwindling we need to encourage and grow the UK biomass industry and when the Renewable Heat Incentive comes into effect it will also make more than sound financial sense for many people to use high efficiency log, chip or pellet boilers. The good news is that biomass really does grow on trees, so we can make the most of this sustainable and low carbon energy source, now and in the future, as a real alternative to fossil fuels for domestic and community heating.

More information about Biomass Boilers on YouGen.

Find a Biomass Boiler installer

Need help with any Jargon?

About the author: Jon Edge is marketing director at Fair Energy CIC

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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6 comments - read them below or add one


LRolfsComment left on: 17 March 2015 at 5:21 pm

I have just sent an enquiry to the BSL accreditation body asking about the criteria they will apply.  It seems demand is already outstripping supply (of wood pellets anyway) and that suppliers are indeed sourcing wood from abroad.  That puts paid to our carbon footprint ideal.  Crazy as we live in the New Forest! 

Our last lot of pellets damaged our boiler even though ENE1+.  The repair man warned that it might have been wood from Portugal or anyway wood with too much silicate.  The main issue for us though is the provenance of the wood not where or how the pellets are actually manufactured.  Wish we had gone for wood chip now - at least we could have made our own and it won't have travelled far.  Or maybe we will try to set up a community wood pellet project, but would we get BSL approval?






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muymalestadoComment left on: 29 April 2013 at 2:25 pm

Time marches on here; posts like this need updating and reviewing to re-emphasise their point, or to describe new conditions.

Specifically oil and gas prices may not be rising at the rate feared in 2010.  Fossil fuels are not running out anytime soon.  They may get dirtier, and politically more unstable, and may rise in price, but they won't be running out for a while yet.

This post addresses the biomass arena directly; is there enough.  UK-wide maybe there could be sufficient fuel, but only if political decisions make more land available.  More available land will only come from more available subsidy meaning more available money meaning breaking the policies of austerity and the whole thing looks very unlikely.

Locally there is turmoil.  Media report demonstrators against a biomass plant  in Dundee, demonstrators who come from Florida. What!  The plan is to use Everglades wood.  Drax is to become biomass instead of coal burning.  The fuel will come from ... ?  Media says from Siberia.  Someone in Fort William has plans for a biomass plant which will require twice the Scottish wood fuel output; where will that fuel come from?

But, often 'local' in the context of this web site means your home, or my home.  Fair enough, but with the market making the kind of moves above and little new planting on the horizon the industrial depletion of the resource must affect the homeowners' plans.

If you are a farmer, with a woodlot, you must consider bio-fuel.  A home owner surrounded by forest industry, go for it - we did. A home anywhere away from cheap and easy access to 'very locally' derived wood should think carefully.

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Tom Larson

Tom LarsonComment left on: 19 July 2011 at 11:35 am

Biomass should be more widely used, you named a few countries and I know of a few more, but this should be being used the world over.



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garethjonesComment left on: 26 August 2010 at 2:49 pm

Over centuries we have devastated our countries woodland. Why do I hear little discussion on the need to plant many more trees throughout the country? More trees will absorb more CO2.

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Mike Maybury

Mike MayburyComment left on: 25 August 2010 at 6:02 pm

Over centuries we have devastated our countries woodland. Why do I hear little discussion on the need to plant many more trees throughout the country? More trees will absorb more CO2.

With copsing and thinning and using timber for construction, there should be adequate opportunity for using many times the timber at present grown here.

Transport from Scotland might be by ship or even pipeline, perhaps.

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GlenfenderComment left on: 25 August 2010 at 4:10 pm

I think the worrying thing in the UK is going to be the mad dash to build biomass power stations - just how much of the UK biomass resource is that going to gobble up - when it would be much more sensible to use biomass for heat.

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