Will Wood Pellets replace Oil and LPG (Liquid Propane Gas)?

Will Wood Pellets replace Oil and LPG (Liquid Propane Gas)?

Questions that people switching to biomass boilers might ask are: are there enough wood pellets?  Where do they come from?  Surely chopping down trees is bad?   If everybody switched to biomass, surely there wouldn’t be enough to go round?

There is some distinction to be made between the source of pellets that are used in large power stations for electricity generation, where a switch is gradually being made from coal to biomass, and other UK markets for wood-fuel pellets.  Whereas the large power stations that depend on pellets rely on imports (around 1.5 million tonnes, mostly from the US and Canada) the other users of wood pellets for biomass in the UK rely largely on local sources – such as saw-mills where pellets are manufactured from sawdust and off-cuts; and local farmers who grow willow as a short-rotation coppice which can be harvested yearly (70% of the wood is made into planks and 30% into pellets) with each tree being able to produce about three tonnes of pellets.  All micro-generation of renewables at the local level will lessen the burden, however small the degree at the moment, on the big power stations and from imported pellets

There are some who will give only the negative slant on these issues, such as the Biomass Watch website.  However, as fossil fuels dwindle, there is a necessity for alternatives and it’s inspiring to look at the examples of some of our European neighbours who have been using biomass as a fuel source for much longer.  In Austria, for example, 40% of energy needs are met from biomass.  Finland, too, has a long tradition of prioritising careful woodland management for fuel.  Their processing plants for the manufacture of wood pellets are fired using twigs and leaves, rather than electricity, keeping the carbon footprint even lower.

It could be argued that the UK does not have enough space for as much forestry as countries like Austria and Finland but until best practice has time to grow in the UK it is hard to give exact figures for what can be achieved.

Just from the perspective of looking at current facts and figures we can have at least a rough idea of how much energy is currently derived from wood pellets and what increase is needed to replace oil and LPG.

Currently there are around 1.5 million homes that rely on oil, around 150,000 homes which rely on LPG and two oil-fired power stations which produce enough electricity to power 180,000 homes.  As a ball-park figure, if wood pellets were required to replace all of these (1,830,000 homes x 3 tonnes of wood pellet fuel) then around 5.5 million tonnes per annum would be needed.  At the moment the UK produces about half a million tonne of wood pellets, but by 2020 the Forestry Commission plans to bring to market an extra 2 million tonnes of sustainably-sourced wood for fuel.  As this fuel would include logs it is impossible to say how much of it would be made into pellets per se – and given the fact that pellets are often made from the by-products of the wood-manufacturing industry (offcuts and sawdust from saw-mills) it is difficult to give an exact figure for wood pellet quantities in the coming years.

However, if, for example, the tonnage of wood pellets available were to increase to 2.5 million by 2020, thereby providing the energy needs of one million homes (out of a total of twenty-five million homes) there would be a significant contribution to the UK’s energy needs.  Wood pellets have a role to play in providing energy, alongside other renewables such as other forms of biomass, photo-voltaic panels, solar thermal, wind and wave power and hydro-electricity schemes.  Added to this, of course, is the need for best practice in insulation, as recognised and implemented by the Government’s RHI.

The Forestry Commission’s strategy is to increase and support sustainably managed woodland and a sustainably sourced wood fuel supply chain.  There are further details in the next section how this is being linked with RHI.  This will help stimulate demand for sustainably-sourced biomass of all kinds and help link producers who meet the new criteria with their customer base.

If you would like more information on how you can use biomass to heat your home or business then go to www.woodpellet-boilers.com

 

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