Biomass (Woodfuelled) Heating
Modern, automated wood fuelled heating is typically the most cost effective way to
deliver renewable energy where space and access permits1. It is usually the cheapest
way to reduce CO2 emissions after energy saving.
Wood chips, processed wood pellets or logs are burnt within fully automated boilers to
heat water which may be used to heat homes, schools, offices, care homes, hospitals
and industrial processes.
Biomass Heating: Carbon Neutral Cycle
• As trees grow they absorb CO2
• During photosynthesis the trees store
carbon in their woody tissues and O2
is released into the atmosphere
• At harvest wood fuel is transported to
the heat or power generating plant
• As wood is burnt the carbon stored
combines with O2 to form the same
amount of CO2 as was absorbed
when the tree was growing
Wood fuelled heating has many additional benefits:
Reduced heating bills compared to oil, LPG, electricity and (at times) mains gas
Increases security of supply by using UK based fuels and/or diversification
Increases jobs in wood heating supply chain (>25,000 more UK jobs by 20202)
Wood fuel production is recognised by 13 leading NGOs to improve biodiversity
where woodland is properly managed3
With the introduction of a proposed Renewable Heat Incentive in 2011, biomass
heating will deliver typical capital payback within 8 years4 and substantial cost
savings against all fossil fuels
Wood chip is typically produced locally from low value forestry. It is left to dry for 6 to 12
months in the open air before being chipped and stored in a barn and distributed by lorry
to the wood boiler.
Wood pellets are produced from compressed sawdust which is a sawmill by product.
Pellet plants are typically powered by biomass combined heat and power to ensure that
all energy used in their production is low carbon. Wood pellets have approx 4 times the
energy density of wood chip and may be transported long distances with minimal CO2
DECC: NERA The UK Supply Curve for Renewable Heat (2009)
Forestry Commission: “The economic value of the woodfuel industry to the UK economy by 2020” by CEBR, Jun2010
Wildlife and Countryside (Link) Statement on the Forestry Commission’s wood fuel Strategy for England, Jul 2009
DECC Renewable Heat Incentive Consultation (Feb 2010)
Local Wood chip Production
Are we confident of a sustainable and robust fuel supply ?
Where will the wood fuel come from ?
Wood fuel will come from a mixture of UK sourced low value forestry (e.g. saw mill
residues, tree surgeons and under managed woodland), specially planted energy crops
(e.g. willow, poplar, eucalyptus etc.) and local or imported pellets.
To meet the Governments target of delivering the equivalent of heating for 3 million
homes by 2020, approx 11 million tonnes will be required. 3 to 4 million tonnes may
come from low value forestry. The remainder is likely to come from energy crops or
pellets, some of which may be imported. As an example 700,000 hectares (the
agricultural land which used to be “set-aside” from food production under the EU
Common Agricultural Policy) of energy crops could produce the 7 m tonnes per annum.
There are vast forestry resources in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Canada which are
sustainably managed which may be used as raw material for imported pellets.
Is this wood fuel sustainable and low carbon ?
Reports by the Environment Agency5 and European Commission6 highlight the CO2
savings which may come from locally produced wood chip and also imported wood
pellets. Estimates vary from CO2 emissions reduction of 80% to 97% depending on the
report and fossil fuel displaced.
The EU report is based on a newly developed rigorous life cycle CO2 model, which is
now part of EU law. It concludes that the sustainability risk on EU sourced wood fuel
from forest residues (ie wood chip & pellets) is very small. As an example, EU produced
pellets (including transport) yield typical emissions of 2 g/CO2/kWh compared to 87
gCO2/kWh for oil.
In the UK it is illegal to harvest trees without a forest management plan to replant trees.
UK government sourced wood fuel must already be able to demonstrate that it is soured
from raw material which is legal and sustainable. The future access to the Renewable
Heat Incentive will have requirements on being able to demonstrate the sustainability of
the wood fuel supply chain.
How will the price of wood fuel vary in the future ?
It is not possible to predict the price of any energy source into the future. However, it is
important to ensure diverse fuel sources to minimise supply and fuel price risk.
DECC has produced an indicative forecast based on 4 scenarios of possible wood chip
and wood pellet prices from UK produced and imported sources looking out to 2020 7.
This report indicates future wood fuel prices at a similar level today or modest increases,
compared with our experience of high volatility with fossil fuel prices.
Minimising Green House Gas Emissions From Biomass Generation, Environment Agency (2009)
REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT on sustainability
requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling, Feb 2010
Report for DECC “Biomass prices in the heat and electricity sectors in the UK” by E4Tech Feb 2010