Make the most of woodfuel potential

With new government incentives supporting the generation of heat from renewable sources, more farmers are looking at developing wood resources on their land. Tim Crook from Regen SW explains how to get involved


There has been a sharp increase in demand for biomass fuels such as wood chip, pellet and traditional logs over recent months.

This has been driven by the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive last November, which pays eligible installation owners for the heat generated from sources such as biomass, combined with a steady rise in energy costs; per unit of heat, biomass is significantly cheaper than oil.

The Forestry Commission has committed to introduce an additional 2m tonnes of woodfuel to market by 2020, but there are a number of ways woodland owners can use their resource and bring woodfuel to market. The main things to consider are:

• Understand your resource. Knowing exactly what type of woodland (hardwoods, softwoods, etc) you have available for harvesting is crucial to assessing its likely value as a woodfuel. Assess how much of it you can access and how far it may have to be transported to be processed

• Manage your woodland. No resource can be utilised effectively if there is no or difficult access to it and no sustainable development

• Decide what fuel type to make – logs, pellets, or chips (see table)

woodfuel-table

• Logs require relatively little processing but generally need to be manually fed into the biomass system. Hardwood logs will yield more energy than softwood

• Pellets are made by compressing sawdust and shavings produced as waste from sawmills or manufacturing. Pellets have a high energy value due to their density and low moisture content. They are generally only economical to manufacture if utilising a waste product from another process due to the processing cost

• Chippers can be used in the forest, a central processing plant or at the point of use. Once chipped, the fuel becomes bulky so minimising transportation distance is often desirable. Woodfuel wood chippers have been developed to produce consistent wood chips suited to automated biomass systems. Forestry arising chippers are not suitable for generating woodfuel

• The three main woodfuel types require very different processing and therefore differing levels of investment. This may be the point to investigate co-operating with other woodfuel suppliers (see Dartmoor Woodfuel Cooperative case study below)

As a rule of thumb, woodlands of around 10ha or more are generally well worth investing in as sustainable sources of woodfuel, but woodlands smaller than this are still likely to benefit from some form of management, whether that’s by generating a revenue stream through woodfuel production, or by helping on-farm efficiency. Chances are, until a woodland owner begins the process of planning the management of their woodland, they may not recognise the importance it already plays.

The UK has around 3.1m hectares of woodland of which less than half is actively managed and just 870,000ha is managed by the Forestry Commission and Forest Service. The focus for introducing new woodfuel supply to market therefore relies on bringing a large number of (generally smaller) under-managed woodlands into management in order to access and harvest their useful wood.

The Forestry Commission has a raft of grants available to support woodland owners in developing a management plan for their woodland, and further support with capital expenditure such as improving access roads. You can find out about all the grants available and the eligibility criteria on the forestry commission website www.forestry.gov.uk. In addition, there is a national database of woodfuel suppliers which comprehensively maps the UKs woodfuel supply chain, jointly developed by the Carbon Trust and the Biomass Energy Centre http://nbsd.carbontrust.co.uk/

Find out more about bringing woodland into management at the Regen SW Renewable Energy Marketplace, being held at Westpoint Arena, Exeter, on 8 March, www.regensw.co.uk/events. Regen SW, a not for profit, independent organisation which supports the renewable energy sector in the region


Dartmoor Woodfuel Cooperative

Tennant Farmer Andy Bradford has developed an award winning farm enterprise in the heart of Dartmoor National Park. The Dartmoor Woodfuel Co-operative was set up in 2009 to encourage local biomass users and woodland owners to work together in providing and utilising local woodfuel.

The roundwood is bought from sustainable sources, stacked and dried for 12 months before being chipped and distributed to biomass users. The Cooperative received a Bio Energy Infrastructure Scheme grant to purchase specialist equipment supporting harvesting and delivering.

The cooperative has produced many benefits, not least the provision of quality, cost-effective fuel which is locally produced, but also with providing additional employment for the farming labour pool and a rehabilitation programme with Dartmoor prison, in partnership with the FC.

With the co-operative operating as a local hub, woodland owners and biomass users can interact with each other on a much more direct basis, with profits from the business being reinvested for continued improvement. See www.dartmoorwoodfuel.co.uk

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