Wood is one of the oldest fuel sources known to man. Its use is undergoing something of a renaissance, with ever greater awareness of the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewable alternatives, as an important element of tackling climate change.
While recycling and energy markets for clean, virgin wood have been growing in recent years, waste wood has been a largely overlooked resource. This is in part due to it often arising as part of a mixed waste stream, with limited availability of facilities for its segregation, and also a result of its predominantly contaminated nature, which often makes recycling impractical. With around 10 million tonnes of waste wood being produced in the UK each year, most of which goes to landfill, this is a great missed opportunity.
The significant carbon and energy benefits of recovering energy from waste wood have been highlighted in a number of recent publications, including the Waste Strategy for England 2007, in which waste wood was identified as one of a number of priority materials for action, the UK Biomass Strategy and the Energy White Paper. Biomass energy generation will have an important role to play in meeting the UK share of the 20% European Union (EU) renewable energy target. It has been estimated by Waste Strategy England 2017 that recovering energy from two million tonnes of waste wood could generate 2600GWh electricity and save 1.15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, with greater benefits available by recovering heat as well as power.
With the majority of waste wood arisings being contaminated, the key to realising this potential is greater Waste Incineration Directive (WID) compliant combustion facilities. A number of economic measures exist, and are being strengthened, to divert waste from landfill and, in the case of waste wood, into renewable energy markets. While aggregation points and supply chains for waste wood are in their infancy, these are expected to grow (as they are already doing) with better market knowledge, greater WID compliant combustion capacity with better geographical distribution, and stronger incentives for renewable energy.
With the popularity of waste wood being used for biomass increases, there is a growing concern that treated and untreated waste wood is being mixed and subsequently used for unauthorised end-uses, such as in combustion appliances. This could potentially lead to health and environmental consequences. Due to the seriousness of the concerns, the Environmental Agencies are focusing on illegal activity with waste wood as an urgent priority. Ofgem has released a fact sheet to ensure everyone is clear about their legal obligations when it comes to burning waste wood as biomass fuel. A snippet of this document has been published below as it benefits the industry to be informed.
Burning waste wood
Burning waste wood is subject to environmental regulatory controls. If you’re using waste wood as fuel, it is paramount that you hold the correct environmental permit or have registered and are complying in full with an exemption from needing to have a permit. All RHI participants have a duty of care and you must ensure that the fuel you are accepting from your supplier is as described, and
the fuel you are burning is appropriate to your installation, i.e., it is of the right quality and type.
If you are using waste you need to ensure it is in accordance with the restrictions set out in any exemptions or permit conditions you hold. Operating a wood burning appliance without an appropriate permit or exemption is an offence. The types of exemptions or permits that may be required are outlined below:
- A waste exemption is available from the relevant environmental agency for burning only clean untreated waste wood in appliances less than 50 kg though put per hour (waste exemption for England, Scotland & Wales)
- Local authority permits are available for burning waste wood from 50kg to three tonnes per hour or any amount of treated waste wood up to three tonnes per hour.
- Environment Agency, NRW and SEPA permits are available for burning waste wood in units greater than 3 tonnes per hour.
Handling and supplying waste wood
All those who are involved in managing waste in the supply chain also have a duty of care to ensure the waste is managed correctly and that it is only transferred to a person or business who is authorised to take that waste. If you supply wood fuel, derived wholly or partly from waste wood, it is vital that you:
- establish if the wood fuel is derived from, or contains any quantity, of waste wood (there is no minimum);
- ensure that the presence of any amount of treated wood (including Grade A wood) is made clear on the waste description; and
- ensure the person operating the fuel burning appliance holds the required waste authorisation (they must hold an environmental permit or exemption applicable to the type and amount of waste wood being burnt).
You may be committing an offence if you supply waste wood fuel with an inaccurate description, or to a person who lacks a suitable waste authorisation to burn it.