Chair, Wood Recyclers’ Association, Richard Coulson, writes that this winter, the UK must maximise the use of domestic waste wood in response to rising prices.
With winter approaching the need for reliable, domestic energy has never been so acute and much discussion has centred in the waste wood market on what we might expect in the months ahead.
As recently as 2008 most waste wood in the UK was sent to landfill but the market has evolved to a situation where we have well-developed markets for all UK waste wood.
Higher quality material is sent for reuse or recycling in markets such as panel board and animal bedding and lower quality wood is used in biomass energy generation with some plants providing full combined heat and power (CHP). This is great news for the industry and the environment.
As recently as 2008 most waste wood in the UK was sent to landfill but the market has evolved.
This growth is borne out in the WRA’s latest wood market figures, which show that over 4.1 million tonnes of the 4.5 million tonnes of waste wood arising last year were sent to valuable end markets – leaving an excess of around just 400,000 tonnes.
However, several factors mean that demand for this material is expected to be even greater this year, absorbing what little excess there was in 2021.
Continued high energy prices impacted by the war in Ukraine have been driving waste wood-fuelled biomass plants to strive for constant plant availability combined with the usual demand from the panel board and animal bedding markets.
This has meant that the normal seasonal pattern we saw pre-Covid – whereby there is a glut of waste wood in the summer and a balanced market in the winter – appears to be changing to a situation where the summer is balanced and the winter may be short.
Coupled with this, the impending economic slowdown and cost of living crisis are expected to reduce raw material availability over the coming months and further limit the waste wood supply.
I believe we must maximise the use of our waste wood this winter as a strategically important source of domestic fuel.
One way to meet demand is to import material, but this may not always be a reliable option as there is strong competition from countries such as Germany, which is already importing material to meet its energy demands. Indeed, some European countries have started to import materials from the UK.
As a result, I believe we must maximise the use of our waste wood this winter as a strategically important source of domestic fuel, to serve our home markets and help deliver toward the UK’s energy security and net zero goals.
Energy security has never been so important and the waste wood biomass sector can generate 470MW of low carbon baseload power for the UK, equivalent to 3.3TWh per annum making it a vital part of the energy supply chain.