Wood pellets have a small carbon footprint: a small fraction of the emissions from fossil-fired heating, and lower than the main alternative renewable-heat technology: heat pumps.
Wood itself is carbon-neutral – absorbing as much carbon when it is growing as is released when it is burnt. The main fossil-carbon releases associated with wood pellets are due to the fossil fuels used to produce and transport them. But unless the factory uses a very inefficient fossil-fired process, and the pellets are transported a very long distance by road, the fossil-carbon embodied in wood pellets is a tiny proportion of the fossil-carbon released by most other ways of producing heat.
The UK Government certifies the carbon footprint of wood fuels. All wood pellets accredited on the Biomass Suppliers List (BSL) achieve at least 60% carbon savings relative to the average emissions from heating fuels in the EU. In practice, most wood pellets have carbon emissions that are 75-95% better than fossil-fired heating.
The two main sources of wood for pellets in the UK are sustainably-managed softwood forests and waste wood (virgin-fibre by-products from the forestry and timber-production industries, or untreated wood recovered from demolition waste streams). Rainforests are not harmed by the production of wood pellets.
Forever Fuels only supplies pellets made from wood from sustainably-managed forests or from virgin-fibre by-products. All of our wood pellets are certified on the BSL as meeting their land-use criteria.
Forever Fuels is FSC certified. FSC relies on certification of the chain of supply from one end to the other. It is unfortunate that the BSL chose to undermine this chain by treating it as complete if the pellets are certified upto the point they are loaded for shipping to the UK, rather than all the way to the customer.
The land-use approval for most wood fuels on the BSL relies on certification schemes such as FSC or PEFC (this is known as Category A evidence). Where forest ownership is very fragmented, the sustainability certification schemes are not viable for most forest owners, and the BSL relies on Category B evidence to verify the sustainabilty of the fuel in a manner similar to that required by the forest certification schemes.
Emissions and air quality
Wood-pellet boilers can achieve very low emissions. Because of their consistent characteristics, wood pellets burn cleaner and more consistently than other wood fuels.
The emissions depend on many factors including:
- the quality of the equipment
- the quality of the installation,
- the quality of the fuel and the fuel deliveries,
- appropriate sizing of the installation to the heat demand,
- a proper maintenance regime for the installation to ensure the equipment is in good and efficient working order, and
- the proper operation of the equipment (e.g. removing the ash regularly).
The quality of some equipment and installers in the UK is considered so good that their systems can be used in Clean Air Zones.
Care should be taken, because the certification schemes for equipment and installers (e.g. MCS) set a very low bar and do not make it easy to distinguish between good and bad. A bad installation will be less efficient and dirtier than claimed by the installer. You should only work with installers who demonstrate a deep knowledge and extensive track record of installing wood pellet boilers. These will not normally be the cheapest offers, but a higher price is no guarantee of quality.
Before you order your wood pellet heating system, why not ask us if we have come across the installer you are looking at, and whether our experience of them has been positive? Problems always tend to fall on the fuel supplier and the customer, not the installer (who has been and gone by the time problems are discovered), and we would rather pre-empt problems than deal with them later.
The Renewable Heat Incentive requires claimants to use wood fuels that have been tested with their boiler and certified to achieve low emissions. ENplus A1 wood pellets will generally meet or exceed the fuel-quality used for the boiler's emissions certificate. If you use a lower quality fuel, you are likely to breach emissions regulations and may lose your entitlement to claim RHI.
There is a substantial resource of wood that can be used for our energy needs, even allowing for the continued use of wood for other purposes (like paper, timber and board), the protection of large areas of forest for the environmental services that they provide, and assuming that wood is only extracted at a sustainable rate from the unprotected areas.
Nevertheless, it can only meet a fraction of our needs, and we ought to use it as efficiently as possible. We get much more from the wood resource if we use it for producing heat or Combined Heat & Power (at around 75-85% efficiency), than if we use it mainly to produce electricity (at around 15-35% efficiency).
Wood is one of the few forms of renewable energy that can easily be stored for more than a few days. Burning it continuously through the year to produce inefficient electricity is a dreadful waste of this potential. Wood is a good match to our seasonal heating needs, which is why it has been used for this purpose for millennia. It can do the most good for the long-term sustainability of our energy supplies if it continues to be used for this purpose.