Woodlets wood pellets, sustainability and local supply chains.

Woodlets wood pellets, sustainability and local supply chains.

18 April 2017

Over recent months there have been a number different reports regarding the sustainability of biomass, the most negative coming from the Chatham House report ‘Woody biomass for power and heat: Impacts on Global Climate (23rd Feb 2017).

In response to this report, the International Energy Agency and over 125 academic signatories from around the world united together in the IEA Bioenergy Response to the Chatham House Report, their three main areas of concern within the report are:-

1) Climate effects and carbon neutrality of bioenergy

2) Bioenergy and forest products markets and systems

3) Sustainability criteria

What we know is that any fossil fuel when burnt is in practice a NET ADDITION to atmospheric carbon.  It took millions of years to form fossil fuels and the emitted carbon will never be re-absorbed into a coal mine or oil well (at least in the absence of carbon capture and storage – where did that story go?).

It’s totally misleading for the fossil fuel industry to suggest that as the carbon that they are generating is “reabsorbed into the Earth’s ecosystems”, everything is OK.    It’s a bit like BP or Shell telling forest owners in the UK they’re taking over the carbon absorbing capacity of their forests but for free.

So, what difference does this make to us? Well as a wood pelleting business we are very focused on ensuring our pellets really deliver a low carbon energy source.

1. At the core of this we need to ensure that our carbon numbers balance1. We know that the planting and harvesting cycles of our Small Round Wood crops (SRW – regarded as a co-product or waste by the sawmill industry) are sustainable. The Forest Commission oversee the replanting process via the Felling Licence system.  This means any tree that is cut down, has to be replanted within 12 months.  This is also overseen by the FSC®.

Sustainable Forest Life Cycle - Woodlets2. Soil disturbance during harvesting and re-planting is kept to an absolute minimum. This is an area of ongoing research and the science is far from certain at this stage but what is clear is that ploughing up soil is a carbon releasing activity.  However, when replanting, this is done largely by hand and contrary to what some NGOs have been suggesting there is NO ploughing to plant trees – it wouldn’t work anyway as the old tree stumps get in the way

3. Sawmill co-product and Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) are also important primary sources of feedstock, both locally sourced. Making use of co-product (or waste) is also highly carbon efficient as otherwise, sources such as this would rot and release carbon but with no benefit.

At our manufacturing site on the South West coast of Scotland, in Girvan, we have installed a biomass Combined Heat & Power unit that runs on waste wood chip and supplies 100% of the energy we need on site to run the wood pellet manufacturing process.

Land Energy Girvan_overview

Not only do we process in the UK but all the timber we use is UK-sourced (the raw material for our pellets and fuel for the CHP) and has exceptionally short supply chains; in 2015 the average distance from forest to factory was 56 km.  We use sea transport wherever possible to minimise road movements and fossil fuel use.

Feedstock traceability and re-stocking is critically important in maintaining our industry’s sustainability and we use UK timber sourced under the FSC certification scheme and the Forest Standard and we can be confident that for every tree we use at least one is planted to replace it.  After all, if tress are not re-planted our business has no long term future!

Here’s a summary of the actual carbon emissions of Woodlets:

Direct emissions from typical UK Biomass pellet supply chain KgCO22e/kWh
Harvesting and forwarding (FSC Sourced Forest in UK) 0.0039
Transportation from forest to production facilities (approx. 42 miles) 0.0044


Production based on plant without a CHP 0.0300
Production based on plant with a CHP 0.0110
Transportation from production facility to end user (approx. 200 miles per delivery) 0.0070
Heating efficiency losses assuming boiler is 90% efficient 0.0050
Total Without a CHP plant 0.0504 KgCO22e/kWh
Total With a CHP plant 0.0304 KgCO22e/kWh

Join us in backing British forestry production and manufacturing by asking your wood pellet suppliers about the sustainability of their raw materials, production and transportation.

See more details here:  http://www.ecuity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Wood-Fuel-Sustainability-Paper.pdf