Midlands Wood Fuel, based in Shrewsbury, won an Ashden Award 2011 for its outstanding commitment to supplying high-quality sustainable wood fuel in the Midlands area. Wood is rarely mentioned as a sustainable source of energy, but managed and prepared carefully it can be a great source of energy for heat. MWF supplies homes, a housing association, businesses, schools, libraries and even a leisure centre. They now have over 100 customers and are expanding into the rest of Northwest England and Wales. 5,253 tonnes of wood-fuel was supplied in 2010 -11, cutting CO2 emissions by an estimated 3,700 tonnes/year.
Judges were particularly impressed with MWF’s commitment to product testing and monitoring, and their confidence to sell to customers by amount of heat produced, not volume of product. They also ensure that transportation is kept to a minimum – their nine depots have been sited to be close to groups of customers. This minimises fuel-based emissions and the cost of deliveries. The wood is low-grade timber which cannot be used for building or other forms of construction.
As Ewan Bent, MWF's director, explains, people think of wood as an ‘old-fashioned’ source whereas in fact wood-fuelled boilers are highly technical and refined pieces of equipment. People also think of it as expensive, but in fact it is competitive with electricity, oil and LPG heating systems, although probably a little more expensive than mains gas. The UK is on track to increase the amount of wood it produces and used for energy generation – The Forestry Commission in England and Scotland both aim to deliver significantly higher levels of woodfuel over the coming years and the Forestry Commission in Wales is also strongly supportive of biomass for heating.With this and the Renewable Heat Incentive beginning this autumn (or next autumn for domestic customers), the future looks bright for wood as a UK energy source, and for businesses like MWF, as more boilers installed means more demand for wood. At our Conference on 15thJune, Ewan made the following recommendations to the Government on how to increase wood-fuelled energy generation:
1) Increase publicity and understanding: The use of wood for fuel has been recognised as being a key component in carbon reduction, but in order to achieve its potential, major steps must be taken to raise its profile.
2) Improve supply chain: Cashflow, the high capital cost of machinery and equipment, skills and training requirements, and the unfamiliarity of the market amongst commercial lenders and financiers are all problems faced by both established businesses in the wood fuel sector, and potential new entrants.The new Green Investment Bank must help small businesses, such as the sustainable wood sector, enter the energy supply market.
As Ewan points out, other countries such as Austria are already using wood far more than we do, but there is a great tradition of sustainably harvesting and using our forests in this country, which we could return to in future.