• WoodFuel Wales is supported by the Welsh Timber Forum.
• Its membership encompasses the whole wood fuel supply chain.
• Its remit is to promote the efficient supply and use of wood fuel.
• A quality assurance certification scheme is in the pipeline.

Whether it’s motivated by rising energy prices, concern over fuel security or greater awareness of the impact that fossil fuels are having on the environment, more and more individuals and businesses are turning to wood fuel.

However, it’s not an instant fix. While many other European countries have retained their tradition of burning wood for heat and energy, the UK has placed a greater level of dependence on other fossil fuels; solid fuel, gas and oil. As a result, in some cases, poor quality, unsustainably sourced wood is being burned in inefficient equipment, by consumers who don’t fully understand the nature of the fuel they are using.

One organisation is seeking to provide some guidelines for a market that is seeing new entrants all the time. WoodFuel Wales is a group set up a year ago and run by a steering committee comprising individuals representing all aspects of the sector. It is supported by the Welsh Timber Forum.

WoodFuel Wales’ mission statement is “to promote the efficient supply and use of wood fuel as a clean, low carbon and sustainable energy source in Wales and the Marches” by bringing together interested parties throughout the supply chain, from wood fuel supplier and stove manufacturer, through to chimney sweep and end user.

Customer confidence

Gaining customer confidence is seen as key to ensuring the sustainability of Wales’ wood energy market and the organisation is working with an accredited body towards the creation of a wood fuel quality assurance certification scheme.

The current focus, and one which is in the process of attracting funding from the Welsh Assembly, is on establishing standards and guarantees for the log fuel market.

“The log fuel market certainly isn’t well developed,” said Peter Bottoms, WoodFuel Wales steering group member and owner of Esgair Forest. “It’s made up of disparate individuals who don’t work to any recognised standards and who, in some cases, are selling more water than wood. Moisture content isn’t so much of a problem with manufactured products like briquettes and pellets, where it’s usually predictable, but it’s a huge issue in the log fuel market.”

The knock-on effect of burning unseasoned wood with a moisture content above the recommended 20% can be damaging, both to the equipment in which it’s burned and to the environment as a result of combustion at temperatures too low to produce safe levels of emissions.

Quality assurance

“It’s become apparent that a lot of people switching over to wood fuel have had very little to do with it in the past and don’t understand it,” said Mr Bottoms. “That’s why we’re working towards a quality assurance scheme that suppliers will sign up to when they become members of WoodFuel Wales.

“We’re not trying to exclude anyone from the market, just to define it. So if you buy your wood from a guy in the pub on Friday night and it’s delivered on Saturday morning having just been cut, that’s one thing. If you buy it from a WoodFuel Wales member, you can be reassured that they will have signed up to the quality assurance standards required as part of their membership.”

Signatories to the scheme will be able to stamp their goods with the QA mark which will have a recognised value to it, said Mr Bottoms, and end users who buy from WoodFuel Wales’ members can be assured they are dealing with responsible and reputable suppliers.

As an example, WoodFuel Wales recommends that wood fuel should always be bought either by weight (with a weighbridge ticket as proof) or by volume, but these criteria must be clear at the point of sale. The buyer should also ensure that the moisture content is confirmed. A reputable supplier should also be able to tell the customer if the wood is from a sustainable source, if it’s been seasoned and for how long.

It’s early days for WoodFuel Wales but its current resources are likely to be boosted by funding from the Welsh Assembly, under the Supply Chain Efficiencies Scheme. This will enable the project to employ a wood fuel officer who will work to unite the supply chain and to gather the kind of information that is crucial to building a credible market, such as statistics for the available volumes of wood fuel and its consumption.

For more details, visit www.woodfuel