Board mill professionals say that within a rightly held enthusiasm to commit to green processes, energy from waste plants are burning higher quality material and virgin fibre rather than using lower grades that can no longer be recycled.
There are currently seven UK biomass plants that have already received planning consent and up to 50 more in proposal stages, presenting a potential combined electricity production of 3000MW per year by the beginning of 2015.
Of the seven proposed it is thought that only one will have systems to allow it to burn lower recycled grades and contaminated wood.
Egger UK general manager Mark Hayton said: “There is such a lack of material in the UK and virgin wood is being sourced from other countries for biomass feedstock and this is morally wrong. Wood should be recycled wherever possible and not just burnt.”
The government’s Renewable Obligation heavily subsidises the biomass sector by providing tax relief against feedstock from renewable sources – which means energy plants can offer better prices to wood sellers than board mills.
Wood Recyclers Association chairman Clem Spencer said: “I agree that grade A wood should be kept for recycling but biomass is a hungry animal. Energy recovery pays more than chipboard factories so what pays the money will take the bait. Board mills have realised they can’t dictate the pace.”
Recent figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Waste & Resources Action Programme estimate that around 6 million tonnes of wood waste is sent to landfill annually.
Added to the 11 million tonnes of virgin fibre generated annually in the UK, this figure is overshadowed significantly by the 30 million tonnes of feedstock that will be required annually by the biomass sector in the UK.
The Wood Panel Industries Federation argues that biomass plants are receiving planning consent without due attention to the sustainability of the feedstock. It asserts that if biomass plants’ supply from imports is interrupted and they are forced to source even a fraction of this total domestically, the existing wood panel industries will be irreparably damaged, because demand is already outstripping wood supply in the UK.
Carbon balance research commissioned by the Wood Panel Industries Federation is expected to show that it is better for the environment to manufacture wood panel from recycled material than to generate electricity by burning imported or domestic virgin fibre. Experts claim that the Government is so “desperate” to meet renewable energy targets and “catch up” with other European nations that are significantly ahead of them in implementing sustainability initiatives; that current policy is “disastrous” and will lead to biomass wasting enormous amounts of energy.
WPIF director general Alastair Kerr said: “It is unusual in western Europe to have a predominance of electricity only plants. Compared with combined heat and power plants in other parts of the UK and Europe that are up to 80% efficient in energy recovery, burning wood to produce pure electricity only offers a maximum of 35% efficiency – which means an enormous amount of energy is being lost.”