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Recycled wood - our industry's problem child

Recycled wood - our industry's problem child

30 November 2017

The Environment Agency have just announced that recycled wood can no longer be legally burnt in a wood boiler, unless it is IED* compliant and certified.

Contaminated recycled wood

This is a shift in its stance, and one with significant implications for our industry. Previously, so called 'Grade A' recycled wood could legally be burned in a boiler, and providing that the Emissions Certificate permitted, the RHI could be claimed (why so-called ? 'Grade A' is not a fuel standard, and never was). They viewed 'Grade A' wood as they view virgin timber - it is just clean, untreated wood, nothing else. In theory.

The reality however is somewhat different. Much of what is described as Grade A fuel is not just wood. It is wood plus plastic, metal, glued wood, treated wood, painted wood, sponge (!), hardboard, melamine etc etc. The photo shows some of the naughtiness contained within a sample of 'Grade A Fuel  Chip' from a reputable UK wood fuel supplier. It's not just in the chips either. Some of this non-wood will be made into pellets too.

Not all Grade A recycled wood is like this. Some is just wood, as it should be. The problem for the Environment Agency though is that much of it, maybe most of it, contains some contamination, and the presence of contamination renders it not Grade A, but grade B, C or D depending on the type and source of the contaminant.

The recent rapid growth in the use of wood fuel, and particularly the burning of recycled wood in RHI supported boilers has quickly pushed this issue up the agenda, resulting in this announcement that recycled wood can only be burned in IED compliant and registered boilers.

The impact of this on the industry is seismic.

Hundreds if not several thousands of wood boilers will be forced into change - either switching to virgin wood fuel only, or if possible becoming IED registered. (The later is really only an option for a very few installations.)

Many fuel users, fuel suppliers and installers will be in uproar. It is worth remembering though the purpose of this whole exercise. No, not extracting as much cash as is humanly possible from the RHI, but replacing environmentally damaging fuels with ones which are environmentally benign.

The uncontrolled burning of plastics and hazardous chemicals is certainly not benign.

Read the EA's Regulatory Position Statment here.

Ewan Bent, Principal Consultant, re:heat.

30th November 2017


*Industrial Emissions Directive, previously the Waste Incineration Directive (WID)