Wood Fuel for a low energy future

On the evening of Thursday 19th July Transition Town Westcliff supporter and wood burner installer Jay Scarlett gave an excellent presentation regarding the potential of wood as a fuel for a low carbon, post-cheap oil future;

Current energy and environmental issues are on all our minds. With gas and oil prices rising and stocks depleting the mention of renewable energy is no longer just the concern of the green ones among us. One answer lies in the sustainable management (coppicing) and replanting of our local indigenous woodlands in harmony with urban and rural society.

Coppice is an ancient woodland industry, mastered in the Tudor era. Sustainable sections of forest were harvested to produce a variety of products, from firewood to battleships. The coppice was regulated by a statute of Henry VIII, which required woods to be enclosed after cutting (to prevent browsing by animals) and 12 standards (mature uncut trees) to be left in each acre and be grown as structural timber.

Traditionally the coppice takes place on a 10-20 year rotation depending on the product needed. Young tree stems are cut down to the stump (stool), which re-grow producing multiple stems called poles. This process is especially beneficial for plant and wildlife as a wide variety of habitats unfold. The sunlight (previously blocked by dominant trees) reaches the woodland floor to release dormant flora such as bluebells and orchids. Trees that are well managed live longer, support local biodiversity and consume more carbon dioxide.

As a tree grows it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, when the tree is burnt or left to rot, the same amount of carbon is released again. This is known as a carbon neutral cycle. The heat produced by burning wood can be seen as the warmth of the sun, stored in the trees through the process of photosynthesis. When the sun abandons us during the cold dark days of winter, we liberate the suns heat through reverse photosynthesis, like every other cycle in nature, every process has its opposite.

Our concept is to make woodlands self sufficient. We show daily that wood burning can be eased into modern lifestyles through the education of ours and our children’s generation to use sustainable wood as a real and necessary carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuels. Heating your home with logs can mean that your energy bill incurs no standing charge and is paid directly to the local forest industry that manage our woodland, street and garden trees. In turn, local councils, farmers and land owners see tree planting more favourably.

Having put wood burning and coppicing into a historical context, Jay then went on to explain its relevance as a potential low carbon fuel source for a future Westcliff, a large urban area. There have been some questions from sections of the Transition Movement about the viability of wood burning as a long term energy descent strategy, however Jay was clear that wood fuel is only part of the picture, stressing that in order to be a carbon neutral solution it needs to be;

* Chopped by hand or using minimal machinery
* Left to dry (season) in the woodland or local compound
* Delivered to the end user locally from where it was processed in measured quantities
* Graded for specific wood performance (calorific value) and stacked
correctly
* Burned in a well fitted, high efficiency stove, by a consumer educated in good user practice

Wood that is processed by large, oil-dependant industrial machinery and delivered around the country in diesel lorries is not carbon-neutral.

Furthermore, wood burning can be combined with other renewable technologies such as using solar heated hot water and increased energy efficiency measures such as double glazing, draught proofing and insulation in order to meet our heating needs through the year. Jay is currently working on developing a prototype solar heated wood store in order to efficiently kiln-dry stacked fresh cut timber, what he describes as ‘permaculture in action!’

On the question of fuel availability, in the longer term we will need to implement massive tree planting and re-afforestation programs, but Jay also pointed out the vast amounts of wood generated by the pollarding of street and garden trees, most of which is currently chipped. Eddie, a local demolition contractor, commented that he sees vast amounts of scrap wood wasted in the course of his work alone that could be a potential fuel source.

Re-instigating local deliveries from the woodlands to the doorstep by horse drawn cart as was the practice of our forefathers is another possibility for exploration, much of the infrastructure in terms of old stable buildings are still in existance, even though most have of course now been converted to other uses.

After a lively and informative question and answer session we enjoyed a summer social evening in the shop, well lubricated by plenty of glasses of Pimms and food cooked on the log fueled Rayburn courtesy of Jay’s wife Mel.

Many thanks to Mel and Jay for their hospitality and an inspiring and informative night, the first of many more to come we hope!

For more information see www.designafireplace.com

2 Responses

  1. I enjoyed the evening throughout and was great to listen to Jay’s expertise on issues of wood production and wood heating

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