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Steven Meyen: Burning low-quality wood – a win-win situation for foresters

The by-product of thinning forests can be burnt or sold as firewood a sustainable energy source

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Income source: Jonathan Sykes harvests timber for his own firewood boiler and for sale

Income source: Jonathan Sykes harvests timber for his own firewood boiler and for sale

Jonathan gathers firewood

Jonathan gathers firewood

Ned Liston of Liston Fuel Logs checks moisture content of firewood ready for delivery

Ned Liston of Liston Fuel Logs checks moisture content of firewood ready for delivery

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Income source: Jonathan Sykes harvests timber for his own firewood boiler and for sale

Jonathan and Betty Sykes reckon that last year alone, they saved €20,000 in heating oil by burning the by-products of thinning their 20-hectare, 20-year-old broadleaf woodland.

And that’s before you count the profits from selling larger logs by the lorryload to Liston Fuel Logs, a local firewood dealer; the smaller logs feed their own boiler at the tourist accommodation they run in Springfield, Co Limerick.

When Jonathan and Betty planted their woodland, they were looking to create different income streams, first from the forestry grants and later from firewood and timber sales.

They also wanted to provide recreational opportunities for their guests.

Now, their young broadleaf woodlands are generating substantial amounts of firewood.

By thinning out the lesser-quality trees, more growing space is provided to the better trees, which will eventually produce valuable sawlog — large-diameter wood of good quality. The lesser-quality wood is the firewood.

Energy wood

Wood is a home-grown, renewable, sustainable, carbon-neutral and secure source of heat, electricity and even bio-fuel.

Ireland has excellent wood-growing conditions. Growing and using wood as a source of energy displaces large amounts of imported fossil fuels and increases our self-sufficiency, playing an important role in helping to secure Ireland’s long-term energy security.

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Jonathan gathers firewood

Jonathan gathers firewood

Jonathan gathers firewood

 

The market

Farmers are in a good position to benefit, as growers of wood and as users of cost-effective wood energy. As most planting over the last 25 years has been carried out by farmers, most energy wood will be supplied by farmers in the coming years.

Energy wood consists mainly of low-quality wood removed during harvesting operations.

When thinning a forest, the focus early on should be on the removal of lesser-quality trees. This material can then be used as energy wood.

Wood fuel can be harvested locally, processed locally and provide a source of renewable heat locally. This is a win-win situation for the local farm forest grower, the consumer and the environment.

Wood fuel sources

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Sawlog can be produced more quickly by thinning a forest. Large volumes of pulpwood (smaller-diameter wood of lesser quality) are produced in early thinnings.

This pulpwood can be sold into local energy wood markets, making early thinnings more financially viable, particularly in smaller forests.

 

Quality control and moisture content

Ned Liston, who set up Liston Fuel Logs 10 years ago, says that the importance of drying cannot be overstated.

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Ned Liston of Liston Fuel Logs checks moisture content of firewood ready for delivery

Ned Liston of Liston Fuel Logs checks moisture content of firewood ready for delivery

Ned Liston of Liston Fuel Logs checks moisture content of firewood ready for delivery

After felling, the wood should be stacked in a well-ventilated location and dried down to a moisture content of approximately 20pc.

Quite often, firewood offered for sale still requires substantial additional drying at home.

Don’t be tempted to burn wet wood. Let it dry out until the moisture content is brought down to around 20pc, otherwise the wood’s heat will be used to dry it in the appliance rather than heating the room.

Burning damp wood damages the chimney, contributes to chimney fires and causes pollution due to incomplete combustion. Don’t burn wet wood!

Wood fuels need to offer a consistent, reliable, standardised quality. Wood fuels that do not conform to the highest European standards can cause emission problems, and damage heating systems and the reputation of the wood heating industry.

Quality, size and uniformity, moisture content, calorific value and (lack of) impurities are important.

Potential buyers must verify the quality of the wood fuel offered for sale. The Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme for Ireland is an all-island scheme established to increase consumer confidence in wood fuel products sold in Ireland. See www.wfqa.org

Hardwood Focus — firewood production from thinning broadleaves

This webinar on Thursday, October 7 from 7-8pm will focus on the efficient production of firewood from young broadleaf woodlands.

It will include two short informative videos, a live presentation and a live studio panel to discuss participants’ questions.

Timely first and second thinnings are essential to provide the better trees with space for vigorous growth, allowing for the production of more valuable hardwood sawlog.

The wood produced from early thinning operations is a by-product of management.

The firewood market, together with support from the DAFM thinning grants, provides forest owners with additional early income.

The first video will show a recent second thinning operation carried out by Jonathan Sykes in his woodlands in Co Limerick.

The second video will explain how commercial firewood processing is done by Ned and John Liston of Liston Fuel Logs.

This will be followed by a presentation by Noel Gavigan of IrBEA discussing firewood as a renewable energy source.

Topics covered will include:

■ Thinning operations best practice;

■ Management grants available;

■ Commercial firewood production;

■ Firewood as a green renewable energy source.

Registration is required, at www.teagasc.ie/hardwoodfocus

 

Steven Meyen is a Teagasc forestry advisor based in Ballybofey; steven.meyen@teagasc.ie


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