How the by-product of timber production is a cheap and clean renewable energy source

 

Only 50pc of each tree can be processed for sawn timber products
Only 50pc of each tree can be processed for sawn timber products

Roisin McManus

Output from the commercial forests of this island provides a wide range of high-quality sawn timber used for construction, fencing, pallet wood, and round posts.

However, despite highly trained workers and the widespread use of the latest cutting and measuring technology linked to powerful computers, only around 50pc of each tree can be processed into a sawn timber product. This is mainly due to the losses of converting naturally grown round or oval shapes into square or rectangular sections.

The left-over wood fibre is known as sawmill co-product. Amongst other uses, this co-product can provide renewable energy.

There are hundreds of global operations now running CHP plants fuelled by forest industry co-products where electricity and heat are the outputs. When not used directly in adjacent operations the lower grade heat can be captured and used to manufacture high energy dense wood fuel such as wood pellets.

An example in Ireland is Balcas in Co Fermanagh. 100pc of their factory electrical need is met from power generated out of forest co-products; the excess being "spilled" to the grid. The leftover heat from generation is used to dry more co-products that are densified by making wood pellets.

In turn, this product is used as heat fuel in hospitals, schools, livestock producers, hotels, some domestic homes, as well as industrial processes (such as distilleries) with substantial heat need. Users come in many shapes and sizes, but commercial users benefit the most; ranging from those with annual loads above 25m MWh, to thousands of others including those in the agri-sector, for example pig and poultry, and mushroom farmers.

There are also many tens of thousands of domestic premises that have converted to wood pellet use. In all cases the user has significantly reduced their carbon footprint.

A lot has been learned about how to harness the renewable resource of the forest to displace some of mankind's fossil fuel demand. Though these technologies have wider acceptance in North America, Scandinavia and mainland Europe, Ireland with its increasing forest resource is catching up fast.

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The wood pellet technology for larger users of process steam and heat production now permits similar performance to oil or gas in terms of reliability and responsiveness to fluctuating heat demand. This technology is available in sizes up to 50MW.

Ireland is planning to increase forest cover by 64pc over the next 30 years, and the government is planning to both steadily increase carbon taxes and incentivise the switch to green.

As a result, there has never been a better time to consider forest products for all your sustainable renewable energy needs.

They are high quality, locally produced, and using proven technology that's available now.

There is support from sustainable and reputable local organisations with the scale, and resources to help our homes and workplaces deliver the reduction in GHG emissions that our planet needs.

Roisin McManus is Communications Officer with Balcas Timber, Laragh, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

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