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Wood As Fuel

By Irish Energy Centre  
Wood as densified pellets makes it as good as coal. When taken from managed forests, this fuel is renewable and almost smoke-free.

Wood is a renewable, carbon neutral and virtually smoke-free fuel. Despite its environmental advantages, however, it isn't always the preferred choice with consumers. It can be difficult to source, it is bulky and cumbersome to transport and store and its energy density is low - typically only about a third that of coal.

In Sweden and Finland where forestry occupies more than 60 percent of total covered area, the wood processing industry has come up with a solution that not only solves the problem of handling waste residues but packages wood in a form that makes it just as convenient as other solid fuels.

The Scandinavia Wood Pellet Concept

Wood is densified into small, uniform fuel pellets, that are easily handled and have an energy density close to coal. The pellets, which are typically about the size of animal feed granules, can be extruded from either wood processing industries waste or from forest residues the tree lop and top, which traditionally were left to decompose on the forest floor.

Once in pellet form, wood can be delivered to the home in stacks or containers or even by tanker for air blowing into storage tanks. Because of their uniform size, the pellets can be fed by conveyor systems into automatic furnace systems, which simply involve filling up the bunker with fuel once or twice a week and emptying the ashes about once a fortnight.

The Danish Fire Away! Campaign

Denmark, with just 10 percent forest coverage, does not have the same tradition in using wood as its other Scandinavian neighbors. According to the Danish Centre for Biomass Technology, however, a network of pellet dealers and distributors is establishing rapidly, with supplies available almost anywhere in the country.

To increase the use of biomass in wood stoves and small boilers, the Danish Energy Agency launched the Fire Away! campaign in the mid-1990s. This initiative combined an information campaign aimed at homes outside the natural gas and district heating networks with financial support towards the purchase of a wood heating system. The level of grant support varies between 10 to 30 percent, depending on the efficiency and environmental performance of the unit chosen and is only available for systems approved by the Small-Scale Biofuel Boiler Testing Association. Householders within connection distance to the natural gas network cannot apply for the grant; while additional incentives are available for consumers switching from electrical heating systems.

Wood Fuel in Ireland

Wood is still the most important renewable energy source in Ireland in terms of contribution to primary energy requirements. A significant share comes from the large wood processing industries who burn the wastes they produce in-house to generate process heat. The wood boilers at Riversdale Leisure Complex in County Leitrim are another example of the same idea at a smaller scale. Riversdale takes a daily delivery of wood waste from a nearby timber processing facility and burns it along with household rubbish in Passat boilers, which provide heating for a guest-house, holiday homes, swimming pool and family home. A West Cork furniture maker, O'Donnell Design in Skibberean, has taken the idea a step further using wood waste to produce densified wood briquettes for sale to local consumers.

Burning logs in the fireplace and solid-fuelled boilers has traditionally represented a significant portion of the contribution from wood to primary energy requirements, but this practice is generally restricted to rural, wooded areas, with urban dwellers finding supply limited and seasonal. According to Teagasc, however, surplus wood fuel does exist in Ireland in the form of forest residues. Harnessing this resource for electricity generation does not appear to be economically favourable under current circumstances, but in direct heat applications, the cost may be more competitive with other solid fuels.

For further information, contact the Irish Energy Centre, Renewable Energy Information Office, Shinagh House, Bandon, County Cork. Tel 023 42193; Fax 023 41304; email

Information on wood fuel is also available from the Irish Bioenergy Association. Contact, Kevin Healion, Biomass Unit, Tipperary Rural Business Development Instute, 3 Slievenenamon Road, Thurles, County Tipperary. Tel 0504 24488; Fax 0504 24671.


Information on Support for Renewables

The Renewable Energy Information Office has compiled information on a range of funding and support sources that may be applicable for renewable energy projects. In addition to covering the main energy programmes, the document provides information on funding sources that may be more suitable for projects that fulfil broader objectives such as rural development, preservation of heritage, waste management, etc.

To receive a copy, contact the Irish Energy Centre, Renewable Energy Information Office, Shinagh House, Bandon, County Cork. Tel 023-42193; Fax 023 41304; email

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