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Energy sector could ignore waste wood as fuel, expert warns

The biomass power generation market could close its doors to wood recyclers if something is not done to address their misperceptions, an expert has said.

The biomass industry is considered a major alternative market to chipboard manufacturers, who are the main outlet for waste wood in the UK.

Co-generation plants could use hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste wood each year because waste wood counts as a renewable fuel under the government's Renewables Obligations Certificates scheme. Power companies have to generate 10% of the UK's energy from renewable sources by 2010.

But one expert in the sector is warning wood recyclers that a serious misperception within the power generation industry regarding the suitability of waste wood as a fuel could threaten "potentially huge" opportunities.

Toby Beadle, who is heading up the procurement team for a 30MW biomass power station on Teesside (see story) said: "There's a general misunderstanding in the energy sector when it comes to using waste wood as fuel – people believe that all wood waste is contaminated and you can't clear it up. It's just a perception issue, but unless the wood recyclers start discussing it with the energy sector, wood waste will be largely ignored as a fuel."

The biomass industry is seen as vitally important to the future of the wood recycling sector, which has been suffering in recent months because supplies of waste wood from construction sites and local authorities are outstripping demand from the chipboard mills.

Mr Beadle, a former advisor to WRAP, told there was no reason why contamination of wood waste should be an issue of concern for power companies building new biomass plants. New boilers could be built to take even the most contaminated material, with the only potential problem being an increase in emissions – which would have to be controlled anyway.

He said: "Contamination shouldn't be an issue – packaging waste is not contaminated at all, for example, and there's plenty of that – 1.4 million tonnes generated in the UK each year.

"There's lots of opportunities – Slough Heat and Power are taking in 5,500 tonnes of wood a week now, and 40% of that is waste wood," he added.

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