Supply chain pressure on waste wood firms

By Andy Hill, Chair of the Wood Recyclers’ Association. E-mail:


he rapidly developing biomass energy market in the UK and Europe continues to

present us with many dynamics ‘at play’ as we enter into the second quarter of 2018. Some of the new plants under construction have experienced delays. Commissioning, as always, is proving difficult and perhaps some may now miss critical milestone deadlines. The implications of this are clearly significant and it will be interesting to see how the owners and investors respond. As we know, biomass fuel from waste wood plays a very important role in the UK’s renewable energy growth strategy. In the first quarter of 2017, carbon emissions in the UK were down by 40% compared to the average taken between

2009 and 2013. At the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA) we estimate waste wood biomass will contribute around 1% to the UK’s annual power generation, equivalent to around 770,000 households when the new build plants come on line later this year. We have acknowledged for some time now that the UK’s use of waste wood as a biomass fuel is set to double by the end of this year as these new builds enter commercial operation. When they do, with existing biomass plant demand, the annual feedstock requirement for this sector will be sitting at around 3 million tonnes. So, are we now reaching the point where we are questioning whether there will, in fact, be enough supply of raw material in the UK to meet our domestic need? Some say yes and that this shortfall could be as much

as 500,000 tonnes. Others suggest the UK will become a net importer of waste wood from Europe and that the use of alternative fuels, of which there are many, will increase as plant operators are forced to secure fuel feedstock.

With all this new demand coming on stream, there will be a need for significantly increased biomass fuel production. Suppliers of biomass fuel to these new facilities, the wood recyclers, will be under pressure now to ensure feedstock availability. In reality, however, given the pace at which Fire Prevention Plans (FPPs) are being approved – or not! – how will the entire supply chain cope with the usual unplanned outages new plants inevitably experience? If you consider an additional 1.3 million tonnes of demand this year and factor in, perhaps

Andy Hill, Chair of the WRA.

conservatively, an additional 20% reduced plant availability, this would mean a storage requirement of around 250,000 tonnes. If it can’t be stored due to the slow pace of FPP approval, then where will it go?

All of this means the capacity to store large volumes of raw material and finished product is crucial and therefore it is more important than ever that the work we are currently doing with the Environment Agency and our partners on FPPs and waste wood classification has an outcome that works for all.

Our supply chain will need to be able to store the raw material when it is at its greatest capacity in the Summer months ready for the highest off-take in the Winter months. Without that storage capacity the question of whether there is enough wood to supply all the new plants will become immaterial. We simply won’t have the space required to store it in the first place, a disaster given the investment our members have made in increased infrastructure and, of course, the significance that our sector makes to UK energy production.

RWE’s Markinch combined heat and power biomass plant in Fife, Scotland. 6 Spring 2018


Rest assured, the WRA is well-placed to continue to lobby hard for our sector on these important topics and I, the Board and the Executive Director remain fully committed to steering to a successful outcome for our members on the myriad of challenges we collectively face. More information from

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