Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Knock on Wood!

It has been claimed ( that there is a rise in the burning of wood in UK homes as a consequence of increasing costs of other fuels (gas and electricity). The UK apparently annually grows up to 1 million tonnes of firewood but imports (adding to the carbon footprint) around another 180,000 tonnes of wood and wood products. This sounds a lot but prices per 'load' (very regionally varied) are increasing along with the incidence of rogue sellers of unseasoned green (in the other sense) woods. In spite of this, it has been estimated by the Forestry Commission that some 7.5 million tonnes of wood (30% being of 'burnable quality') goes into landfill annually. All this sounds very traditional (and a bit wasteful) but it should be remembered that a greater proportion of the world's population cook on wood (much more than are 'cooking on gas'). All this activity reduces forests (although one can make a case for effective harvesting) but, so long as the woodlands are encouraged to regrow recycles the carbon. There probably is scope for efficient wood burning as an energy source in the UK (in deed, the Government is said to have a woodfuel strategy for England aiming to annually heat an extra 250,000 homes with an extra 2 million tonnes of 'green' wood by 20200 so long as options like solar and wind power are not neglected. Going back to the point of the landfill wood, I have been told that the Aztecs used a process to generate 'biocharcoal' from wood which was added to soil to improve its properties. This apparently very carbon efficient process (in spite of requiring heat) 'locks' carbon in the soil for hundreds of years. Why don't we convert our waste wood products in this way and use the product to improve soil fertility?

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