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Wood Waste: Energy Trends

February 2020

Energy recovery from waste wood resources has risen as more sites have become operational in the UK. In 2018, 2.3 million tonnes of wood waste was incinerated, crossing the 2 million threshold and representing an increase of almost 20% compared to 2017.

2.3 million tonnes is a lot of wood, but how does this rise compare to the total volume of waste wood? How is the rise in domestic EfW impacting on wood waste exports? How is it affecting other uses? Is wood still going to landfill?

Looking at wood waste exports, it is apparent that the trend is certainly downwards so there is likely to be a degree of switching here from exports to UK EfW:

So, viewing this in context, domestic EfW has risen, wood waste exports have fallen. How does this appear against a backdrop of all wood waste?

On the chart above, we see the unmistakably-rising EfW and the falling exports, but note that the fall in exports is of a smaller scale than the rise in EfW. Landfill levels have been low over the years in question, so the change has not really made any noticeable different to the low volumes being landfilled.

Other UK uses perhaps saw a slight drop between 2017 and 2018, but it is too early to regard this as a trend, since there was seemingly a small rise in other uses between 2016 and 2017.

Overall, then, the conclusion would be that the increase in feedstock to domestic wood waste EfW has partly been resourced from an expanding pool of material; possibly thanks to a growing economy, or perhaps better segregation of streams in recovery facilities.

If the pattern continues, however, and additional biomass EfW sites are developed, it may be surmised that they are unlikely to be fed from the already-declining export volumes. Might they be filled with wood from the pot of "growing economy and better segregation"? Maybe, but there are natural limits to both of those factors. Thus, the "Other Uses" will come under increasing pressure, which may present a challenge to waste hierarchy ambitions.

Looking around the UK, where does the wood waste end up for its ultimate energy recovery fate? We can see in the chart below that Northern England and Scotland feature heavily for capacity. This chart shows where the wood is actually incinerated by region:

Taking a slightly different look at regional data, we might wonder where each region's wood actually goes to. Thus, we have seen above how London has the lowest EfW capacity for wood - so what happens to the residual wood waste from London that can only viably be treated by an energy recovery route? We see in the Interregional chart below that most of London's wood moves "Outside the Region". That would make sense in the unique context of London. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, the only two regions where wood waste is sent for export are the South East and East of England. In these two areas, with good port routes, exporting the wood waste by ship is as viable as sending it to a facility in the north of England by road:

What we also see in the chart above is the fact that most regions demonstrate a high degree of interregional movement. We might have predicted that a higher degree of Yorkshire and Humber's wood waste would stay in the region, since it has the highest EfW capacity, but we notice that a significant percentage still moves "Out of Region". Of course, waste arisings at the edge of a region will go to whichever EfW facility is within viable reach, even if that facility happens to be in the neighbouring region.

Finally, a map to show the wood waste EfW capacity (England and Scotland only):

Footprint Services provides information on wood waste, RDF, food waste treatment and other waste streams - please get in touch for more information