Forestry Focus

Wood Energy

Wood has been used by man as an energy source since the earliest times.  The wood and charcoal that were once used extensively as fuel for cooking and heating have today largely been replaced by the more convenient energy sources of oil, gas and electricity. Wood, however, continues to be a major source of energy for developing countries but in recent years it is also being increasingly used in Ireland. This increased demand is due to an awareness of the need to use sustainable, renewable energy sources to provide security of supply and also to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels which are contributing to global warming.

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas when burned release carbon dioxide (CO2 ) which is one of the main greenhouse gases. The release of large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere is considered to be one of the main causes of global warming. However, wood from sustainably managed forests, when used as an energy source, does not add extra carbon to the atmosphere as the carbon released through its combustion and/or decay is taken up by replacement trees. The net effect is that wood is carbon neutral if it comes from well managed forests.

Ireland’s Renewable Energy Action Plan has an ambitious target of 16% of energy coming from renewable resources by 2020. Bioenergy, as one of these renewable resources, will play an important part achieving this target. The Bioenergy Action Plan highlights the potential of wood biomass as a prime source of material particularly for the heat sector.

The heat used in our homes, public buildings, business and factories account for nearly 40% of the energy consumed in Ireland. Biomass is ideally suited to provide a controllable and continuous supply of thermal energy, as an alternative to imported fuels such as oil and gas.

Energy Wood Supply

The Irish wood based energy sector is still in the early stages of its development but there is considerable scope for expansion. The emerging wood biomass sector in Ireland provides a new market for wood fibre. This demand can be supplied by roundwood and/or by the use of sawmill residues and other sources.

Chips - Coillte

Wood chips are used by the wood processing mills as a source of thermal energy (photo Coillte)

Currently, renewable thermal energy use in Ireland is dominated by biomass, in particular the use of waste wood to produce thermal energy during the manufacture of panel products, in sawmills and at wood processing plants. However, forest thinnings and logging brash (branches and tops) from clearfells are also potential sources of wood biomass, provided they are harvested from suitable sites.

Willow SRC by Lamiot

Willow coppice (photo Lamiot)

There are also other sources of wood biomass, particularly from short rotation coppice (mainly willow) with a harvesting rotation of 2-3 years, or potentially from short rotation forestry (ash, eucalyptus etc.) on a rotation of 5-15 years. Yields of 10-12 tonnes dry matter/hectare/year can be expected on suitable soils.


Promoting Wood Energy

The Department of Agriculture and Food, and COFORD are actively encouraging the development of a Wood Energy Sector in Ireland through a number of initiatives, primarily aimed at the development of an effective and efficient supply chain from forest grower to end user. These include:

  • Funding an active R&D programme to provide essential information on material supply, harvesting, processing and transport of forest biomass etc.
  • Providing a free advisory service to the sector on all aspects of wood energy
  • Organising conferences, seminars and workshops to raise awareness of wood energy and discuss technical issues.
  • Holding field days to demonstrate harvesting machinery and methods
  • Publication of reports and practical information notes
  • Development of a wood fuel quality assurance scheme

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is providing information on wood burning stoves, boilers and approved installers and operates a number of grant schemes such as the Greener Homes Scheme, Bioheat Programme and the CHP Grant Scheme to encourage the use of wood energy. It also co-funds R&D projects on wood energy with COFORD.

Teagasc is also promoting wood energy to the farming community. Much of the afforestation effort in the last 20 years has been undertaken by farmers. These plantations are beginning to mature and material from thinnings is ideally suited for use as wood fuel.

In addition to the efforts of the state organisations private companies are emerging that provide energy wood to consumers.  The supply chain is being developed with companies now supplying wood chip, pellets and firewood to customers, produced to standard specifications of size and moisture content etc.

Further information:

A website owned and managed by COFORD and the Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which provides comprehensive information on using wood biomass as a carbon neutral, renewable energy source. Information is given on wood fuel quality and all aspects of the wood fuel supply chain, such as harvesting, storage, transportation, handling, as well as aspects of health and safety for fuels originating from the forest or from short rotation coppice. A free advisory service is also provided.

Woodflow and forest-based biomass energy use on the island of Ireland (2014)

This note provides the 2011 wood-flows for the Republic of Ireland and for the island of Ireland, together with an analysis of the use of forest-based biomass for energy production.

A review of past and current research on short rotation coppice in Ireland and abroad

This report investigates research in the area of short rotation coppice on willow and poplar in Ireland and northern Europe.

 Wood Energy and Supply Chain

Website of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) providing information on the wood energy supply chain.

Teagasc Wood Energy

Provides links from Teagasc website on wood energy

Wood Fuel

Information note on wood fuel targeted at the farming community.