Woody biomass as a heat source can help to reduce the amount of additional carbon in the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels.
The Problem with Fossil Fuels
When fossil fuels are burned, carbon that has been locked in the earths crust for millions of years is released into the atmosphere. This additional carbon collects in the atmosphere in the form of CO2 and methane along with naturally recycled carbon and is known as atmospheric greenhouse gas.
The problem with the additional carbon in the atmosphere is that it absorbs more heat from the earths surface, which it in turn radiates back towards the surface of the earth resulting in an increase in the surface temperatures above what it would be in the absence of the additional gases.
The Sustainable Solution
By comparison, biomass takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it is growing, and returns it as it is burned. If it is managed on a sustainable basis, with the biomass being harvested as part of a constantly replanted and managed woodland crop then the same amount of CO2 is absorbed as is burned as fuel.
This maintains a closed carbon cycle, with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.
Increased Woodland Productivity
Greater demand for wood fuel is expected to increase the productivity of our woodland through improved management, not only will this increase in production provide greater access to wood fuel it will help to absorb greater amounts of CO2.
Woody Biomass Fuel
It should be noted that mature trees are rarely cut down specifically for wood fuel. Instead virgin wood for biomass is supplied from residues such as branches, small round wood (SRW), thinnings, poorly formed wood, stumps and brash. High quality timber will continue to be processed by sawmills for the construction, furniture and other industries, and these too will produce residues and co-product such as offcuts, bark and sawdust that are also potentially suitable fuel.
The raw material to produce wood chip for fuel and hardwood firewood is plentiful in the UK. The Forestry Commission estimates there is an additional 2,000,000 tonnes of material per year available from unmanaged woodlands.