The prices of gas and electric heat are about to increase by 54% on April 1, 2022, with yet another price hike predicted to take place in October. To save money on heating, people all over the UK are researching the possibility to switch over to inexpensive wood fuel heat. However, many are confused about the environmental impact of such a choice.
On the one hand, major media outlets are reporting that firewood is a carbon-neutral source of energy. On the other hand, Defra and other organisations have long warned people against the health and environmental dangers of burning wet wood.
So which is it? Is wood fuel a clean source of energy? Or is it damaging to the environment? In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about environmentally friendly heating with wood fuels.
Are Wood Fuels Carbon-Neutral?
Yes, fuelwood is considered to be a carbon-neutral source of energy.
This is because firewood and briquettes can only produce carbon (in the form of CO2) that is already in active circulation. In fact, burning a piece of wind-fallen wood will produce the exact same amount of carbon dioxide as simply letting it biodegrade.
In comparison, burning coal, gasoline, or natural gas releases new, previously-trapped carbon into the atmosphere, carbon has been out of active circulation for millions of years and wouldn’t have reentered the atmosphere otherwise.
So, in short, burning fossil fuels actively adds carbon dioxide into the environment, whereas burning fuelwood simply circulates carbon that is already in active circulation.
This is why the US EPA declared wood fuel to be a carbon-neutral source of energy several years ago.
Dangers of Low-Quality Wood Fuel
When unseasoned (aka wet) wood is burned, it smoulders and releases a large number of harmful pollutants into the air. Chief among these is creosote, a highly toxic cancerogenic substance that is harmful to all forms of life.
In order to burn safely, wood fuels need to be dried. Defra considers moisture levels below 20% to be safe and certifies all wood fuels below this threshold as Ready to Burn.
You can further decrease your environmental footprint by purchasing premium firewood that is dried to even lower moisture levels. Such firewood will burn even cleaner and more efficiently than regular Ready to Burn fuelwood.
Firewood and briquettes can be an incredibly clean, carbon-neutral heat source. However, in order to burn cleanly and efficiently, wood fuel needs to be properly dried. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs recognizes fuelwood dried to moisture levels under 20% to be safe to burn. In the UK, all such firewood carries a Ready to Burn sticker on its packaging.
You can further decrease your carbon footprint by purchasing eco-friendly firewood (which can contain as little as 10% moisture) and upgrading to an Ecodesign-ready wood stove.