Skip to main content

Waste Wood

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

Our top priority is to encourage prevention or re-use of waste wood, wherever possible. However, recent research has concluded that there are significant energy and carbon benefits from recovering energy from waste wood, compared with sending it to landfill, where most of it currently goes. DEFRA is taking forward a programme of work to develop energy markets for waste wood by addressing the informational and practical barriers to expansion.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I am sure that she will recall the statement in “Climate Change the UK Programme 2006”, suggesting that if waste wood that currently goes into landfill were diverted to use for fuel, that could account for more than 11 per cent. a year of the UK’s carbon reduction targets. In that light, will she expedite and seek to achieve agreement on Environment Agency proposals for protocols on waste wood as a fuel resource?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, but I am sorry to have to tell him that, because of the lack of agreement on suitable controls and standards, the Environment Agency and the industry have not been able to produce a protocol. However, it is not all bad news and we hope that the industry itself will make further progress on protocols. The Environment Agency issued new guidance on 3 October, confirming the deregulation of virgin timber. That means that producers will be able to recover and sell on virgin waste wood, such as off-cuts, shavings and sawdust and, of course, the production that comes from the management of forests. Those will be free from regulatory control. Clean and treated non-virgin timber will remain classified as waste and regulated as normal through exemptions and waste legislation.

The hon. Lady will understand that waste wood could be an important raw material source in the production of second-generation biofuels, whose importance becomes more apparent as we move towards the era of road transport fuels obligation and as we seek a solution to the food-fuel paradox. Not much seems to be happening in respect of developing second-generation biofuels in the UK, so will the Minister tell me what DEFRA is actually doing to take advantage of her own Government’s assistance in this sector to see second generation become reality?

DEFRA is dealing with the issue very actively. What is needed first is a collection of wood and other biodegradable materials such as food waste, all of which could be used for the production of renewable fuels, and that is being done in a number of ways. We have an infrastructure programme, research is taking place, and we have support from WRAP, the waste and resources action programme. There are a variety of ways in which we expect to be able to develop more infrastructure, because, following the collection of raw materials, the introduction of appropriate infrastructure is the key.

WRAP is working on developing markets. We are also renewing the renewables obligation, and considering the possibility of its operating under a banded system. Electricity generated from waste wood, for example, would be eligible for support under the obligation.

Will my hon. Friend and Portcullis House neighbour accept an invitation to visit my constituency? It lies at the heart of the 200sq m national forest, where industries associated with waste wood are being developed at quite a rapid rate. If she does visit my constituency, will my hon. Friend visit Orchard primary school in Castle Donington—where I switched on a wood-pellet boiler some time ago—and observe the ways in which we can encourage public sector bodies such as schools, hospitals and police stations to install heating systems using materials of this kind?

I should be very pleased to receive an invitation to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency, if my diary permits such a visit.

Such schemes are important, and we expect both the private and the public sector to be increasingly prepared to use wood as fuel. At present 7.5 million tonnes of waste wood arise each year, of which the vast majority—6 million tonnes—is disposed of as landfill. If it could be used in the production of energy, that would be enormously beneficial.

My hon. Friend mentioned the forest in his area. The Forestry Commission has come up with an excellent plan in its wood fuel strategy for England, which it hopes will produce an additional 2 million tonnes of wood a year by 2020. It will be good-quality wood, and it will be possible to burn it and recover fuel very efficiently. It could supply 250,000 homes with energy.