Following on from Lloyd’s piece on the long-term effects of Brexit, we’re going to be taking a look at how European environmental goals could have cemented Biomass fuels as the go-to form of renewable energy.
During the mid-90s, the smoky hangover of the 70s and 80s were just about clearing. Britain, and the world at large, were just starting to get wise to the environmental damage that they had been causing the world since the inception of industrialisation.
Over 20 years ago, social awareness for Environmental issues was at a shocking low.
Most Brits still associated a love for the Environment with the liberal, or even communist, tendencies of the Free Love Movement of the 60s and 70s.
In 1994, over a quarter of the country’s adult population smoked, recycling had yet to get to off the ground and there was little or no public awareness of issues such as Climate Change or Global Warming. It was a good thing, then, that the Declaration of Madrid locked the UK into one of the first big EU environmental goals of it’s kind.
With the aim of ensuring that 15% of all energy produced would be from renewable resources come 2010, the UK now had an agreement set in stone, requiring us to actively pursue the research of sustainable resources.
Since Ian Tubby and Alan Armstrong’s defining research, on behalf of the Forestry Commission back in 2002, popularity in diversification for use of Short Rotation Coppice methods has skyrocketed. Within years of this research being released, countries such as Sweden were heavily investing in Biomass production – touting Willow as the ideal crop to focus on.
Tubby and Armstrong took into account nearly 50 sample crops taken from around the UK over the course of several years, and studied closely the increasing biomass output in 6 species of Poplar and Willow trees. They discovered that only a handful of cuttings were needed to produce 2-3 saplings.
Willow varieties grew especially quickly, climbing up to 3m within a year. After experimenting with cutting cycles, the scientists hit upon the optimum growing process to ensure maximum biomass output with as little energy expenditure as possible. This ensures that British wood pellets produced from this process are as energy efficient and clean as possible.
After a season of growth, the 3m saplings are cut back down to just above ground level. This might limit immediate gains, but encourages the trees to grow more shoots, increasing the eventual yield that the trees will produce. The saplings are left to grow for another 2-4 years until they’ve fully bulked out. This is when the farmer uses specialist machinery to harvest the wood, making sure to leave the stool intact so that it can continue to grow.
These trees are given concurrent 3-year growing periods which can lead to a decade of Biomass production. After 3 or 4 growth cycles the yield of these trees declines – leaving the farmer to replace the trees with new cuttings and start the process again.
The targets and goals, set by the EU over 20 years ago, put Britain on a new path of sustainable practices and changed the way thought about the environment.
We can only hope that post-Brexit Britain will continue to be so forward thinking.