Waste wood supply to UK biomass plants dropped by 60% in April, says WRA

Contractual supplies of waste wood to UK biomass plants were 60% lower at the beginning of April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Wood Recyclers’ Association (WRA), the crisis could impact the waste wood sector for up to three years.

Delegates attending the WRA’s summer meeting webinar on 3 June were told that recovering from the pandemic is going to be a “long journey” for businesses in the sector. The organisation noted that the fallout of the immediate decline in waste wood raw material when the UK lockdown was introduced in March, combined with an “already tight” marketplace for the UK’s waste wood requirements, will affect the sector for at least the next 12 months, if not two to three years ahead.

Several industry experts spoke at the WRA summer meeting, including Vicki Hughes of Enva Wood Recycling, Mark Hayton of panel board specialists Egger UK and Richard Coulson from energy supplier RWE. Members of the WRA also head from Lauma Kazusa of Suez Trading Europe.

Within 10 days of the UK lockdown on 23 March, there had been an 80-90% reduction in inbound waste wood onto recyclers’ sites, according to the WRA. Many recyclers took advantage of the furlough scheme to support their businesses. Since then, feedstock levels have returned to around 50%.

The lift for wood recyclers began slowly at the beginning of May when household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) reopened. A poll taken during the WRA webinar showed HWRCs are a major supplier of waste wood, with 82% of recyclers receiving wood from this source. Although the situation has improved, heavy restrictions that remain in place coupled with HWRC sites not separating waste wood, continue to affect volumes.

Vicki Hughes, group business development director for Enva Wood Recycling, commented: “If we look at the two potential scenarios for the sector over the next 12-18 months, we think possibly the best case will be a shortage of just less than 400,000 tonnes of waste wood. However, in the worst case this could be significantly higher.”

The pandemic has also resulted in the usual contractual supply of waste wood to biomass plants being 60% lower at the beginning of April than usual, although there were variations between suppliers and some were significantly lower.

Some plants had cancelled planned outages due to European specialists being unable to travel, and instead ran at a reduced load, according to Richard Coulson, deputy chair of the WRA. Other plants who were short of fuel had been forced to switch off and some managed to change the fuel mix to import both virgin and waste wood. “The next 12 months are critical,” said Coulson. “If there is a second peak of COVID-19 or a recession, the reduced economic activity could result in the impact on our sector being felt for another two years or more.”

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