Defra’s Cleaner Fuels Announcement Explained

On Friday 21st February 2020 Defra announced their response on their cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood consultation. The consultation took place between August and October 2018 and focused on England only. The proposals in the consultation included:

  • Restrictions on the sale of wet wood for domestic burning

  • Phasing out the sale of traditional house coal

  • Applying sulphur standards and smoke emission limits to all manufactured solid fuels

Wood

Government isn’t looking to ban the use of wood burning. Government propose that wood sold in single units under 2m ³ (loose stacked) must have a moisture content of 20% or less. ‘Wet wood’ sold over these volumes will be required to come with advice on how to dry it ready for burning.

Wood sold in smaller quantities is more likely to be used immediately and not dried at home, the proposal aims to limit the sale of wood sold in smaller sizes of packaging to dry wood only.

The government now intend to take forward their proposal for a mandatory certification scheme demonstrating that wood sold in volumes under 2m ³ is dry (less than 20% moisture).

This proposal will come into effect one year from publication on the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

Consideration has also been given for small wood producers within the proposal. Those producing less than 600m3 a year or less may find it difficult to invest in the equipment necessary for seasoning. Such suppliers will be given an additional year to comply. This will provide suppliers time to season their wood down to the required level or consider changes to their business model (see section 13.1 of the government response).

For sales of wet wood, seasoning instructions should accompany all sales along with a warning advising that the wood is not suitable to be burnt without appropriate drying. In addition, retailers will be required to store seasoned/dry wood in such a way as to keep it dry.

Woodsure launched its voluntary Ready to Burn scheme in the summer of 2017 and has over 100 suppliers signed up and supplying firewood and briquettes that already meet the requirement of being no more than 20% moisture content.

Coal

Based on the responses to the consultation, Government is proposing to introduce a ban on the sale of all bagged traditional house coal. Government intend the ban to apply one year from the publication of the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

For a transition period, approved coal merchants will be able to sell loose traditional house coal direct to customers. Traditional house coal direct sales will be prohibited two years after this date.

Government has confirmed it isn’t looking to ban the sale of all coal. They want to see a move away from using traditional house coal towards less polluting fuels by only allowing the sale of smokeless coal (or anthracite) and low sulphur manufactured solid fuels for the purpose of domestic heating.

The response also looks at the issue of fuel poverty, concerns were raised in the consultation. Government believes that those in fuel poverty should be protected from the effects of more polluting fuels.

Analysis was undertaken to assess the impact any policy will have on those who use coal as an important source of heating. The analysis found that manufactured solid fuels are actually more efficient on an energy density basis. This makes them cheaper to burn than coal.

Government is putting in place a package of measures to educate people so they move from traditional house coal to smokeless coal or manufactured solid fuels. Measures include education through coal merchants supported by a government-led communications campaign.

One exemption in place relates to the freeminers in the Forest of Dean, given the importance of this activity to local heritage and identity. The volume of coal sold and the impact on the environment is very low and the activity is unique to the forest of Dean.

Manufactured Smokeless Fuels

For manufactured solid fuels for use in domestic combustion it is proposed they should conform to a test confirming sulphur content below 2% and the fuel emits less than 5g smoke per hour. Again, this will be effective one year from publication of the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

Government agreed with the majority of responses who felt there should be a labelling requirement on solid fuel to demonstrate that the fuels meet the standard. This requirement will mean all manufactured solid fuels will need to get their products certified. Guidance will be issued to manufacturers in ensuring their products are compliant.

New Fuels

The response also touches on new fuels that were stated in the Clean Air Strategy, fuels such as coffee and olive logs that are entering the market. Government has affirmed it wants to encourage innovation, but customers need to be certain that these products are safe to use and no testing standard currently exists.

Government suggest that further research is needed to consider the most appropriate standard for these products to ensure that health and environmental impacts are minimised.  The response also states that government intends to review such fuels with a view to setting any relevant standards. It has been clarified that these fuels may continue to be sold outside Smoke Control Areas. They may only be sold in Smoke Control Areas if they meet the smoke and sulphur requirements. Manufacturers of these fuels may apply for certification, and these products will be approved if they meet the requirements.