So, this is a piece of work that was originally sparked by a conversation that I ran into on twitter, between the excellent Merlin Tomkins (@MerlinTomkins) Ben Clinch (@WoollyMaggot) and Rob Penn (@RobPennWildwood). The gist of which, was “is it possible to economically produce charcoal from coppice grown on road verges? Well, the consensus then was that the value of charcoal was too low to justify the additional work (you can see the original conversation here.)
I thought about this for a few months, and the idea really appealed to me. If we want to transition to a sustainable use of our resources, this kind of multipurpose land use will have to be much more common. In the end I did some “back of the envelope” calculations, which gradually grew into a white paper looking at the use of road verges to grow short rotation forestry which could then be turned into firewood logs. The advantage of this route, is that the log industry operates on a much more local level than the charcoal industry, which eliminates a lot of the competition from overseas.
This is only a first pass analysis using estimates, but there does seem to be an outline business case that suggests further study is warranted:
Initial estimates indicate that if all assumptions are correct, this area of short rotation forestry could produce around 45,000 tonnes of seasoned firewood annually – enough to produce 165 GWh of heat enough to heat around 10,000 homes, and save more than 36,000 tonnes of CO2 annually when compared to natural gas. The sale value of this material is estimated to be in the region of £7.8 million per year (or £650 per linear kilometre of road.) This is in addition to a number of non-economic benefits when compared with other roadside land uses.
What do you think? What would you say if we started growing short rotation forestry on our verges? Why not give me a shout and tell me!
+++ Will Rolls is an independent consultant with expertise in forestry, biomass and sustainability. He gets interested in all sorts of other things which results in this kind of article.