Wood burning stoves ban and the truth about PM2.5 fine particle emissions

Wood burning stoves to be banned?

January 2019

I first got into installing wood burners because they appealed. They were simple, down to earth. I also liked that wood was a renewable resource and the government was pushing them as helpful in the fight against fossil fuel pollution. This was in 2007 and my life has revolved around them ever since.

Recent bad press in the media and outbursts from politicians has concerned me. A dip in sales I can cope with but am I doing wrong? Is what I thought to be a valuable part of the renewables revolution something else entirely?

This article followed my evaluation of the recent "hysteria".

Julian Patrick

Managing Director Stovefitter's Warehouse

 

Ecodesign

Around 2.5 million homes in the UK use solid fuel fire or stoves.
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/air-quality-explaining-air-pollution/air-quality-explaining-air-pollution-at-a-glance

In 2022 all wood burning stoves sold in Europe must be from a new generation of extremely clean-burning Ecodesign models (look for the term Ecodesign). Particles (the pollution) will be reduced to a bare minimum. Older, more polluting models (usually cheap Chinese) will be banned.

Good news you might think and, for the stove industry working hard on these new models, an exciting new era. I visited a factory in Devon and was surprised at the amount of time and technology that went into testing their latest models.

All of our Ecodesign stoves here

It started in London

At the same time as the stove industry was innovating, a few high-profile politicians realised that air pollution in cities was becoming a hot topic and one that needed some swift attention. London, where most of these politicians are based, has high levels of air pollution because so many people are so tightly-packed into a small area and road traffic is dense, slow-moving and constant. So let's focus on London.

During the winter of 2018 and then again in 2019 the British media, prompted by Environment Secretary, Michael Gove and Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn lashed out:

"Wood burning stoves to be banned", said the headlines, followed by an avalanche of articles about the perceived sins of the wood burning stove (a few years earlier wood stoves were feted as part of the march toward a renewables energy revolution).

Much of what was written in these outbursts turned out to be, at best, sensationalist and, at worst, highly inaccurate. It was also aimed at the wrong target entirely (we shall come to this shortly). 

Kudos to the Mayor of London - he did later come out in support of Ecodesign stoves: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/tackling-toxic-emissions-from-wood-burners although the good news is not what the press tends to promote so maybe you did not read about this.

In central London, in 2013, 62% of PM2.5 emissions were from road transport (exhaust fumes, disk brake wear, tyre wear). This from the Mayor of London's own report (PM2.5 emissions are the smaller particles that are of the most concern when it comes to pollution):

Source: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/les_appendix_2_-_evidence_base_0.pdf

Okay - it is from 2013. But the 2020 forecast does not look much different:

Where does the burning of coal, wood and smokeless fuel fit within the above charts? It is within the D/C (domestic and commercial) Other Fuels (central London 2% in 2013, projected 1% 2020).

Take a look at the PM 2.5 emissions from domestic gas for 2013 (1% in 2013 projected 3% 2020).

Now look at the projected trends to 2050 from the same document:

Stoves are within one of those little Pantone coloured strips, lumped in with open fires (more about this in a moment).

Of course one can do anything with statistics. The above figures are average for the year. In summer months emissions from solid fuel heating will often be close to zero (helping the average). In winter, especially in the evenings, the figure will be higher:

"In summer months the amount of pollution caused by solid fuel burning can be very low, but in winter wood burning can contribute up to 10 per cent of local emissions in London". https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/pollution-and-air-quality/guidance-wood-burning-stoves-london

All of our Ecodesign stoves here

The real culprit: open fires

So at its worst 10%? Unfairly lumped in with modern wood-burning stoves, old and new, are open fires and it is these that are the biggest offenders when it comes to the PM emissions caused by home heating. In London, 69% of solid fuel installations are inefficient open-fires (40% for the UK as a whole).

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/517572/Summary_results_of_the_domestic_wood_use_survey_.pdf

Take a look at this next image:

A ten-year-old wood stove has 80% fewer PM emissions than an open fire and the new Ecodesign stoves are even better at 90%. The politicians and media should have focused on open fires which account for 69% of solid fuel fires in London.

That headline that said "Wood Burning Stoves to be Banned" should have stated, "Open Fires to be Banned". But one cannot ban open fires because they are already built into the houses. Nobody is going to storm in and destroy them. So they attacked an easier target - wood burning stoves, the product that is 80-90% cleaner burning and the product that makes up just 31% of the London market. The people who replaced their open fires with wood burning stoves are the one the government and the media should be saluting.

Did you know that in London and many of our cities it is illegal to burn wood on an open fire? The problem is that politicians have not enforced this and the media have never shown an interest. Perhaps it is easier for them to attack something else in order to divert attention from their lack of action? 

Oh... those articles about comparing stoves to trucks. Much of that is not correct and I'll be updating that here asap.

The future for wood burning stoves

Are wood burning stoves to be banned? Not if already installed. After 2020 new models will have to confirm to Ecodesign standards. And so they should. Every open fire upgraded to a new Ecodesign stove will reduce particle emissions by up to 90%. Technology moves on and if it exists and we can make the world a better place then so we should. 

 

The stove above is the Woodford 5 Widescreen: a next-generation SIA Ecodesign Approved 5kW model. EcoDesign arrives in 2022 and is promoted by the government as the next generation of clean wood stoves.

As 2022 approaches more and more press releases shall be released by the government (and presumably more rubbish from the media will be spouted).

The government, very reasonably, want to reduce the following:

1. Old, inefficient open-fireplaces and old, inefficient wood-burning stoves.
2. The selling of damp wood.

They want customers to purchase the latest Ecodesign-Ready stoves and want users to burn dry wood only. This is completely in line with stove-industry desires.

Let's continue the good work. Say no to open fires. Ecodesign is the way forward.

Look out for these icons:

   

Whatever you purchase the government will not backdate rules. They are only interested in making sure the better stoves are the ones sold in the future. 

All of our Ecodesign stoves here

Climate change

Let's not forget that almost everything causes some weight to be added to the "negative" side of the scale when it comes to the environment. Solar panels? Wind turbines? All need manufacturing and servicing and all have a carbon footprint. Car, rather than bicycle? Tyres need changing at some time. Not to mention plastics, airports and so on.

Coal and gas are not renewable resources. Electricity is not when it comes from a coal-powered power plant.

Wood is a renewable resource. A tree absorbs carbon when it is growing and emits it when burned or rots on the ground. Carbon neutral.

 

 

25 May 2019: Please note that this article will remain "work in progress" whilst I continue to investigate the subject thoroughly. It is a hard slog reading all the articles but difficult to interpret the results and remove bias. If anybody can assist me to improve this article feel free: info@stovefitterswarehouse.co.uk

Poor behaviour of politicians and media risks damaging an industry that can play a valuable role in the renewable energy market, a market that I feel passionate about. My wife and I have an Ecodesign wood burning stove and, because of this, we never use the gas central heating. We have a well-insulated property and just a few logs, on cold evenings, keep our open-plan property warm and cosy. The smoke from our chimney is generally invisible, so clean and hot is the burn.

Julian Patrick

Managing Director, Stovefitter's

01492 535 852