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Defra issues call for evidence over solid fuel heating emissions

Feedback sought on proposals such as the introduction of sulphur limits on smokeless fuel ahead of Clean Air Strategy consultation; government rules out overall ban on domestic burning

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has issued a call for evidence on the use of solid fuels and wet wood for heating homes with a focus on what changes can be introduced to better tackle harmful emissions.  This includes focusing on curbing soot and smoke that contribute to air pollution.

Views on a range of options, including introducing sulphur limits on all smokeless solid fuels and encouraging an end to house coal by incentivising alternative products are being sought as part of a process that will help shape the government’s Clean Air Strategy.

The government is also looking at how to encourage a switch from wet wood to dry wood for burning, as well the possibility of handing new powers to local authorities in cases of ‘smoke offences’.

Defra said that the call for evidence is open until February 27 and is designed to understand what impacts its proposals could have on encouraging users to switch to cleaner forms of solid fuel heating. The department added that government would not be considering banning domestic burning or preventing the use or installation of stoves.

Defra said in a statement, “While air quality in the UK has improved significantly in recent decades, with reductions in emissions of all of the key pollutants, domestic burning of house coal (the typical black fuel), smokeless solid fuels (smokeless coal, for example, or manufactured solid fuels which are made from coal and other ingredients) and wood are the single largest contributors of harmful particulate matter (PM) emissions, accounting for around 40 per cent of total UK PM2.5 emissions in 2015. In fact, a wood burning stove can emit more PM than a diesel HGV or passenger car.”

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said that the burning of dirtier fuels for domestic use was having a significant impact on air quality in the UK. 

She said, “We must be mindful that pollution is about more than just transport. Poor air quality affects public health, the economy, and the environment, which is why we are determined to do more.”

“However, if we make the switch to burning cleaner domestic fuel, we can continue to enjoy burning wood and smokeless coal in stoves and fires in our homes.”

Defra argued that there remains a lack of awareness among end users about the health impacts of burning solid fuels and the cleaner alternatives that may be available. The government is therefore seeking to partner with the heating industry on building awareness via campaigns such as the ‘Ready to Burn’ initiative for certifying wood fuel.

The government’s call for evidence was welcomed by wood certification scheme Woodsure, which claims to have been working with the wider solid fuel industry to try and address the issue of air quality and harmful emissions from their products.

Woodsure chair Bruce Allen reiterated the aims of the ‘ready to burn’ scheme, which is backed by the government, to curb the process of burning wet or dirty wood, which he said undermined the performance of more energy efficient solid fuel heating appliances.

He added, “Today’s stoves are highly-engineered, efficient pieces of technology but if users still burn wet wood they’re going to get a lot of harmful smoke and not a lot else in terms of heat efficiency. You’re essentially burning water. Not only does this have an impact on our air quality but it causes problems for the appliance and increases the build-up of soot which damages chimneys.” 

The body added that it was in the process of working with two UK universities on research looking at burning of different types of wood fuel and the impact on particulate emissions.

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