Wood industry: Biomass shortage due to Ukraine war and bird nesting peace

Estonian bushwoods.
Estonian bushwoods. Source: ERR

Jaano Haidla, CEO of pellet manufacturer Graanul Invest, said that the Baltic and Estonian markets lack a significant amount of biomass that could be used for electricity and heat production during the winter. The shortfall, the Ministry of the Environment said, is only 10 percent.

Jaano Haidla, CEO of Graanul Invest, one of Europe's largest pellet manufacturers said that the war in Ukraine and the spring bird-nesting truce in Estonian forests, which prohibits the harvesting of brushwood during the peak breeding season, are the primary causes of the shortage of biomass.

"All heating requirements are stockpiled in the spring. Wood chips are the most commonly used biomass heating material in large cities. It's harvested in the spring, while the soil is soft and no other trees have been cut down. Brushwood is gathered from ditch banks and forest edges. And if the biomass hasn't been picked in two and a half to three months, it can't be collected any longer because there isn't enough equipment or manpower, and the season has changed — spring brush dries up, whereas winter brush is damp. We can put water in the boiler, but it does not boil by itself or produce heat," Haidla said.

Haidla said that the practical question is to what extent the clearance of brush actually inhibits bird breeding.

"This is purely an emotional issue. Many more birds are killed by other activities than forestry. Moreover, birds do not nest in bushes; they nest in quiet places. Should we also outlaw cars since some birds are killed by cars?"

Haidla hesitated to specify the nature of Graanul Invest's pellet stocks.

"Today's challenge is that there is both daily consumption and foresight stockpiling. Winter stockpiling is expected to increase as energy demand rises, and there are not enough raw materials on the market to meet this demand," Haidla said.

The war in Ukraine has resulted in a two million cubic meter shortage of biomass in the Baltic States, as "the missing biomass was brought in from Belarus and Russia."

To increase biomass availability, he proposed to temporarily intensify logging in Estonia, as has already been done in Latvia and Lithuania.

No increase in state forest logging

Meelis Seedre, the head of the forest department at the Ministry of the Environment, said that while there is a biomass deficit on the market, a halt in timber work due to birds' nesting season is not the primary cause.

"It is estimated that the district heating industry is currently 10 percent short of the biomass it requires. However, the situation ultimately hinges on how cold winter turns out to be. A mild winter will not pose any difficulties, but a very cold one may be problematic," Seedre said.

"District heating companies cannot store a large amount of raw material. An interesting aspect of firewood storage is that if more biomass is required during the harsh winter, it can also be stored well due to the freezing of the soil. In contrast, when winters are milder, less biomass is required; however, damp soils make storage difficult," he added.

Seedre said that the amount of state-owned forests to be cut down has been planned in advance in accordance with permitted logging principles.

"Logging worm-damaged spruce stands also helps the firewood supply. In addition, there is sufficient timber harvesting in private forests to provide the necessary raw materials, therefore we see no reason to increase logging volumes in state forests," Seedre said.

As preserving nesting peace in the state forest is a time-honored tradition, the timber sector should not have been so surprised by it, Seedre added.

"Annually, over 110,000 notifications of forest logging are made, but the Environmental Board halted only 30 of them this spring and summer. However, not all logging notifications are followed through on, and some forest owners delay logging during the peak nesting season. During that time, it is still permitted to collect and remove already-felled timber from the forest, allowing forest owners who logged prior to the breeding season to continue harvesting their own timber," Seedre explained.

Seedre said that the halt in timber work during the nesting season is not a significant factor in biomass price hikes, rather, he said "the situation on the energy market is adversely affected by the conflict in Ukraine."


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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