Video: The first harvest of Iggesund’s SRC willow energy crop

Iggesund Paperboard has harvested the short rotation coppice willow energy crop it had planted on its own land beside its mill at Workington, England in May 2013. After only three years of growth, the nearly 22 acres of willow produced a first crop of 595 tonnes, which was chipped and transported to the mill in late October.

Planning to secure the mill’s energy supply began immediately the decision was taken to invest in a new CHP plant at the mill for a cost of SEK 1.1 billion (£108 million) in order to vastly reduce the mill’s fossil carbon emissions. One of Iggesund’s key values is sourcing from local suppliers and building long-term relations. Accordingly, local farmers were asked to begin growing energy crops. The long-term goal is to supply between five and ten per cent of the mill’s energy needs in this way.

Planting its own energy crop at the mill was one way for Iggesund to acquire hands-on experience. The harvest was also a good opportunity to demonstrate the technology to interested farmers and landowners.

“We would normally harvest an area this size in two days but due to all the harvesting demonstrations we did it over three weeks,” explained Neil Watkins, who leads the project, called Grow Your Income. He meets with farmers who live near the mill at Workington and presents Iggesund’s offer of long contracts and assistance with both planting and harvesting.

“Just like in the rest of Europe, innovative farmers are looking for ways to use their land to create sustainable business models, so our project is one option. Many farmers are also eager for new sources of income in order to diversify and build long-term resilience,” he continued.

In Iggesund’s own willow plantation sheep grazing trials were done to see how the animals affected the willow and whether they thrived.

“Over the past year we’ve had 20 ewes with a couple of lambs each in amongst the crop. The sheep grazed it cleanly but did not damage the willow. They were well protected when it was cold and windy – the crop gave excellent shelter to the lambs,” Neil said, adding that these are useful experiences to share with the farmers involved in the project.

Another reason to grow energy crops in Cumbria is that they can reduce the effects of the floods on prime agricultural land.

“Several growers told us that their energy crop plantations stopped floating objects from continuing on and causing damage. But the plantations themselves were not damaged,” Neil explained. “Since last year’s floods, these reports have been confirmed by institutions working on flood mitigation schemes. Planting energy crops is not a complete solution but it can help.”

The willow crops slow the speed of water spread across the flood plain, increase hydraulic roughness and intercept sediment, thereby assisting flood prevention and mitigating soil erosion. SRC willow crops do not need to be harvested annually but can be harvested every second, third or fourth year. If there is a flood one year, the crop can be left until the next harvest window at no loss to the farmer.

“Willow’s resilience to flood damage is staggering,” Neil concluded. “It provides a sustainable fuel source and an abundance of environmental benefits.”

Iggesund’s harvesting activities were widely covered by the regional media, including radio, television and magazines.

Some Interesting Facts
– One hectare of willow wood chip has the same energy content as 4,500 litres of home heating oil.
– SRC willow will yield at least 14 times more energy than is needed for its production and in some situations as much as 30 times more.
– Willow is originally a northern temperate zone plant. It therefore thrives in the cool wet conditions and largely heavy soils of the north of England and Scotland.
– SRC willow exploits the vigorous juvenile growth associated with Salix spp. With its ability to coppice, or re-sprout, from the stool that remains after harvesting, the crop does not need to be replanted.
– The biomass power plant has made Workington Mill entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy. The plant reduces the mill’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 190,000 tonnes a year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 65,000 average cars. The plant exports sustainable, renewable electricity to the national grid under the UK Renewables Obligation Scheme.
 
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Photos & video by Euan Duff