Wood burning emissions to be monitored across England throughout the winter

The National Centre for Atmospheric Science are to monitor emissions from wood burners across the UK this winter, looking for an indication that solid fuel burning is rising.

The research will be carried out across three Air Quality Supersites situated in Manchester, Birmingham and London, which are designed to track long-term trends in different pollution types and provide evidence to inform government policies.

Dr James Allan, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Manchester, at the Manchester Air Quality Supersite.

The supersites collectively form The Integrated Research Observation System for Clean Air (OSCA) which are used to measure a wide range of different air pollutants, but with a particular focus on those most helpful for informing policies, such as nitrogen dioxide from car fumes, brake and tyre dust, and wood burning smoke.

For this research they will specifically track changes in pollution created by burning wood in homes, using aethalometers to study ambient soot particles by testing how much light is absorbed by the particles at different wavelengths.

Recent figures have revealed that almost 16% of people in the South East of England and around 18% of people in Northern Ireland use wood burners, one of the biggest sources of small particulate matter nationwide.

During the last winter, strong contributions of wood burning to ambient particulate matter were found associated with the increased need for heating during the severe cold snaps that occurred. The cold weather conditions also prevented the dispersal of those emissions.

Researchers at the supersites are able to single-out pollution caused by wood-burning by looking for unique chemical signatures in the air, each of which is like a fingerprint helping to identify the source of the pollution.

They are also using instrumentation such as Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitors to identify the chemical signatures in any airborne organic matter, and ultimately quantify how much wood burning is contributing to pollution levels in the air. Real-time X-ray analysers will also be used to detect metals in particulates. In 2022, researchers detected traces of arsenic and lead associated with domestic burning, indicating that waste wood could be being burned.

Dr James Allan, research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Manchester said: ‘Currently, our emissions predictions assume that wood burners are operated correctly and the appropriate fuels are used. However, we suspect that many wood burners are not used correctly, with people likely to overstack fuel or burn unseasoned woods. Our first aim is to look at the effects of these practices. Secondly, our laboratory experiments will also investigate the effects of gas emissions that condense in the air and form particulate matter after they are emitted.’


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Jes Sig Andersen
Jes Sig Andersen
7 months ago

I respect that emissions are measured, in opposition to the usual modeling type inventories. It shall be interesting to follow the results. But mind you, here in the wake of the recent energy crisis, wood stoves are also the biggest source of affordable heating.
I’m strongly in favor for a multi-source energy system, utilizing utmost as many energy carriers as possible. We can’t all have heat pumps. Many dwellings are not fit, due to poor insulation standards and lack of underfloor heating.

Matthew Clark
Matthew Clark
7 months ago

I too had concerns over cost of living aspects Jes. Some interesting information is available which might surprise you on the cost efficiencies of using wood burners: Wood burning is more expensive than central heating – Impact on Urban Health

6 months ago

Wasn’t there an article in the news recnelty saying wood burning is not the cheapest form of home heating after all? But I suppose if one burns bits of wood from the park, then it is free? But does anyone really bother to proerly dry that wood before burning? your’re right UK homes beed far better insulation – regardless of the type of heating.

7 months ago

Interesting. Thanks, Paul. Do you know where the 18% and 16% come from, please?

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