Briquettes are the hot new thing


Briquettes are the hot new thing for your wood-burning stove, so cut out the logs

Hugely popular elsewhere in Europe, briquettes are beginning to take off in the UK – and they’re good for your fireplace or stove, your pocket and the environment.They burn hotter and cleaner, are cheaper to buy, and much easier to store and handle – so why do so few people with open fires and wood-burning stoves use recycled wood briquettes to heat their home?

Big in Europe, but still largely untried by many fire users in the UK – particularly in the south – those selling them claim that once you have tried briquettes, you’ll never go back to hauling piles of logs off your drive.

Briquettes deliver around 50% more heat for each pound spent than logs. They also have strong environmental credentials as they are made from waste wood produced as part of the furniture or other wood-related businesses – or in some cases collected from skips (see right). Burning wood is generally considered a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuel because trees absorb carbon as they grow.  The environmental writer Chris Goodall has done the sums and heats his home using wood pellets – similar to briquettes – made from UK wood. The Drax coal power station burns pellets shipped from the US on the basis that the carbon savings are more than 80% once the life cycle of the trees are taken into account

Briquette producers take sawdust and other shredded wood, apply 10,000psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure, and out pop briquettes. They are almost entirely natural – the lignin molecules in the wood melt under the pressure and bind the wood chip and dust together. They come in a variety of shapes from a number of providers, and in initial tests by Guardian Money they perform fantastically well in wood-burners. One briquette can last up to four hours, and big users will find they save around £150 a year compared to buying conventional logs.

Rowland Parke, director of the Dumfries-based Wood Fuel Co-operative, says people in the UK are finally starting to wake up to the benefits of briquettes. “We are selling more and more of them, particularly in the past year or so. Once people try them they soon stop buying logs locally. They are cleaner and easier to store, and take up around half the space of a log pile. Until you have tried one you won’t believe how much heat they can deliver,” he says.

"They are cleaner and easier to store, and take up around half the space of logs. You won’t believe the heat they deliver". Rowland ParkeParke, who also sells kiln-dried logs nationally from the non-profit co-op’s Scottish base, says stove manufacturers recommend users burn wood with a moisture content of less than 20%. The moisture content of most briquettes is 10% or less, meaning they burn better and cause fewer chimney and flue problems. Logs sold in the UK generally have much higher levels of moisture – 20% in well-seasoned wood, and up to 50% in other cases, Parke says.

The co-op was set up by a group of like-minded people to gain bulk-buy discounts. It started selling briquettes in 2012, and they are now its biggest seller. Parke says some of the briquettes come from the Verdo plant 90 miles away in Grangemouth, but the majority arrive by ship from eastern Europe – particularly Latvia and Estonia.

Stuart Fitzgerald, managing director of online supplier White Horse Energy, is another big fan. “Until recently you could draw a line across the UK: southerners all ordered nice-looking kiln-dried wood, while all our briquette orders came from the north. Now that’s changing, partly because of a growing awareness that briquettes can deliver more heat for the money.”He says you have to keep them in a dry place as if they expand rapidly if they get wet. When they burn they leave around 1% of their original volume as ash, meaning you don’t have to empty the stove as often. The best burn so hot, Fitzgerald says, that users have to be careful not to exceed the stove’s heat capacity.

So which to buy? New users should try a selection to see which work best in their stove or fireplace. Most, but not all, can be broken in half – useful if you have a smaller stove – while some expand more than others when burnt.

The Wood Fuel Co-op has the bigger selection, while White Horse Energy is marginally cheaper. The latter sells a pallet of Nielsen Briquettes, the cheapest good quality ones we have found, for £205 for 960kg. Its Excel Briquettes, rated 5 stars by users, are £265 a tonne delivered. The Wood Fuel Co-op, meanwhile, has 910kg of its very well regarded Premium Hard briquettes for £267 delivered. Buyers get 91 10kg packs – these are some of the longest burning out there, and can be broken. It also offers an excellent pick and mix service.

If you want to try without making a big order, the discount store chain Home Bargains sells Verdo briquettes for £2.79 for a pack of six. Increasingly, local coal suppliers stock them too.

Fired up

Saving waste timber from landfill and turning it into a clean fuel is at the heart of social entrepreneur David Ousby’s briquette business Cambridge Wood Fuel.

Much of the wood comes from the waste produced by joinery firms, and this week Ousby (above) was using waste wood from a theatrical set builder.

Ousby originally ran a service offering waste timber collection and recycling, providing employment and volunteering opportunities to local residents as well as affordable prices. Surplus stock was donated to community groups.

Realising that not all the wood could be reused in its original state, Ousby started producing briquettes, which he calls Cambridge Hotlogs. Today his machinery is capable of producing up to a tonne of briquettes a day.

“We first shred it, then compress it, and then the hotlogs are available to buy either from our outlets or for delivery within a 20 mile area".

“Over the years we have built up a loyal local following in and around Cambridge who like the fact that we are reusing waste wood that would otherwise end up in landfill.”

Ousby says many customers start buying the briquettes on the advice of their chimney sweep. “Because they have so little moisture, in comparison to logs, they are much cleaner burning and you don’t get the tar problems associated with unseasoned firewood.”

His briquettes are produced to the Woodsure + Plus standard, and suitable for burning in renewable heat initiative-compliant boilers. They come in 12.5kg packs and sell singly (£6) or in loads of up to 1 tonne (£292), plus delivery.

Top posts