Emissions from wood combustion and biomass use in the built environment

According to the Dutch Informative Inventory Report 2019, 13% of the fine particulate matter and 22% of the black carbon emitted in the Netherlands come from residential heating. This sector is also responsible for a substantial part of dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon pollution. As a result, residential heating of wood has been assessed to contribute 9% of the health effects linked to exposure to air pollution.

The energy system in the Netherlands is still largely driven by the combustion of fossil fuels. Gas is the most common heating source for buildings. The new National Climate Agreement sets out that the five remaining coal-fired power plants will be gradually phased out by 2030. Natural gas extraction in Groningen (the main extraction area) is set to end in 2022 and the Dutch climate agreement includes the objective to make at least 1.5 million buildings gas-free by 2030 by banning natural gas in all new buildings.

The dialogue included exchanges of views on the risk of trade-offs between the clean air and the climate agendas. Targets regarding an increase in renewable energy sources should be carefully weighed against the risk of increased air pollution if biomass is used as a transition fuel in the phase-out of fossil fuels. Wood burning for small-scale heat generation by e.g. pellet or wood stoves is currently used only in a smaller share of Dutch households.

Especially the small-scale wood burning is becoming an important discussion issue in the national clean air debate with both public and political attention. This was also reflected in the Clean Air Dialogue where many questions were asked about measures to reduce wood burning in the Netherlands. Participants also proposed the possibility of full or partial bans on biomass combustion e.g. in densely populated areas. This links to the initiative launched under the Clean Air Agreement to investigate options to create wood burning free or low-wood burning neighbourhoods.

New instruments for information to citizens have already been developed such as the stookalert (heating alert) and the stookwijzer (developed by the city of Nijmegen), alerting citizens to the weather conditions or air pollution peak periods when it is most important to avoid wood burning.

On the stoves/boilers, the question of eco-design was discussed including the difficulty to get exemption to apply more ambitious requirements than the EU legislation (internal market rules), the challenge of addressing the old and long-lived stoves/boilers, including on the second hand market, and the lack of confidence in the emissions levels reported for eco-design stoves/boilers (‘real-life emissions’ as compared to laboratory results’).

There are also opportunities for national and local action on the stoves/boilers e.g. in ensuring and promoting correct installation by certified professionals, in promoting use of filters and other clean air technology to mitigate emissions where biomass burning cannot in the short term be stopped, and consideration of subsidies and economic incentives to facilitate the transfer to cleaner heating. The available EU funding for this and the untapped potential for increased take-up was emphasised. Stepped up enforcement measures including controls and inspections are also important.

Overall, a multi-pronged approach was recommended, including further exploring options to reduce the need for biomass combustion for heating (e.g. roll-out of cleaner district heating solutions, improved energy efficiency and building standards, etc.).

Michael Rutgers

(Lung Foundation Netherlands, Longfonds)

‘For healthy lungs we need to avoid wood burning’

About 750,000 lung patients suffer regularly of shortness of breath due to wood smoke. Wood smoke causes cough, wheezing, reduction of lung function, worsening of lung disease, hospitalisation and effects on work and social life. And wood burning accounts for 23 per cent of fine dust emissions. Even in small concentrations fine dust is harmful.

For healthy lungs we need an active role of national and local governments and EU in creating public awareness of health risks and the need to avoid wood burning. We must encourage healthier alternatives for heating. Also we need to install and enforce save zones where no wood burning is allowed. And align climate policies with air quality policies and avoid wood burning as a transition fuel.

We would like to partner with governments on this transition to healthy air. We can help create the necessary public awareness and support.

The Flemish perspective

The contribution of domestically heating wood is an important one to the Flemish emissions of fine dust, PAH’s en dioxins. During the heating period there’s a notable deterioration of air quality and an increase of complaints. About 90% of the emissions come from appliances, such as fireplaces and stoves, from before the year 2012, or from before the entry intro force of the Royal Decree of 12th October 2010 with minimal requirements for new appliances. Heating behavior, maintenance and installation of appliances and chimneys also influence emissions.

In order to tackle this problem, the Green Deal ‘Household wood heating’ has been proposed. The main goal of this deal is phasing out old and pollutive stoves and fireplaces. Other actions are focused on maintenance, installation (of appliance and chimney), the use of and more informed choices of appliances (for those who want to continue to burn wood). Furthermore there will be actions aimed at communication, a better approach to complaints and enforcement, filtering of incoming air and a final development of a vision on wood heating.

Mirka van der Elst

(Policy advisor air quality at Flemish government)

Rein Gelten

(Chairman NHK, Dutch trade association

for local space heating appliances)

Clear Air Dialogue

When talking about ‘wood smoke’ authorities always think immediately about domestic indoor wood burning. However there is a lot of burning outside also (chimeneas, garden stoves, waste burning, etc.) as well as commercial use. We should discuss fairly and not blame wood burning appliances for all PM emissions just because that is easy.

1:15 properties in The Netherlands have a wood burning appliance (550.000 units). That market is declining by 10.000 units per year. 50% of the installed base is over 20 years old. Besides the appliances there are 250.000 old open fireplaces still in use. They are only sparsely used. The NHK is also concerned about emissions and it is our goal to reduce them by 75% before 2030. For that we need a few things to happen.

1. It is necessary to restrict the installation and maintenance to certified installers.

2. 50% of units is >20 years old, replace those and emissions are reduced by 75%.

3. Talk with the trade organisations about the solutions and not only about the problems.

4. Authorities should look into the fast growing market for outdoor wood burning products which does not contribute to CO2 neutral indoor heating but causes high emissions and many complaints.