Having stated at the outset that almost every building type can nowadays be formed from wood, it should be said that this is not necessarily the case for the engineered structures required by some forms of renewable power generation: hydro dams, wave energy and offshore wind turbines being examples for which timber solutions have yet to appear*. This is not to say that they won’t: simply that the development finance required to take engineered timber, wood modification and timber /concrete hybrid technologies to the necessary advanced and scaled-up levels, especially with subsidies in the renewables sector being reduced or withdrawn completely, has yet to emerge. And whilst biomass might be a more immediate thought when one considers the use of wood in the generation of energy, in a circular economy this is very possibly the last option to contemplate for something that is, after all, a highly reusable natural resource. Whilst infinitely better CO2-wise than its previous coal fired process, some 98% of the biomass required to feed the huge demands of the Drax power station, for example, comes from overseas (73% from north America). Even allowing for it being sourced from sustainably managed forests and the fact that the carbon emissions associated with its transportation are relatively small, biomass is not perhaps the ‘silver bullet’ needed to deliver long-term energy independence, especially if rolled out more widely on a similar scale.
Which, of the five W’s of renewable energy generation - waste, water (hydro), wave, wind and wood (biomass) leaves us with the first of these: power and heat generated from the detritus produced by consumer society and the types of buildings required to house the plant and equipment involved. In the past these facilities have been constructed using steel frames and steel cladding and have hardly been objects of great beauty, but a new breed has begun to emerge.
Consumer waste is indeed one of the challenges of our times, and one that requires local solutions. Many would argue that we should focus our endeavours on encouraging people to reduce the amount of waste they produce, but the cold hard reality is that it will take some considerable time before the mainstream public willingly reduces its consumption and fully engages in the recycling options available and there will be an ongoing need to dispose of massive quantities of domestic rubbish. Black bin waste that goes to landfill currently costs taxpayers almost £85 per tonne in Landfill Tax and so, for local authorities, it is imperative to find other solutions such as energy and waste plants, of which there are now quite a number around the country.