If you register, you can do a lot more. And become an active part of our growing community. You'll have access to hidden forums, and enjoy the ability of replying and starting conversations.

Wood burning

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by Petra Wilde, Mar 29, 2022.

  1. Petra Wilde

    Petra Wilde New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2022
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    1
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Freshwater, IOW
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    It's surprising to find little active debate on here about the coal fuel crisis. There is (was) a thread that discusses the serious concerns about the fuel supply situation. To summarise that, the main issues seem to be:

    Limited, expensive and potentially too low quality supplies of mined coal now that it all has to be imported; plus the current interruption to Russian supplies;

    Risk of more and more public opinion turning against coal-fired steam, reducing our customer base;

    High cost of processed alternatives (e.g. torrified biomass) and perhaps too, their very limited green credentials (e.g. Ecoal is 80% mined coal and only 20% biomass, the latter being olive stones that have to be imported and then processed).

    So what might get around this? Has anyone given serious consideration to potential use of unprocessed (or lightly processed) wood in UK steam locomotives?

    Log-burning would seem to have some obvious advantages:

    1. A demonstrably very green, low-carbon option, since the wood could be sourced locally and is a renewable resource. E.g. using coppiced hardwoods, cropped locally every few years on rotation, with all logs being seasoned. (An essential step - by storage in covered stacks in the open air for at least one year, the moisture content of the wood is reduced and the fuel burns hotter). Incidentally, this regime is categorised only as "low" carbon, rather than carbon "neutral", as the wood has to be cut, transported and stored (and regrettably we don't have the manpower to do all this with hand tools and wheelbarrows!). In the far future, near "neutrality" might be attained - if trees were cut with electric chainsaws and the logs transported on EVs, all using 100% renewable electricity;

    2. Costs easily worked out - and unlikely to escalate unpredictably;

    3. Could in principle be implemented quickly, as does not depend on new/developing technologies (unlike Ecoal, torrified biomass, etc);

    4. Still traditional - as was extensively used in the (sometimes recent) past in regions like Scandinavia and North America where wood is readliy available; and

    5. This option is not "all or nothing". For example, experiments might be made by loading tenders with 50% coal and 50% logs - which would instantly demonstrate we are trying hard to use more sustainable fuels.

    So, could the equally obvious disadvantages be overcome? These might include:

    6. Not suitable for high power or high speed (But hang on, we are mostly talking about heritage lines running short trains at 25 mph, surely?);

    7. Lacking some of the atmosphere of traditional UK steam (Maybe. Still chuffs, clags and clanks? Yes! And smells of smoke? Yes! But not coal smoke, so some purists might object);

    8. Not suitable for the UK's heritage steam locomotives which were 100% designed to burn coal. (Yes, probably. Not sure if unmodified locos could do any useful work, if burning logs? So see next item);

    9. Consequential expense of redesigning and rebuilding fireboxes, boilers and tenders to burn logs and to accommodate this much bulkier fuel (Yes - certainly required soon, and maybe right away?);

    10. Space required near loco depots for storage and seasoning of logs (Yes, a lot. But it is only outdoor yard space);

    11. Supply of wood (Unlikely to be of much concern? Much would be needed. But in lowland Britain there are a lot of unmanaged deciduous woods, which could be coppiced more frequently - and the resumption of coppicing is favoured by most nature conservationists); and

    12. Smoke emissions. There are justifiable concerns about emissions from (incompetently managed) wood-stoves in built up areas. However, this does not apply with much force to typical heritage lines in the countryside (and replacing coal smoke with wood smoke might actually be preferred by our neighbours).

    So, some of these objections have force. But, things are clearly going to have to change, we can't just stick our heads in the sand. Might burning wood logs be a less objectionable future than many of the coal alternatives now under discussion? For example:

    Ecoal seems a really poor option in green terms, as indicated above, and hence may not get us out of the difficulties of the adverse shifts in public opinion. All the "highly processed wood" options seem dubiously green (due to energy wasted in processing) and as we are a niche market, also seem likely to stay expensive. Burning oil rather than coal might work (e.g if using waste vegetable oils) but that is a very inefficient way to use this fuel - it ought to be saved for diesels, really. As for battery-electric immersion heaters in boilers - well that is far too much Disneyfication, surely - what is the point? Why not just shove the dead steam loco around with a disguised BEMU, while burning some old rags in the firebox?

    Anyway, that is enough scene-setting. What do the experts on here make of this wood-burning idea?
     
    Cartman likes this.
  2. Cartman

    Cartman Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2015
    Messages:
    1,493
    Likes Received:
    1,049
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Cheshire
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Yes, I've mentioned this on here, I don't know much about the technicalities of it, all I know is that early US locos ran on it, and had to have big spark arresting chimneys.

    I believe that wood has less density than coal and gives off less heat so more would be needed in comparison to coal.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2022
  3. JEB-245584

    JEB-245584 Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2008
    Messages:
    300
    Likes Received:
    272
    Occupation:
    ADI
  4. Cartman

    Cartman Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2015
    Messages:
    1,493
    Likes Received:
    1,049
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Cheshire
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    What's in that biomass stuff I see quite often being taken to Drax through Altrincham behind a 66 or 70?
     
  5. Davo

    Davo Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2018
    Messages:
    1,523
    Likes Received:
    633
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    W yorkshire 56f
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Well 1st of all would the fire boxes of our british loco,s have to be adapted to burn wood within them and also I reckon the wood timber would also have to be dried out, just as a example me and my father had a parkray stove we heated our hot water up on or could even be converted to run central heating off even with a back boiler for burning coal coke or anthracite and cos we couldent afford coal or coke we burnt wood on our stove damp or dry and eventually after 10+ years the back boiler fractured due to the excessive heat off wood burning, when our coucil houses on our estate were fitted out with gas central heating and the gas engineers examined the stove and condemned it due to that. Who's not to say the same thing could happen on steam loco,s if fired up this way to raise steam. But I would reckon ovoids biocoal could be ok more for narrowgauge loco,s cos it seems to have worked ok on the Bure valley loco,s when their railway experimented with biocoal, But like at the G.C.R. railways at work weekends it worked different on individual loco,s there were ok on it and some foot plate crews said some of the loco,s at G.C.R. were using alot of bio coal and it produces alot of ash.but it's better than having no fuel at all to raise steam on a loco and the only thing what's going to happen to imported bituminous coal it will get more expensive to import, and I dare not even think what the heritage railway scene will be like in 5 years time.
     
  6. Romsey

    Romsey Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2007
    Messages:
    3,107
    Likes Received:
    1,252
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired SPM
    Location:
    Close to Spike Island
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    In Finland birch wood was used as fuel until the 1960's but in combination with coal. The fire bed was maintained with coal and wood was used for higher demands of steam.
    I can't quote the figures immediately, but dry hard wood, from memory has under half the fuel energy of coal.

    Of course the Benguela Railway in Angola had eucalyptus fired Beyer Garratts until the 1970's.

    The reply from JEB-245584 has set part of an old rhyme running in my mind -
    "Oak logs burn well, if old and dry,
    larch logs burn well, but sparks do fly,
    Apple logs and Pear logs, they will scent your room,
    and finishes
    But Ash logs, all smooth and grey, buy up all that come your way, they're worth their weight in gold."

    Smoke emissions may well be a problem. There was research a few years ago that wood burning stoves produced as much particulate pollution as road traffic in some parts of London. Eventually that was traced to many people burning damp or unsuitable wood. If I can remember that, so will others.....

    Replying to Cartman, the biomass en route to Drax is pelletised sawmill waste and saw dust from Canada and the USA and perhaps other countries. Forgive me for asking, but how is that an environmental improvement , shipping a low energy value fuel many thousands of miles. I know the combustion reduces CO2 and sulphur emissions, but has the pollution from transporting the biomass been considered. ( Closing coal fired power stations had led to more gypsum being mined and or imported to make plasterboard. Gypsum was a by product of flue desulphurisation... )

    If heritage railways are to prove they are "green" , they will have to sell the of the whole energy consumption process including production and transporting fuel.
    A wicked thought, locally mined coal might use less energy than transporting wood pellets or olive stones for a given output.

    Cheers, Neil
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2022
    torgormaig likes this.
  7. JEB-245584

    JEB-245584 Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2008
    Messages:
    300
    Likes Received:
    272
    Occupation:
    ADI
    It consists of wood and other plant material plus a bit of farmyard waste which goes through a process to dry it out and compact it into pellets for transportation.
    In power plants it's pulverised into a fine powder then injected into the fire end of the boiler.
     
  8. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2017
    Messages:
    10,086
    Likes Received:
    9,726
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired
    Location:
    Brighton&Hove
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    We face an immediate supply problem, the solution to which in the short term isn't necessarily the same as a more permanent answer. We need to be looking to both.

    To be fair, there's been a fair bit of discussion over the past year or so, mainly over on the General Railway Chat thread. Wood burning? Somehow, I can't see that going down too well. Away from the technical issues, our movement relies for it's continued existence on the, if not goodwill, then the studied indifference of the wider public. Lose that and you don't need me to point out what the future might hold.

    Mention is made above of the "interesting" use of wood at Drax power station. With no attempt to date of commissioning 'carbon capture' tech and AFAIK, no plans in the pipeline to do so (I'd be grateful if anyone has information to the contrary), the emissions produced are (surprise, surprise) about what you'd expect i.e. not good.

    Trials of 'biocoal' are mentioned on the threads of those lines undertaking them. Most comment seems to surround high ash content.

    Trials of 'torrified biomass pellets' have been undertaken, stateside, though I'm unaware of any developments this side of the pond.

    Other potential solutions exist. As sound as the chemistry is, without action from a government doing little more than generating hot air and headlines, it's not yet possible to do more than state that, if carbon capture technology works as well as it's proponents claim, we'd be looking at no shortage of a fuel rather superior to MK1 coal within a few years.

    From what I can glean, although the tech works, question marks exist concerning efficiency and costs seem uncertain, but there seems little to indicate too many are looking at 'recycled fuel' applications. This one certainly isn't a project for amateurs. It'll take cooperation from both industry and academia.
     
  9. blink bonny

    blink bonny Member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2012
    Messages:
    472
    Likes Received:
    2,216
    Location:
    northumberland
    Native USA wild forests from places like Carolina, clear-felled in the hundreds of square miles, chipped, dried and shipped over the Atlantic so that Drax can claim over £2 millon per day in subsidy (2020 figure). Anything but green and anything but friendly to the environment, but good for the bank balance of those at the top.

    Drax burns a greater tonnage of forests than the entire annual output of the UK timber industry.

    As far as being renewable goes, always remember that it takes a lot longer to grow a tree than it does to burn one. While the replacement is growing another 30 years of trees are burnt.

    https://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/axedrax-campaign/

    https://www.nrdc.org/stories/no-burning-wood-fuels-not-climate-friendly
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2022
  10. I. Cooper

    I. Cooper Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2011
    Messages:
    535
    Likes Received:
    549
    Location:
    Salop
    I understood from CPL, its producer, that "ECoal 50" is 50% coal, 20% molasses and 30% biomass.
    Are you aware of a different product also called "ECoal" which has a different composition?
     
    Steve likes this.
  11. Bill2

    Bill2 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2020
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    163
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Wilmslow
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    It is reported that Drax needs three times as much biomass as coal, using wood would probably be about the same ratio. These fuels are also less dense than coal hence the large size of the biomass wagons and big cages on wood burning tenders.
     
  12. William Fletcher

    William Fletcher New Member

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2016
    Messages:
    150
    Likes Received:
    147
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Lincoln
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    I would be interestd to know how a railway's insurtance might be affected by spark throwing woodburing locos?
     
  13. Bikermike

    Bikermike Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2020
    Messages:
    1,060
    Likes Received:
    1,099
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Thameslink territory
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
  14. ross

    ross Member

    Joined:
    May 18, 2017
    Messages:
    955
    Likes Received:
    2,320
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Titfield
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Durango and Silverton was burning coal. They have also been somewhat shafted- the current green opinion, and one espoused by college taught management at the US National parks service etc is to not allow any clearing of the trash wood that accumulates in forests. Small sticks and stuff. Its meant to biodegrade and be very good for nature. Unfortunately its what we would call kindling. Hence the increase in massive forest fires in California, Oregon, Washington as well as Colorado. There used to be more frequent, small forest fires.
    The NSRM who operate a couple of standard gauge woodburners, as well as the guys who run a couple of narrow gauge woodburners all say that the fuel of choice is pine, not hardwood. Hardwood burns too slowly, so while it potentially will give off more heat, you need a fuel that throws its heat quickly to maintain steam production. And you have to stop and refill the tender every twenty miles. And have at least two firemen, or a fireman and a wood-passer.
    The South Pacific Coast Railroad in California ran through some very dense redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains which was being logged. Every night, trainloads of felled lumber was carried over the line. In 1882, despite having an almost inexhaustible supply of timber, the railroad converted to coal firing. It was cheaper and more efficient to burn British coal which was carried to San Francisco as ships ballast. The Weyerhauser Lumber Company, Rainier, and the West Side, all big lumber companies with extensive railroad activities all burned coal in their locomotives- and simultaneously burned wood trash to dispose of it.
     
    30854 and marshall5 like this.
  15. RalphW

    RalphW Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Administrator Friend

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2005
    Messages:
    33,924
    Likes Received:
    7,935
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired-ish, Part time rail tour steward.
    Location:
    Northwich
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Wood does not burn hotter than coal, probably the reason for your boiler failing was burning damp wood, the moisture combining with other products of the burning to form acidic compounds which in time corroded the boiler. It's one reason why woodburning stoves always have stainless steel flues up the chimney.
     
    Gilesy68, osprey, 30854 and 2 others like this.
  16. Pete Thornhill

    Pete Thornhill Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Administrator Moderator Friend

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2008
    Messages:
    6,538
    Likes Received:
    4,224
    Yes burning wet wood is bad for exactly the reasons you describe and also it doesn’t burn as hot as seasoned or kiln dried so not only does it cause corrosion you end up using more as part of the bargain.
     
  17. blink bonny

    blink bonny Member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2012
    Messages:
    472
    Likes Received:
    2,216
    Location:
    northumberland
    Wood provides nowhere near the heat output of coal, being much less energy-dense. This makes sense when you consider the massive pressure (and heat) involved in converting what was once wood into coal in the first place.

    When I was involved in such things years ago the coal we mined was in the region of 27 to 28 Gigajoules per tonne, 'in situ'. Some seams were 'hotter' and up to 29 to 30 Gj/t, some were cooler, maybe as low as 24Gj/tonne, but the average was about 27. Anything below about 23 wasn't considered commercial and wasn't mined. Power stations would blend to 25Gj/t for their furnaces iirc. The coal we mined was steam-raising bituminous primarily, with domestic and coking also, depending on the lump and caking properties of the individual seams.

    Wood comes nowhere near that. Wood pellets are only 17Gj/t. Air-dried logs are way down at less than 15GJ/t, just over half that of coal.

    More detail on this table. https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/t...ts-figures/typical-calorific-values-of-fuels/
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2022
  18. gwralatea

    gwralatea Member

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2014
    Messages:
    229
    Likes Received:
    383
    Gender:
    Male
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I don't work for them (or own any shares), but that's wrong - they've had a carbon capture pilot running since 2018:

    https://www.drax.com/about-us/our-projects/bioenergy-carbon-capture-use-and-storage-beccs/

    and have fairly advanced plans to do sub-sea carbon storage in the empty gas reservoirs of the North Sea.

    They've also been in partnership with Bechtel since the middle of last year looking at where else they can build bio energy with carbon capture and storage plants around the world.

    For those of us who (when we're not frivolously burning coal in steam engines) are quite environmental, Drax are indeed up to some interesting and potentially world-leading stuff.
     
    torgormaig, Steve and Romsey like this.
  19. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2017
    Messages:
    10,086
    Likes Received:
    9,726
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired
    Location:
    Brighton&Hove
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Many thanks for taking the trouble to reply and provide a sourced reference. I'm actually relieved to be proven wrong concerning plans for CCS at Drax, though mention is made that progress to date has been in the nature of a pilot scheme (everything has to start somewhere). My comments on Drax were a response to specific recent reports in the press concerning emissions.

    Until very recently, although the chemical reactions needed to precipitate carbon were clear enough, finding examples of efficient (and economically viable) processes, scaled to real-world applications has been a different matter.

    To take one Canadian example (so far, I believe, the only example) from the electricity generating industry, there have been reports of forecast targets being degrees of magnitude higher than what's been achieved in practice. Whether this reflects a bedding-in of unfamiliar tech, or some more fundamental shortcoming isn't at all clear to me. There's far too much 'megaphone diplomacy' going on to arrive at any informed conclusion.

    What has made me sceptical is the dearth to date of successful examples of CCS installations. If, as seems to be the case, that is now changing, no-one will be happier than me. There's been talk of large scale atmospheric CO2 extraction, which if viable, would obviously be a very useful addition to efforts intended to mitigate the worst of anthropogenic change. What such measures can't be however is an alternative to our species cleaning up it's act.
     
  20. maddog

    maddog New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 7, 2011
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    59
    How would charcoal figure as a fuel source for Steam Locomotives (Economics aside)?
    Wasn't Coke the fuel for most UK lines until they figured out how to relatively cleanly burn coal?
     

Share This Page