Writing on wall for peat briquettes in age of clean energy

Bord na Móna turning to biomass-based replacement

The peat briquette has been regarded as the quintessential Irish fuel for decades but is a fairly recent invention. It was developed to meet a lack of coal in the wake of the second World War.

The peat briquette has been regarded as the quintessential Irish fuel for decades but is a fairly recent invention. It was developed to meet a lack of coal in the wake of the second World War.

 

The writing has been on the wall for the peat briquette for a long time but its demise has accelerated in recent years.

Consumer demand has fallen as a result of milder winters, higher taxes, falling oil prices and growing awareness of the environmental damage of the product.

Last week Bord Na Móna announced plans to concentrate the manufacturing of its briquettes at a single plant in Derrinlough, Co Offaly.

The move will see the closure of a second facility at Littleton where 69 people are employed full time.

Dozens more are employed at a nearby peat-harvesting operation and they too will be affected by the move.

It was a very different story in 1970 when the State reached “peak peat”. In that year Bord Na Móna produced close to 315,000 tonnes of briquettes from 800,000 tonnes of milled peat.

Annual sales

The peat briquette, has been regarded as the quintessential Irish fuel for decades but is a fairly recent invention. It was developed to meet a lack of coal in the wake of the second World War and the fuel was driven by a desire to ape geology through the compression of peat to as near to coal as possible.

Peat is milled and then mechanically dried and pressed under high pressure in a factory to form the briquette shape.

Turf, by contrast, is peat which has been extracted from bogs by machine and cut into a rectangular shape before being air-dried naturally during the summer.

Sales have fallen considerably in recent years as a result of a series of mild winters and plummeting oil prices.Carbon tax increases have seen the price of a bale go up by more than 10 per cent in the last five years, something which briquette advocates suggest has been hugely damaging to the sector.

The tax certainly has not helped. Briquettes are subject to a carbon tax of €20 per tonne of carbon emitted which has led to an increase of €0.52 per bale. A person who buys jut eight bales a week now over the course of the winter can expect to pay over €100 a year more in carbon tax.

Critics of peat say the tax is vital. As with all fossil fuels, turf – in whatever form it is burned – is hugely damaging to the environment and a significant contributor to climate change.

Environmentalists argue that it is even worse than coal and have called for an accelerated transition to more environmentally friendly fuels to reduce the State’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Bogs are a vital store of carbon and burning turf releases far more climate-altering gases than coal. Of all fuels, turf is the worst in terms of negatively affecting the climate,” is Taisce’s take on the issue.

Speaking earlier this week Minister for Climate Change and the Environment Denis Naughten said that by 2020, 40 per cent of Irish electricity will be generated by renewable energy sources (compared to 26 per cent today).

Environmental concerns are one of the key drivers of Bord na Móna’s strategy and the company wants all its energy to be generated from renewable sources before 2030 – although environmentalists have called for that push to be accelerated.

Using biomass for heat and power in Ireland is at the heart of its strategy and the company has developing biomass-based briquettes made with wood with early trials suggesting that consumers have been unable to tell the difference between them and traditional peat briquettes.

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