I chose to do my work experience at a South East Wood Fuels because I wanted to see what goes on behind the scenes of a renewable energy company and how sustainable energy companies are run.  I wanted to have a taste of working in biomass as it is the energy of the future, as fossil fuel supplies are running low and people’s interest in using energy sources that have high greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing, experience of working in companies like these could prove to be priceless.

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On Monday morning I met Mike Chapman the SEWF Operations Manager and was taken straight to Ashdown Forest where one of the company’s largest depots is held on the Crowborough Warren Estate.  After getting out the car the first thing I saw was a mountain of woodchip three times my height and next to it was a stack of timber stretching all the way down to the forest. After being explained how the company buys and seasons virgin roundwood timber from local forests,  produces and sells woodchip we got back into the car and went to a tree surgeons yard where bits of tree from people’s gardens and is turned into a different grade of woodchip for customers with large industrial systems who burn it for heat.  Once Mike had conversed with a man sorting the surgeons timber we moved on to the company’s depot in north Kent.   We took a sample of the wood chip (Sweet chestnut coppice), inspected the on-site biomass boiler and then set off back to the SEWF base in Laughton, East Sussex.  I met the SEWF team  and was I included in a team meeting which discussed the company’s goals and objectives for the coming week.  Before leaving the office and going back home we did a G50 particle test on the samples that had been collected earlier in the day and recorded the different percentages of each type of chip.

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The moment I got in the car on Tuesday morning we set off to West Sussex to meet the Forest Manager for the Cowdray Estate, to inspect and measure a stack of timber and agree a price for purchase. The wood will be taken to the SEWF hub for chipping, and dispatch to customers once the heating season resumes in September.  I learned how you measure the volume of a tree stack and he told me about the different types of wood and their quality, the stack we had measured was sweet chestnut, a variety that has been in England since the Roman times.  The forester called sweet chestnut  an ‘honorary native’.  The forest manager drove us round the forest where we saw deer as well as chestnut coppicing.  We left the bright yellow painted housing of the Cowdray estate and went on to a new customer an hour away from the estate where we watched over their first delivery of wood chip to make sure everything was going well.  On the way back we stopped off at a willow grower who had just been harvesting their 8 meter high 5 year old willow crop where we watched a high tech harvester turn a field length strip of willow into 10 tons of woodchip in under 10 minutes.Unfortunately on the way out of the willow plantation we got stuck in mud and had to be rescued by the man who planned to sell us the wood.

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Wednesday was an office day. I spent the day preparing and testing the fuel samples which we had collected earlier in the week.  These results tell us which wood chips have greater or lesser percentages of the different particle sizes and also tells us the moisture content of each 1 kilo sample.  All of the samples met the Onorm Standard for size and were within the required moisture content parameters.  After drawing up the results table I was given a tour of the on site district heating system which incidentally had a water leak in their storage it had formed a small puddle in the middle of the fuel silo.

Location Depot 1 Depot 2 Depot 3 Depot 3 Depot 4
Wood Chestnut Fresh Mixed Logs Fresh Cut Willow Mixed Conifer Chestnut
Coarse>31.5 0.60% 7.60% 0% 2.30% 0.90%
Maine <60% 71.10% 79.30% 91.60% 91.40% 90%
Fine>20% 17.00% 1.04% 0.67% 5.50% 9.70%
Dust>4% 0.60% 0.10% 0.60% 0.50% 0.30%
moisture Test Incomplete 41% 49% 14% Test incomplete
Date 13/06/2016 13/06/2016 14/06/2016 14/06/2016 16/06/2016
Size Test OnormStandard OnormStandard OnormStandard OnormStandard OnormStandard
Particle size G50 G50 G50 G50 G50
 
 

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On Thursday we returned to the Ashdown forest depot to check the deliveries that had been made during the week and measure and mark up the a large stack of timber using a biodegradable spray canister, marking details every 10 meters.  To ensure there is sufficient wood to supply demand for the coming winter the available wood is carefully checked and measured during the summer.We measured the stack of latest deliveries and painted up the measurements so that as the wood is chipped next winter the ratio of chip to wood can be measured and recorded.This 86 meter long stack of wood which has been drying for a year would accumulate to approximately 522.5m³ this converted into loose chips would make 1436m³ however to my surprise this amount often only lasts 6 weeks.

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The week has been memorable and provided an insight into the low carbon industries of the future.  Learning about what a biomass energy business is, and how it works has proven to be really interesting. Finding low carbon energy sources will be vital if we want to properly combat the onset of climate change, thank you South East Wood Fuels for giving me brilliant experience.

PS Sorry about the coffee Graham