Defra’s Cleaner Fuels Announcement Explained

On Friday Defra announced their response on their cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood. The consultation took place between August and October 2018 and focused on England only.
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On Friday 21st February 2020 Defra announced their response on their cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood consultation. The consultation took place between August and October 2018 and focused on England only. The proposals in the consultation included:

  • Restrictions on the sale of wet wood for domestic burning
  • Phasing out the sale of traditional house coal
  • Applying sulphur standards and smoke emission limits to all manufactured solid fuels

The proposals made fall in line with Defra’s Clean Air Strategy, which was published in January 2019. You can see the HETAS summary of the Clean Air Strategy here. The actions set out in the government response, outlined in our summary below, are designed to deliver on national and international air quality obligations, recommendations and commitments.

Included in the government release was three important documents:

  • Consultation outcome – summary of responses and government response
  • Impact assessment
  • BSRIA report – heat output tests, six fuels on three appliances

The three key announcements related to the government response have been summarised by HETAS below.

Government isn’t looking to ban the use of wood burning. See the HETAS article relating to misleading headlines that have been published in the press of late.

Click here to read the full article.


Government propose that wood sold in single units under 2m ³ (loose stacked) must have a moisture content of 20% or less. ‘Wet wood’ sold over these volumes will be required to come with advice on how to dry it ready for burning.

Wood sold in smaller quantities is more likely to be used immediately and not dried at home, the proposal aims to limit the sale of wood sold in smaller sizes of packaging to dry wood only.

The government now intend to take forward their proposal for a mandatory certification scheme demonstrating that wood sold in volumes under 2m ³ is dry (less than 20% moisture).

This proposal will come into effect one year from publication on the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

Consideration has also been given for small wood producers within the proposal. Those producing less than 600m3 a year or less may find it difficult to invest in the equipment necessary for seasoning. Such suppliers will be given an additional year to comply. This will provide suppliers time to season their wood down to the required level or consider changes to their business model (see section 13.1 of the government response).

For sales of wet wood, seasoning instructions should accompany all sales along with a warning advising that the wood is not suitable to be burnt without appropriate drying.

In addition, retailers will be required to store seasoned/dry wood in such a way as to keep it dry.

Woodsure launched its voluntary Ready to Burn scheme in the summer of 2017 and has over 100 suppliers signed up and supplying firewood and briquettes that already meet the requirement of being no more than 20% moisture content.


Based on the responses to the consultation, Government is proposing to introduce a ban on the sale of all bagged traditional house coal. Government intend the ban to apply one year from the publication of the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

For a transition period, approved coal merchants will be able to sell loose traditional house coal direct to customers. Traditional house coal direct sales will be prohibited two years after this date.

Government has confirmed it isn’t looking to ban the sale of all coal. They want to see a move away from using traditional house coal towards less polluting fuels by only allowing the sale of smokeless coal (or anthracite) and low sulphur manufactured solid fuels for the purpose of domestic heating.

The response also looks at the issue of fuel poverty, concerns were raised in the consultation. Government believes that those in fuel poverty should be protected from the effects of more polluting fuels.

Analysis was undertaken to assess the impact any policy will have on those who use coal as an important source of heating. The analysis found that manufactured solid fuels are actually more efficient on an energy density basis. This makes them cheaper to burn than coal.

Government is putting in place a package of measures to educate people so they move from traditional house coal to smokeless coal or manufactured solid fuels. Measures include education through coal merchants supported by a government-led communications campaign.

One exemption in place relates to the freeminers in the Forest of Dean, given the importance of this activity to local heritage and identity. The volume of coal sold and the impact on the environment is very low and the activity is unique to the forest of Dean.

Manufactured Smokeless Fuels

For manufactured solid fuels for use in domestic combustion it is proposed they should conform to a test confirming sulphur content below 2% and the fuel emits less than 5g smoke per hour. Again, this will be effective one year from publication of the government response (response date 21 February 2020).

Government agreed with the majority of responses who felt there should be a labelling requirement on solid fuel to demonstrate that the fuels meet the standard. This requirement will mean all manufactured solid fuels will need to get their products certified. Guidance will be issued to manufacturers in ensuring their products are compliant.

Use the HETAS ‘Find Fuels‘ search to find HETAS approved solid mineral fuels.

New Fuels

The response also touches on new fuels that were stated in the Clean Air Strategy, fuels such as coffee and olive logs that are entering the market. Government has affirmed it wants to encourage innovation, but customers need to be certain that these products are safe to use and no testing standard currently exists.

Government suggest that further research is needed to consider the most appropriate standard for these products to ensure that health and environmental impacts are minimised.  The response also states that government intends to review such fuels with a view to setting any relevant standards. It has been clarified that these fuels may continue to be sold outside Smoke Control Areas. They may only be sold in Smoke Control Areas if they meet the smoke and sulphur requirements. Manufacturers of these fuels may apply for certification, and these products will be approved if they meet the requirements.

Further guidance on all the points above will be issues in due course. HETAS will of course share these details with our registrants as soon as it is made available.


On the announcement new Environment secretary George Eustice stated:

By moving towards the use of cleaner fuels such as dry wood we can all play a part in improving the health of millions of people. This is the latest step in delivering on the challenge we set ourselves in our world-leading clean air strategy.

On the announcement HETAS CEO and Woodsure Chair Bruce Allen stated:

We welcome the government’s announcement. It’s important we take action, in the context of the climate emergency we’re facing, to reduce the environmental impact of burning at home and these new measures will help people make better fuel choices.

At Woodsure, we run a certification scheme to make it easier to find less polluting dry wood which will still be available in shops. The wood is verified by our independent inspectors as having a moisture content of up to 20% which means it burns with less smoke than wetter wood; and is labelled Woodsure Ready to Burn.

Further Information

The full government response and associated documents can be viewed here.

Recently HETAS commissioned a critical review to better understand current particulate matter emissions estimates and highlight the need for more accurate evidence-based information to be gathered. This will help the industry and Government to prioritise resources and take action to reduce emissions from the highest emitting sources. Click here to read the summary. HETAS registrants can access the full report in the HETAS Technical Hub (login required).


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