Lancaster firm develop kiln dried firewood as a cleaner alternative to wet logs
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 September 2018
A company that started off selling fire wood has become hot news for its amazing innovation - including the coffee logs
On the face of it, selling firewood seems like a pretty straightforward affair, but half an hour with the team at Logs Direct in Halton, near Lancaster, and you soon realise it’s a business full of surprises and a few burning issues.
The company’s diversification and innovation projects, one involving celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and another that uses old coffee grounds, are nothing short of remarkable. And then, there is the man who spends all day sanding down logs. But we’ll come to him later.
First, the serious stuff. The Government is set to introduce new rules designed to end the sale of ‘wet logs’ that are not only inefficient but create significantly higher levels of air pollution.
Rumours there will be legislation to outlaw domestic wood burners and open fires are wide of the mark but the level of wood fibre particulates in the air – up to 50pc in samples taken in London – is ringing alarm bells in Whitehall.
You might think this would cause sleepless nights at Logs Direct, one of the country’s biggest suppliers. Not so. They are in the vanguard of moves to promote the use of dry logs, which don’t create the same levels of air pollution.
They have been on a panel of experts at meetings with environment minister Thérèse Coffey to help devise a new code which will be introduced shortly. It is expected to make life difficult for suppliers who haven’t signed up to the industry’s ‘Ready to Burn’ dry logs scheme and force householders to use only approved firewood.
‘We are completely behind the concept – we need to do something now to solve this issue,’ said Stephen Talbot, the company’s sales director. This Lancashire firm decided the answer was to kiln dry their wood. On the face of it, heating wood to remove the moisture might not seem a very green thing to do but they invested in kit which uses their own wood waste. Before it would have gone to landfill.
‘People talk about seasoned wood but what does that mean?’ said Stephen. ‘Besides, it takes between two and five years to properly season wood so you would need three year’s worth of wood at any one time. We decided kiln drying was the best option.’
Britain went through a boom in people installing wood burners.
That has calmed down a little but the demand is still high and the fire manufacturers are producing stoves that are more efficient and cleaner to use. Some are able to re-burn emissions.
Around 50 per cent of the Logs Direct wood – oak, hornbeam, ash, birch and alder – comes from the UK, mainly the Lakes. With the big Drax power station at Selby switching from coal to timber, sourcing hardwood is likely to be more difficult in years to come, but Logs Direct has established links with suppliers in the Baltic states and the Ukraine and they now provide the remaining 50 per cent.
With an expanding workforce of 20, plans to increase production and 120 distribution units around the UK, Logs Direct is one of our most successful businesses. But the seasonal nature of the trade meant Steven was brought in to help find new ways of turning it into a year-round enterprise.
The first step was to make contact with the restaurant trade, particularly the Italian sector using wood-fired pizza ovens. The firm now supplies chefs across the country and their expertise meant they were asked to work with Jamie Oliver’s team and oven makers Valoriana.
‘All restaurants want a fuel that burns slowly and is clean enough to use near food without it becoming dirty or tainting the taste,’ said Stephen. ‘We developed a special pizza fuel called Piccante which is made of Italian beech. It meets food safety regulations, lights easily, burns slowly and comes in lengths shaped like a 50p piece to stop them rolling from the fire.’ Piccante was so succesful it trebled the company’s customer base in the food industry.
Another remarkable innovation has been a project with the Lancashire food store group Booths to turn the coffee grounds from their restaurants into fuel, removing the oils and compressing the remains into Coffee Logs to sell in their supermarkets. It’s believed to be a British first, giving 20 per cent more heat than wood and earning them a ‘Green Hero’ award from Kevin McCloud, of Channel 4’s Grand Designs.
They are also making dense briquettes from bracken, an invasive species taking over many fellsides in the UK, an Eco log for use in barbecues and chimenea outdoor heaters, garden compost and mulch from decayed wood and wood litter for horses, small furry animals and chickens.
‘The most important thing is to listen to your customers,’ said Stephen. ‘Whenever we make deliveries, we always ask if there is anything else we can provide. You are sometimes amazed by the answers.’
What about that man sanding logs? Perhaps one of the most unexpected offshoots of the business was demand from interior designers. One major business in London wanted to cover an entire wall with small discs of wood and it had to be from holly trees.
They also won contracts in the home furnishing sector from the likes of Next making decorative logs – the sort of items you see stacked in nooks in dining pubs and alcoves in hotels.
Nice to look at but never intended to burn – and that’s why one man at Halton spends his day sanding and polishing logs to perfection.