Former Miner Brimming With Green Energy For Woodfuel

Dave Sefton – Silvapower

One thing Dave Sefton has never been short of is energy!

When the 50 year old from Barnsley left school it was straight down the local pit as a “ripper”, building tunnels behind the cutting machines which eked away at the coal face.

When the industry contracted he was made redundant and found himself making charcoal at Wentworth Castle, Stainborough, before finally helping to set up a wood chip company in 2004 to fuel a green revolution in South Yorkshire.

Back then local councils and public bodies wanted to install biomass heating installations,  but were unable to get past the first base because there was no fuel supply infrastructure in place to get timber from the woods and into a suitable form for burning.

Despite this the Forestry Commission said that there was massive scope to develop the sector in South Yorkshire, with its long history of using solid fuels like coal and the amount of local woodland which could be brought into management.

So Silvapower was set up to plug the supply gap with the help of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership, Sheffield City Council, Barnsley Council and South Yorkshire Investment Fund.

Eight years later the company has gone from strength-to-strength and is chalking up new milestones.  Next year it is set to produce 35,000 cubic metres of wood chip to meet rising demand.

“I didn’t intend it that way, but my whole career has been supplying fuel of one kind or another, finally ending up with the oldest fuel of the lot, wood,” said Dave, who was a collier at Barnsley Main and Barrow coal mines.  “More local supplies are needed, but timber is coming on stream.  To produce 35,000 cubic metres of wood chips, we need 10,000 tonnes of timber, which translates into about 25,000 trees. We want to talk to local woodland owners and estates about purchasing timber – we always need more of it and want to build long term relationships. Wood is a growth industry and unlike coal we can keep on growing the stuff. It’s really exciting to be involved in something like this, which is growing fast and also does good for the world”

The Forestry Commission has revealed that 56 wood fuel installations have been installed in South Yorkshire as the move towards more eco-friendly energy generation gathers pace.

Long term oil and gas price increases and climate change mean that experts have dubbed it as one of the fuels of the future.  Such is the local potential that South Yorkshire was chosen for a 200,000 Euro investment under an EU project called Activating Forest Owners to develop the sector and create jobs.

Crispin Thorn, Forestry Commission Area Director for Yorkshire and the North East, said:

“Under-management of our woods has been recognised as a lost opportunity for woodland owners for years.  But there are encouraging signs that owners are putting their woods back to work. Some of the timber being used by Silvapower and other local wood fuel suppliers is coming from places like Greno Woods, near Sheffield, and from woods owned by the Fitzwilliam Estate, near the Strines, west of Bradfield.  Sustainable woodland management where trees are felled and replaced is good for conservation and also taps an increasingly valuable and renewable asset for South Yorkshire. It’s great to see businesses developing and expanding in order to take up this growing opportunity.”

Silvapower was taken over by Forest Fuels last year, but Dave stayed on as Yard Foreman at the main depot in Brierley, near Barnsley, where £1m has been invested in storage facilities, processing machinery and delivery equipment.  Customers include all four councils in South Yorkshire and local schools.

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