Waste wood that can no longer be recycled is turned into green energy

Wood cannot be recycled indefinitely. So what happens with the waste wood? The waste wood is incinerated in green energy plants where we generate our own green energy!

05 June 2024

It is our ambition to recycle wood as long as possible. Unfortunately wood cannot be recycled indefinitely because the fibres have become too degraded. What happens to the waste wood that can no longer be used to manufacture high-grade products? Smart incineration in our green power plants to generate our own green energy! 

Today Unilin has two green energy plants in a joint venture with green energy specialists Aspiravi. These two Belgian plants account for a considerable portion of the energy needs of two production sites. They constitute the final piece of the puzzle in Unilin's circular wood narrative. Sustainability expert Lasse Six is more than happy to shed some light on how that works.

Are green energy plants really that sustainable? Unilin's plants certainly are, Lasse confirms. “In the past biomass plants have been criticised for felling trees that are subsequently incinerated in their plants. We don’t do that: all of our wood residue is sourced from products that are no longer fit for recycling. The wood fraction that can be reused or recycled is sent to our production sites to make new products and keep the wood in the chain. This is the most logical choice, not just in terms of sustainability but also from an economic standpoint.”

Sharing green energy with our neighbours

In 2010 the first green energy plant was taken into operation: A&S in Oostrozebeke, Belgium. “It’s a joint venture with Aspiravi, who are active in the development, construction and exploitation of green energy projects. They take care of the day-to-day management.” Since 2021, the second green energy plant, A&U in nearby Wielsbeke, Belgium, is also fully operational.

The location of the two plants wasn’t chosen at random. They are situated close to some of our own production sites, which use around half of the generated green energy. “The plant even covers over 90% of the energy needs of our chipboard plant in Wielsbeke. That’s really huge!  What's more, the plant even generates additional energy. The remaining green energy is exported to the grid to benefit local families." Lasse emphasises that the generated heat is also put to good use. “The heat generated at A&U goes to our nearby chipboard plant and Agristo, a neighbouring manufacturer of frozen potato products.”

Apart from the two operational energy plants in Oostrozebeke and Wielsbeke we also have smaller wood dust incinerators at different sites, which convert the wood dust released in production (too small to be put to any other use) into energy that operates our machines.

Clever approach

So if no trees are logged to supply the green energy plants, where does the wood come from? Lasse: “At Unilin we make it our mission to keep wood in the loop as long as possible. This is because wood stores CO2 so the longer it can be used, the more the environment benefits. This means we always start by checking if waste wood can be recycled in our products. This can be wood residue from our own production sites, or waste wood collected by our partners in recycling parks, for instance. In other words, the old nightstand you dropped off at the container park may well end up at Unilin. Only waste wood that is too contaminated or degraded to be used for anything else is sent to the green energy plants.”

And the plants themselves, don’t they emit CO2? “They do. The CO2 that is stored in the wood is obviously released when the wood is incinerated”, Lasse explains. “Nevertheless, the result of our approach is climate neutral. We recycle wood several times in our high-quality products before incinerating it at our green energy plants. This means it goes through as many as three, four or even more life cycles. By the time the wood has reached the end of its useful life and is incinerated, so much time has passed that one or even two trees have meanwhile grown in its place and, in turn, have also been storing CO2. This compensates the emissions of the green energy plants”, Lasse continues.

“Moreover, the CO2 in the wood is also released if the trees are simply left to rot and decay on the forest floor. Also, we once calculated that if we left the waste wood in place, in ten years’ time the municipality of Wielsbeke would be buried under a layer of waste wood 10m thick so we can’t just leave it lying about”, he laughs.


 Did you know that...
  • Thanks to A&U and A&S we can avoid fossil fuels in our energy supply. In total we avoid 23,402 tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Today as much as 60% of the energy used by Unilin is renewable. To further grow that share we are placing maximum focus on green energy projects at our sites. To date we have built two green energy plants and several sites have installed solar panels and wind turbines.

    Discover the importance of wood at Unilin