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Biomass Fuels

What are Biomass Fuels?

Burning wood has been used as a method of home heating for thousands of years. It’s gaining popularity once again as an environmentally friendly option.

Biomass Fuels

Points to consider if you wish to install a heating system using biomass fuel.

  • You need to have sufficient storage space for the fuel.
  • You need to have a flue installed which must be specifically designed for use with wood fuel.
  • The installation must comply with building and safety regulations.
  • The Clean Air Act means this type of heating may not be permissible in smokeless zones.
  • You may need planning permission before fitting a flue in certain circumstances.

The term biomass refers to any organic matter burnt as fuel to produce heat or power and is also referred to as bioenergy or biofuel.

Biomass is a sustainable and renewable energy which is considered carbon neutral. This means the carbon dioxide given off when the fuel is burned is equal to the amount absorbed when the organic matter was growing.

Although fossil fuels could technically be classed as ancient forms of biomass, they have been out of the carbon cycle for so long that burning them now creates an imbalance in the carbon levels in the atmosphere.

Biomass comes mainly from two categories – woody and non-woody. Woody products include forestation, wood, timber, energy crops and short rotation coppice, such as fast growing trees and plants like willow, poplar and miscanthus (elephant grass).

Non-woody biomass comes from food waste, animal waste, industrial waste and high energy crops such as rape, maize and sugar cane.

For domestic use, biomass fuel is usually wood chip, wood pellets or logs. These can be used to provide heat and hot water and for cooking.

There are two main ways of using biomass as a method of heating your home. Stand alone stoves can be fuelled by logs or pellets to provide space heating for a room. These can be fitted with a back boiler which will provide hot water. Usually these are around 6 – 12 KW in output.

The second way is by installing a boiler which is connected to your central heating and hot water system. There are many of these types of boiler available and they have an output of over 15 KW. Pellets, logs and chips can be used as fuel. Log boilers are loaded by hand and are a cheaper option than automatic loading pellet and wood chip systems.

Wood chip is produced from waste wood, short rotation coppice, tree clippings or park waste. Wood chip produces less energy than logs or pellets but is reasonably inexpensive and easily obtainable.

The most common and available form of wood fuel is logs. They will produce less heat if they have absorbed a lot of moisture so it is best to purchase well seasoned timber.

Wood pellets are produced from waste wood and are best for heat production. They emit twice as much heat as logs and four times the amount wood chip does. This means stoves which burn pellets can be smaller in size which is handy if space is limited.

A stand alone room heater will cost around £3,000 to install. The saving on your current energy bill will depend on which type of fuel you are replacing and how much use the stand alone heater will get.

Boilers vary in cost depending on which type you choose. An average family home, using a 15KW boiler fuelled by pellets will spend £5,000 – £12,000 to have the boiler fully installed. A cheaper option is a log fuelled system, fed manually.

Installing a biomass boiler can save you around £200 annually on your current energy bills and cut 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of buying the biomass fuel. You may save by finding a local supplier or by purchasing in large quantities. An average family will use around 4 tonnes of pellets each year.