Renewable Living | Warm Roofs, Solar PV, Wood Pellet Boilers


How Does Biomass Work, And Why Do I Want It?

How Does Biomass Work, And Why Do I Want It?

Biomass is a form of renewable energy which has been around for thousands of years, but you’re probably asking yourself, how does biomass work? Although the name ‘biomass’ might sound a little bit fancy, it’s actually a very simple process, and one that you will be very familiar with.

Biomass is essentially about harnessing energy from waste, by burning it to create heat, which is then transferred into a boiler; heating your home. This is a truly renewable source of energy, because wastage is prevented, and energy is created. On an industrial scale, this energy is also converted into electricity.

Wastage? What’s that?

Good question. On an industrial scale, biomass energy is created from the likes of wood, crops, agricultural residue, food waste, and industrial waste, but on a home-sized scale, it’s more likely that you will use variations of wood (pellets, logs, and chips).

Wastage is defined as something which can’t be used anywhere else. Lets look at wood pellets (the most popular home biomass fuel). These are made up from the likes of compacted sawdust, and logging off-cuts. Something which would have been thrown in a bin, or on a bonfire, is instead used to heat a house. The pellets are made to be incredibly dense, which allows for them to be burned with a very high combustion efficiency. Small, but powerful.

Biomass is all about harnessing power from waste. This makes it a green fuel, and cost effective.

Why do I want it?

It breaks down to two factors; the environment, and money.

Lets look at the environment first.

Currently, generating heat accounts for 41% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, and it’s partly because only 1% of heat is currently generated from renewable sources.

Biomass is a “carbon lean” fuel, producing a fraction of the Carbon emissions of fossil fuels, all the while reducing the amount of waste that we as a country produce.

Biomass fuel can be produced anywhere in the country, and it’s particularly useful for anyone who lives away from mains gas supply, such as on a farm. It’s a very accessible form of renewable energy, which also come along with financial benefits.

With this being a renewable source of energy, capitalising on recycling wastage, the costs to heat a house are certainly lower than if you were to use gas. It’s estimated that a biomass boiler typically saves you around £200 a year in energy bills, and around 8 tonnes of C02 per year. Good for your wallet, and the environment.

Is my property suitable?

Many houses can benefit from wood pellet heating, but before you can install you do have to consider:

1.Is the house listed, in a conservation area, or smokeless zone? If so there are limitations placed on you. E.g.

  • You may have to consider Listed building Consent for flues or internal alterations
  • You may have to “hide” the flue, use an existing building for your fuel store or seek planning consent
  • There is a more limited list of boilers to choose from.

2.Is there reasonable access for pellets to be delivered?

  • Some deliveries are “blown” through a tube to a maximum of 20m from the lorry.
  • Other deliveries are in 1 tonne bags which are moved by pellet truck.
  • Alternatively you can have 15kg bags (67 make up 1 tonne, and this is more expensive).

3.Has the house got a chimney which you think could be used?

  • It will have to be checked, and may need a flexible liner to make it safe.
  • If you have thatch you have to be more careful and you may have to check your plans with your insurance company and building control, but many situations can be dealt with.

The chimney need to be reasonably close to the boiler, which is no problem in new builds, but a little more difficult with retrofits. If this isn’t possible, then you will need to install a flue.

You will also need adequate space for the equipment, which can be comfortable stored in a room 2*3 meters wide, and 1.5 meters high. This room would ideally be on connected to an outside wall of the property, because there needs to be an air intake for the fire to burn.

What do I need to get started?

You typically need four things.

  1. Fuel storage
  2. A self-loading hopper
  3. A boiler
  4. A chimney/flue.

It certainly takes up more room than a traditional gas boiler, but the benefits are clear.

How much does it cost?

Biomass is different to traditional forms of renewable energy, in that you have to pay for a fuel. Fuel costs vary depending on your location, as well as many other factors. It’s hard to put an exact price down because it tend to vary. The same goes for installation of the units. Any price I included here would be purely speculation because so much of it depends on your location, size of building, and whether it’s a new build or not.

There’s some estimates on pricing below, but first, lets look at the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme is a government scheme that gives money to householders to help them buy renewable heating technologies.

For wood pellet boilers you can claim £950.

All installations can then apply for the Renewable Heat Incentive when it comes in for domestic users. This is intended to be summer/autumn 2012.

The conditions of the scheme:

  • The home should have loft insulation to 250mm and cavity wall insulation, where these measures are practical
  • Use MCS accredited boilers
  • Use MCS accredited installers or equivalent
  • Be prepared to feedback information on how the appliance is performing
  • Have suitable permissions in place e.g. Listed building consent
  • Be the home owner or have permission from the owner

Applications can be made through the Energy Savings trust

Now, the (very rough guide on) price.

As the complexity of the system selected increases, the parts and the labour go up in price significantly. However the maintenance levels go down and the efficiency of the system goes up.

Expensive parts do include the pellet boiler which ranges in price from £3000 to £17,000 but also:

The flue – this can cost between £750 and £2000

Accumulation or climate control – between £850 and £2000

Pellet Store – You can use the integrated hopper that will last you a few days at peak load. Otherwise there are several options. A steel hopper may cost between £2000-£3000, as may a flexible liner in steel frame.

Pump sets and other plumbing equipment are also needed, especially if you have several heating circuits.

The labour charge varies from a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the design of the heating system proposed. This may be in the range of £1500 to £6000 with plumbing supplies (e.g. copper pipe) being extra.

Sounds great, how can I find out more?

The best thing for you to do is to fill in the contact form on this page, and we will help you to get started. This is also the best way to contact us if you have any questions about this post.

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