What is biomass energy?
Biomass is a fuel that is produced by organic means. It is derived from burning of trees or plants which have absorbed CO2 during their lifetime. So, the CO2 that is absorbed during the life of the tree or plant, is then re-released when it is burnt. It is considered to be nearly carbon neutral, which is arguable as it still requires transportation and processing. It is argued that timber is better used a building material, where the CO2 will take longer to be released back into the atmosphere.
There are many forms of biomass energy fuel, including logs, waste wood, chippings and woodchips. There are also sustainably grown short rotation crops such as willow that grow fast and can be made into wood pellets.
Research suggests that burning biomass fuel is at least five times cleaner than burning gas. It can be burned in a biomass boiler or gasified in a CHP system (Combined heat and power).
In countries such as Denmark, nearly 80% of the primary domestic energy needs are provided by a mixture of biofuel and waste powered CHP, plus extensive coastal wind farms.
As reserves of oil, gas and coal become depleted there will be a growing pressure for countries to convert to biofuels and sustainable methods. Since timber is a renewable source and returns oxygen to the atmosphere during the growing phase it is safe to say it is a good sustainable option.
Design requirements and recommendations
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Advantages of Biomass Boiler Systems
- Sustainable energy option (as long as fuel is sourced responsibly)
- A positive step to replacing coal and gas
- Biomass energy has stable prices when compared to traditional fuels
- Biomass boilers qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) [at time of writing]
Disadvantages Biomass Boiler Systems
- Biomass boilers require relatively high user input
- Sourcing spare parts can be difficult
- Biomass energy requires more space than standard systems for the boiler and fuel storage
- Fuel storage conditions must be carefully designed as the fuel must remain dry
- Require regular cleaning (depending on model)