Biomass is organic matter that may be used as a fuel. This includes wood varieties such as pellets, chip and logs; miscanthus; straws and agricultural residues; animal and food wastes.

Biomass heating has been incentivised by the government using the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to encourage carbon savings in businesses and domestic housing. The current RHI pays the owner of a biomass boiler for every unit of heat energy generated, making it profitable for those using large amounts of heat.

Biomass heat is normally delivered in the form of hot water, just as with traditional gas or oil powered boilers. Depending on the size of the boiler, the heat can be used to provide central heating and hot water for an individual building, or distributed through a network of pipes - a District or Community Heating System (DHS) - to a number of buildings.

Benefits of Wood Pellets

Quality wood pellets are a consistent, uniform fuel of 6mm diameter and 8% moisture content, compared to between 25-60% in wood chip. This means the efficiency of wood pellets is >90% when fed through the boiler.

Haulage costs are minimised due to not 'transporting water' associated with high moisture content fuels such as log and chip.

Pellets can be fully automated much like oil or gas systems, with remote monitoring of pellet levels so they can be topped up before they run out. Bulk pellet deliveries can then be blown into the silo/pellet store – no mess associated with double handling or use of a bucket. The storage space required is also relatively small.

Boiler breakdowns are minimised due to purity of deliveries (no oversize, stones, or bark). There is also little or no smoke, a low ash output, and low emissions. In comparison to other fuels, particularly waste-based (poultry litter, waste wood etc.) the lifespan of the boiler is significantly longer.

The energy content of wood pellets is also relatively high and can compete with all fuels on a pence per kilowatt hour basis (see table).

Is it Competitive?

As can be seen in the below table, wood pellets are competitive on a pence per kilowatt basis with all fossil fuels. This will become more evident as fossil fuel sources reach their peak output and rise in price, the same will be true of pellets rising in price as other sources of fuel diminish, but as an ‘infinite’ source of fuel it is unlikely to undergo more extreme price distortion.

Comparative Energy Contents of Fuels

* spot prices June 2015: for comparative purposes only

Fossil Fuel Energy Prices

World energy prices are increasing at 10% per annum on average. This is due to the phenomenon of 'peak oil', which is the bell curve that world oil findings & production follow due to the finite nature of the fuel. This is shown by the below table of findings over time.

Mbpd = Million Barrels per day

This works alongside increases in population and increases in usage per capita to create increasingly unstable prices in the fossil fuel market

Oil prices are forecast to rise to over $200 a barrel by 2035. Although dictated by the market, current wood pellet prices are between £180-210 per tonne, and long term wood pellet contracts can be fixed for a number of years between 4-5 pence per kilowatt hour. Renewable sources of energy are less volatile in price, and pellets can be imported like oil or coal if necessary.

Can I make both heat and electricity from biomass?

For efficiency reasons, small and medium scale installations up to 1MW biomass is ordinarily used to provide heat only, however we do now offer CHP plants as small as 40kW producing electricity at 5% of capacity.

Is it really a low carbon fuel source?

Burning biomass wood fuel gives off carbon emissions, just as burning anything does. The difference between burning biomass and fossil fuels such as coal, gas or oil is that the woodfuel absorbed the CO2 given off when it grew in the last 25 or so years. With fossil fuels, the carbon being released into the atmosphere on burning it was absorbed and trapped many millions of years ago, and would otherwise remain in a harmless state in the ground. So biomass, unlike fossil fuel, will not excrete CO2 into the air that would not normally have been released with the fall and decay of the tree at the end of its lifetime.