Dispelling the five biggest biomass myths

Paul Clark, Managing Director of Rural Energy, looks at the five biggest biomass myths:
MYTH 1:  It’s expensive
Admittedly, the capital cost of biomass compared to traditional oil or gas boilers, is initially higher and poor system design, installation and sub-standard maintenance protocols can further increase lifecycle costs.  However, this should be balanced by energy cost savings when the system is running efficiently and by taking into account any Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) benefits.  In addition, fuel efficiency can be maximised if you follow manufacturers’ recommendations: poor quality fuels tend to have higher levels of moisture content meaning more energy is needed to burn them and more ash is created, decreasing efficiency and increasing servicing requirements.
MYTH 2:  It’s unreliable
Biomass is only unreliable if weekly checks and sensible servicing routines are ignored.  Minimally, an annual and a 6-month interim service (for heavy duty applications – typically systems with over 3000 run hours a year – a third annual service is recommended) can have massive implications for system lifespans, breakdown frequency and running efficiencies.  Unfortunately, servicing schedules are often either not communicated clearly or are neglected, directly affecting the full potential of biomass technology.
MYTH 3:  It takes up a lot of space
The space required depends on chosen fuel type, boiler requirements (calculated through heat load and fuel quality), any price or construction restrictions, location of the storage and distance from the boiler, and existing space on site. It is not always necessary for biomass boilers to have large fuel stores, for example, if using a pellet fuel boiler, standalone silos or day hoppers can be used, biomass fuel stores can be underground if feeding the boiler via auger type arrangements or vacuum suction systems.  If none of these prove suitable, Rural Energy can provide a package plant room that is housed separately from the main building.  These have been adapted as standalone energy centres for a wide range of private and public installations from office blocks, hotels and distilleries to retail outlets, leisure facilities and health centres.
MYTH 4:  Burning fuel releases carbon so it’s not really a ‘green’ solution
Contrary to popular opinion, wood burning is not a carbon neutral activity but compared to other burning activities, wood, with careful and considerate management, is clearly a much more sustainable resource than fossil fuels. What is more, the processing and transportation required in the wood fuel supply chain uses minimal energy (typically no more than 2%) meaning at the point at which it is finally consumed it remains well above an 80% saving on green house gases over fossil fuel, often even over 90%. This wood fuel is converted into highly efficient pellets or wood chip, and a modern wood fuel installation is highly efficient (at around 90%).
MYTH 5:  All wood fuel is the same
No it isn’t! Most biomass boilers run on wood chip, wood pellets, logs or briquettes. Others are designed to burn straw and hay bales, waste wood and shavings from manufacturing processes. Whatever your preferred choice, biomass boilers work most efficiently when the appropriate wood fuel is used, in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines. If the wood fuel is too wet (or even too dry), extremely irregular in size/shape, or from a low quality crop source, the fuel feed can become obstructed or the boiler can combust the fuel at a much quicker, less efficient, rate.  The best type of wood fuel for your biomass boiler should always be discussed with your boiler supplier.
For more information please visit www.ruralenergy.co.uk