Using fuel made from UK waste wood could have a very positive impact on the biomass industry

Installing a biomass boiler that can use all pellet types and still be eligible for RHI can save customers money. Simon Wardle – Managing Director at BiEco Midlands – looks at how opting for fuel made from UK waste wood could have a very positive impact.
There is no doubt that the biomass market has grown significantly over the past few years with the help of the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and the ‘once high’ oil prices. Biomass is, of course, a much more sustainable way for off-grid customers to go green and reduce their energy bills, but the current low price of oil against the current price of biomass premium virgin wood pellets (based on £220 tonne) means the once-lucrative fuel saving over past oil prices seems to be no longer there.
This change will result in longer payback periods for end-users and create a technology that is highly reliant on Government incentives to make the financials stack up, which is clearly not good for the industry. On a more positive note, there are a few biomass systems out there that are breaking the mould, offering huge savings against current fossil fuel prices though unfortunately many are not eligible to claim the RHI.
Virgin territory
Biomass boilers are predominantly fuelled by premium virgin wood pellets. The EU has developed a multinational certification standard for this type of biomass wood pellet, which is better known as the ENPlus. Generally, this is the only type of pellet approved to be burned by most pellet boiler manufacturers because of its high calorific value, minimal contamination and very low ash content.
Wood pellets are also a popular form of sustainable energy within the European Union because they are regarded as having a smaller carbon footprint than traditional fossil fuels and coal.
With the introduction of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in 2009, demand for wood pellets has increased exponentially. With RED, the EU created the ‘20/20/20’ targets for the year 2020, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to emission levels in the year 1990, increase renewable energy use to 20%, and improve energy efficiency by 20%.
Europe’s demand for premium virgin wood pellets keeps increasing. According to DECC data, in 2013, the EU imported over 3 million metric tons of wood pellets, and, in 2014, the U.S. exported 4.4 million metric tons to Europe. These figures demonstrate the amount of premium virgin wood required to meet the demand – and it is important to consider the carbon footprint created from getting premium virgin wood pellet from tree to boiler.
There is an abundance of waste wood in the UK – enough to feed every biomass boiler in the UK for the next 100+ years – meaning there is already the fuel source on our doorstep waiting to be used. According to 2014 reports, up to 4.5 million tonnes of timber waste – not including ‘green waste’ – was generated in the UK. This waste wood comes from a number of different sources including wood waste from building sites, which alone amounts to 1.05 million tonnes per year.
Gold standard
The ENplus system creates three categories of pellets: EN-B pellets for industrial buyers, and ENplus-A1 and ENplus-A2 for residential buyers.
As shown in Table 1, there are three categories of wood pellets: ENPlus-A1, ENPlus-A2 and EN-B.
However, for ease, this article will refer to these categories as Gold, Silver and Bronze (with ENPlus-A1 being our Gold rated wood pellet and EN-B being our Bronze rated wood pellet).
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The first obvious aspect is that ‘Gold’ pellets cost more than ‘Silver’, which cost more than ‘Bronze’. Currently, Gold wood pellets have an average market price of £225 per tonne (equivalent to current oil prices) but the Bronze wood pellets have a market price of £130 per tonne – a saving of over 40% on the Gold wood pellet price.
Apart from the price, the only difference between Gold and Bronze wood pellets is the quality of the source, which basically means that a Bronze type wood pellet will probably produce a bit more ash content, meaning a few extra trips to the boiler each month to empty the boiler ash bin.
However, the important bit is the calorific value (CV), and this is very similar for the three types of wood pellets, making it unnecessary to have to burn more to achieve the same outputs.
In straightforward terms, Gold wood pellets are derived from a virgin source (for example, straight from the tree), while the Bronze wood pellet is derived from a used wood source (for example, the waste wood which is in plentiful supply in the UK).
Manufacturer checks
Before advising customers of the benefits of the various types of wood pellets, it is important to check with the manufacturer or distributor that the installed biomass boiler can burn the different categories of wood pellets (See Table 2) and, more importantly, that the biomass boiler has the approved Ofgem RHI Emissions Certificate (which means that the boiler falls under the emissions targets set out so the homeowner will be eligible to claim the RHI).
The main problem for endusers is that there are many biomass boiler manufacturers and distributors claiming their boilers can burn a wide variety of fuels. Unfortunately, some of these boilers don’t have the RHI emissions certificate so the customer will not be entitled to claim the RHI if they are burning Silver or Bronze wood pellets.
Therefore, for any potential customers who want to reduce their carbon footprint and make big fuel savings, it is imperative to recommend and install a biomass boiler that can burn the lower class pellets and still be eligible for financial input under the RHI.
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