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How Does Biomass Heating Work

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  • 05-10-2021
How Does Biomass Heating Work

Are you replacing your heating system? You might be asking: how does biomass heating work? This article looks at the benefits of biomass heating and why you might choose this heating source.

How Do Biomass Boilers Work?

For a biomass boiler to operate, it takes biomatter as an input, burns it, and outputs heat for you to use in your heating system. Users can input chips, logs, wood pellets or other forms of biomatter into the boiler by hand, semi-automatically, or fully automatically. The input feeds into the boiler's combustion chamber, where it's ignited.

The hot air and gas that is produced travels through the flue and is passed into the heat exchanger, transferring the heat to the water of the central heating system. A buffer vessel, also known as a thermal tank, will store any excess heat. 

Biomass boilers can be integrated into existing systems, provided there is enough space available.

How Do Biomass Boilers Produce Heat?

Gasification is the name of the two-step process a biomass boiler uses to produce heat. Firstly, fuel is burnt at extremely high temperatures (around 600ËšC) to release gases. After that, the gases are re-burned, allowing the temperatures to exceed 1,200ËšC in the burn chamber. Through the metal heat exchanger, the hot gases travel to the water that needs heating on the other side.

What Is a Biomass Boiler?

Before we explain what a biomass boiler is, it's important to know what biomass is in the first place. Biomass is any fuel that comes from organic sources. The most common biomatter is wood fuel in the form of pellets and logs. Essentially, biomass heating systems are systems that burn non-fossil fuel/natural resources into a gas which is then reheated and used for central heating and hot water in your home.

Biomass boilers are available in a range of types that can vary in price and capabilities, but all share a similar function. The most common biomass boilers are wood chip, wood log, and wood pellet boilers. They are widely used due to the accessibility of the fuel and the efficiency of heat production.

Not only are biomass boilers environmentally friendly, but they also rival standard gas and oil boilers in terms of prices and running costs. Additionally, they are long-lasting, versatile and future proof. Many people are switching to biofuel boilers earlier than later as sustainability is becoming ever more important in our changing world as we move to become carbon neutral.

Benefits Of Biomass Heating

benefits-of-biomass

Affordable Heating Fuel

It will typically cost anywhere between £9,000 and £15,000 for the installation, fuel and flue store of an automatically fed pellet boiler.

As for the pellets, their cost depends on the method of delivery as well as their size. For a boiler with a large fuel store (AKA one that will accept multiple tonnes of pellets at once), you will be able to find pellets for less than £300 per tonne. In some cases, traditional logs can be an overall cheaper option than pellets, although that depends on the availability of wood in your area and whether you are bulk buying.

This is due to the high cost of transporting the logs. If you have the space to store at least a years worth of logs, you can buy unseasoned logs and let them season for around a year, saving you a lot of money in the long run.

By replacing an older, coal-based fired system with a biomass boiler, you can save up to 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. As for financial savings, those are more variable. If you have an old LPG heating system, it's possible to save £1,150 per year by upgrading to a biomass boiler.

However, that amount is somewhat lower at £870 annual savings if you are upgrading from an older electric heating system. If your current heating solution is very new and efficient (such as an expensive modern gas or oil boiler), a biomass boiler may cost you more in the long run. Whether this loss is worth the savings in emissions is something to decide yourself.

Financial Support

Through the Renewable Heat Incentive (run by the UK Government), it is possible to receive payments based on the heat you produce using a pellet stove or biomass boiler. Before receiving payments, you must ensure you are satisfying the RHI requirements and adhering to the renewable energy guidelines.

All participants of the scheme must use biomass fuel sourced from a registered supplier on the official Biomass Suppliers List. Before entering any form of a supply contract with your supplier, make sure they are currently on the Biomass Suppliers List.

It's important to note that not all fuel that is supplied by BSL suppliers is sustainable, as they are likely to sell a range of fuel types. Check with your supplier before purchasing to ensure the fuel is compatible with your system and meets the RHI requirements.

A Low Carbon Option

What makes biofuel boilers such an attractive option is the fact that they are sustainable for the environment, unlike coal or oil boilers that rely on limited fossil fuels and often produce more carbon dioxide emissions. As long as new plants grow in place of used fuel, biomass boilers are sustainable.

This is because the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted from burning wood is the same as the amount it absorbed throughout the months and years of its life. 

There are, as expected, some carbon emissions that are caused by the transportation, cultivation, and manufacturing of biofuel. However, provided the fuel is locally sourced, the total carbon emissions throughout the process are much lower.

biomass-fuel

What Fuel Does a Biomass Boiler Use?

The main three types of biomass fuels that are used in boilers are wood chips, wood logs, and wood pellets. Regardless of their advantages, it's important to note which fuel type is most accessible in your area, as the logistics involved can make certain options much better than others.

Wood Pellets

Wood pellets are made from forestry/woodwork waste, compacted sawdust, and wood shavings. They are easy to use and exceptionally reliable.

Wood Chips

Wood chips are chips taken from wood waste and logs. The chips come in varying sizes and are widely available. They are not as efficient as alternatives.

Wood Logs

Wood logs are the least common option but are still viable in certain use cases. For those who don't mind manually feeding fuel and have plenty of space in their house, wood logs might be a suitable option.

burning-log

How To Choose the Type of Biomass Boiler?

The engineer installing your boiler can offer you advice on which boiler is most suitable for your home. For example, an urban home may benefit from a pellet boiler, and a larger rural property may be more suited for the installation of a more complex system. 

There are several advantages and disadvantages to each biomass boiler system, so there is no singular answer for which is the best boiler type. Instead, you should look for a boiler that would integrate easily into your existing heating system. 

This will ensure you aren't buying something too big or small and will make sure you pay the correct amount for your needs. There are several factors to consider when choosing your boiler; here are some examples:

Size

Wood chip boilers usually take up the most space out of any biofuel boilers. They are suitable for large homes with plenty of free space. Pellet boilers, on the other hand, will take up significantly less space but can heat a home just as well as a wood chip boiler can. On average, biofuel boilers are larger than their oil or gas counterparts, although the amount usually isn't enough to matter.

Cost

The average cost for installation of a biomass boiler is £9,000 to £15,000, although it's possible to find cheaper domestic ones for around £4500.

If you are looking to save money, a manually fed boiler will typically cost less than an automatic or semi-automatic one. 

The running costs of a biofuel boiler depend more so on the fuel used than anything else, as maintenance is considerably easier than alternative boilers. 

Here are the most common fuels and their prices:

Wood Pellets - £200+ per tonne
Logs - £100 per tonne
Wood Chips - £50 per tonne

Efficiency

Biomass boilers are approximately 80% efficient, making them an excellent option if you're looking to upgrade from an older, energy-wasting system. The efficiency of your boiler will be affected by your home's insulation, existing heat flow, and the size of the room that needs to be heated. Logs and pellets are the best biofuels if you are purely looking for the most efficient heating.


Are you considering biomass heating installation in Essex, Suffolk and the surrounding areas? We have years of experience in providing tailored energy-efficient and affordable home heating solutions. So if you need any further assistance  with biomass heating, follow the link below.