The talk about climate change, global warming and green technology is peppered with many buzz words and injected with a lot of hype. When asked about the first thing that springs to mind in relation to clean technology, most people would say solar panels or wind turbines. Although these technologies are robust and credible, most people seem to forget or ignore a much simpler type of energy generation. Heat generation through wood burning is as ancient as it gets. However modern wood burning stoves are sophisticated, reliable and still help you save the environment.
In order to fairly evaluate biomass boilers, it is important to explain how they work. Biomass boilers burn wood, which is an organic fuel (hence the bio-fuel label), rather than fossil fuels that come from the ground (oil, gas, coal). The boilers burn untreated wood (such as logs, wood chips) and treated wood (most common being wood pallets).
The most effective fuel is wood pallets, which are highly compressed sawdust. This timber dust is a waste product that would otherwise be discarded into landfills. It is a by product of carpentry workshops, sawmills and joinery workshops. Because of the compression, the pallets pack a higher level of output to weight and require less volume or fuel to get the same amount of heat within the boiler, and still leave very little waste on the burners.
When we burn fossil fuels, we release a high volume of carbon that was previously captured underground for millions of years. During the burning process, the resulting carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere and contributes to the climate change phenomenon. Boilers that burn wood, however, are much less harmful as they only release carbon that was captured by the plant during the years. They do not bring any more carbon into the delicate balance of our plant and are generally considered to be carbon neutral.
Here are some pointers on what to check before installing a biomass boiler:
* Reliable fuel supplier – it is recommended to check whether there are any sawmills or carpentry workshops in your vicinity that could supply a steady flow of wood, such as sawdust, wood chips etc.
* Space consideration – unlike modern gas and oil boilers, a biomass boiler is larger in size and requires a large area nearby to store the wood. It is wise to plan for this space in advance.
* Chimney consideration – a biomass boiler requires a chimney, and more specifically a lined chimney that is designed for wood fuel. However, in most cases such lining can be retro-fitted to carry the smoke.
* Zone specific considerations – if your home is located in a smoke-free zone, you may need to focus on getting a unit that is ‘exempted’ under the ‘Clean Air Act’. In any case, it is recommended to check with your local authority.
* Other General Considerations – to avoid disappointment later, it is wise to check with the planning department of your local authority about the implications of installing a biomass boiler, especially if you live in a listed building or a conservation area.
Author: Tal PotishmanThis author has published 4 articles so far.