What is Biomass Heating?
Biomass refers to material that is either living or has been recently living. When it comes to biomass for domestic heating purposes, it typically refers to wood, but it could also include straw and similar plant-based materials. Wood is available as logs, chips or pellets. Biomass heating systems are also sometimes referred to as wood-fuelled heating systems.
Biomass: A Low-Carbon Solution
Biomass heating is a low-carbon solution to heating homes, so long as the timber or other material is managed sustainably and replaced when it is cut down. This is because cutting trees or crops down and burning them releases carbon into the atmosphere, while replacing them means that the carbon will be taken up again. The processes of cultivating, manufacturing and distributing the biomass do involve some carbon emissions, but these are typically far less than those from fossil fuels. Locally sourced biomass is preferable as it cuts down on carbon emissions from these processes.
Biomass Domestic Heating Systems
There are two basic forms of biomass heating system for the home. Stoves are designed to heat single rooms, though they may also include a back boiler to heat water. Boilers are an integral part of the heating system, providing central heating and hot water. Biomass boilers have similar levels of efficiency to fossil fuel boilers.
Fitting a Biomass Boiler
Installing a biomass boiler is not difficult, but there are several considerations. Space is one. Smaller pellet boilers themselves are not large, but you also need to store the logs or pellets. Bigger log boilers require a larger area, typically at least 3 metres by 4 metres. They could be fitted in a shed or other outbuilding if there isn’t space in the main building. Access for deliveries also needs to be considered.
Qualified installers are certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and Renewable Energy Assurance Limited (REAL). Anyone thinking of installing a biomass boiler should seek professional advice regarding the type of boiler that is most appropriate for their property. Biomass boilers can be fitted by individuals self-building their own homes, but all work needs to comply with building regulations. Planning permission may also be required, so contact your local authority for advice if required.
How much do Biomass Stoves and Boilers Cost?
Buying and fitting a pellet stove will cost from around £4,000, while log stoves are generally available from around £2,000. Biomass boilers are typically more expensive to buy and install than fossil fuel boilers, costing on average between £7,000 and £13,000. Automatic feed pellet boilers are typically slightly more expensive than manual feed log boilers. The Renewable Heat Premium Payment offers a £2,000 grant towards the cost of biomass boiler installation.
However, when it comes to running costs, biomass boilers can work out significantly cheaper than those run on other fuels. Wood chips can cost as little as 2.9p per kWh, which is half the cost of oil at 5.8p per kWh and significantly less than gas at 4.8p per kWh. Other factors, such as the price of fuel and delivery, need to be included in the running costs, but even so biomass boilers usually work out cheaper than solid fuel or electric heating. Buying logs and pellets in bulk usually works out a lot cheaper than buying smaller quantities, and logs are usually cheaper than pellets.
You can learn more about biomass options here at Mr Renewables.