Biomass Energy

What is Biomass?

Burning wood in a stove is the most familiar example of Biomass. It is any biological material that can be burnt to produce heat. A range of Biomass sources can be used and systems can provide spacing heating, hot water and electricity. Sourcing the biomass sustainably means the net impact on the environment is minimal.

Why Use It?

Biomass is a renewable, low carbon fuel that is already widely, and often economically available throughout the UK. Its production and use also brings additional environmental and social benefits. Correctly managed, biomass is a sustainable fuel that can deliver a significant reduction in net carbon emissions when compared with fossil fuels.

The difference between biomass and fossil fuels

The vital difference between biomass and fossil fuels is one of time scale. Biomass takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it is growing, and returns it as it is burned. If it is managed on a sustainable basis, biomass is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop. This is either during woodland or arboricultural management or coppicing or as part of a continuous programme of replanting with the new growth taking up CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by combustion of the previous harvest. This maintains a closed carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Categories of biomass materials

Within this definition, biomass for energy can include a wide range of materials. The realities of the economics mean that high value material for which there is an alternative market, such as good quality, large timber, are very unlikely to become available for energy applications. However there are huge resources of residues, co-products and waste that exist in the UK which could potentially become available, in quantity, at relatively low cost, or even negative cost where there is currently a requirement to pay for disposal.

There are five basic categories of material:

  • Virgin wood, from forestry, arboricultural activities or from wood processing
  • Energy crops: high yield crops grown specifically for energy applications
  • Agricultural residues: residues from agriculture harvesting or processing
  • Food waste, from food and drink manufacture, preparation and processing, and post-consumer waste
  • Industrial waste and co-products from manufacturing and industrial processes.

For more information about wood fuel in Yorkshire follow the link to Yorwoods website

A convenient and increasingly popular way to burn wood is in the form of pellets in a biomass boiler.  The wood pellets are normally made from virgin wood but some are made from saw dust from wood processing industries.   In 2013 as a part of the Moor Heating Project information on biomass boilers was published online.  The biomass boilers page includes information on sources of wood pellets and buying them as at February 2013.  It has not been updated but it is still useful.

See our page on Financial support for energy saving and generation.   The section on that page relevant to this technology is the one on the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Have a look at our advice on choosing an installer if you plan to install this technology.

For local case studies that use biomass energy follow the links below

Case studies using wood pellets

GOH_2014_Case_Study_1991 Stone built house  (also with a wood burning stove as a room heater)

GOH_2014_Case_Study_1860s stone built house  (also with a wood burning stove as a room heater)

Green Open Farms Case Study Dunsley

GOH_2014_Case_Study Barn and wheel house conversion

Case studies using logs

GOH_2014_Case_Study_Farm in Glaisdale

GOH_2014_Case_Study_A village home

A Local Eco House Renovation part 6: Growing your own energy; truly sustainable warmth

Follow this link to return to the page on Renewable Energy Technologies