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 householders there are two possible ways to use biomass energy so the links below lead to a page for each option with further links to local case studies.

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