Biomass energy versus oil & LPG – Which is best?

Biomass energy versus oil & LPG – Which is best?

The process of burning organic matter for fuel has been with us for thousands of years but in recent years the installation of biomass boilers and heating systems have seen a massive upturn.

According to the Biomass Energy Centre, biomass contains approximately half the carbon content of heating oil and LPG and much lower CO2 emissions which is highly attractive to those concerned with the health of the planet.

biomass wood chips

Biomass has been seen by many as a real alternative to Oil or LPG for heating large homes and large business premises, with a take up of one million units in service throughout Europe.Biomass can be made from most organic matter. It can be derived from trees, kernels of corn, mats of algae, or stalks of sugar cane to name a few. It is the energy formed in the organic source that can be burned.The ‘biomass’ name was coined in the mid 1970’s but didn’t reach a viable market place until the start of 2000s, a time when the concern over fossil fuel was more about its limited supply than the harm it was doing to the planet. As biomass can be produced from felled trees and crops, it was seen as a renewable source of energy, the closest possible thing to a 'zero carbon' footprint.When household biomass systems first became popular, the suppliers were using ‘cut-offs’ and leftovers from wood processing plants, but as popularity in this form of fuel has taken hold, the supply chain of wood has come into question, with many believing that cutting down and replanting damages the land and wildlife. The supply of wood can come from many miles away - adding carbon to the supply chain.Switching from Oil or LPG to biomass is something we have seen on a small but gradual level.

 Although we can’t comment on individual’s experiences, the following issues seem common:

  • Switching from oil or LPG to biomass can be costly but schemes like the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) are set up to help subsidise costs. Anyone considering the switch would be advised to put in serious research and consideration before making the leap. According to Super Homes “Biomass boilers are expensive coming in at anything upward of £9000. You could get quotes for well over £20,000 so shop around”.
  • Refilling the pellets into the top of the biomass boiler can be time consuming and physically demanding. Lifting a 10kg bag to shoulder height will make it unsuitable for the elderly or the physically impaired. It will produce a lot of dust so the boiler needs to be situated in an appropriate location.
  • According to The Biomass Energy Centre “Biomass boilers operate at their highest efficiency, and are most reliable, when operating continuously” which makes them more suitable for schools, swimming pools and businesses in need of constant warmth. The majority of boilers can operate for up to 1 week at a time without manual intervention.
  • Boilers are designed with a specific fuel in mind, and can’t burn all organic material, the majority of boilers burning wood chips or wood pellets.
  • Fuel will need a separate dry area to be stored in, such as a large shed or out building (set aside roughly two pallets or the width of a small car for storage).
  • Planning permission is not required for a biomass boiler but may be required for boiler housing.
  • You will need to dispose of the ash produced by the wood burning process on a weekly basis (dependent on usage). The ash can be used as compost.
  • Wood pellets are consistent in size, moisture levels and calorific value. However wood chip quality can vary.
  • The heat exchanger of some wood pellet boilers need to be brushed clean every 1-2 weeks during constant use to maintain efficiency.
  • The stove is run on electricity and will therefore cut out heating and hot water (once stores have been used) during power cuts.
HETAS is the official body recognised by Government to approve all biomass and solid fuel heating appliances, fuels and services including the registration of competent installers and servicing businesses. Installers must be MCS Certified.

To see our page on Oil versus LPG click here.