Biomass – a sustainable energy source for your community

Biomass is one of the most hotly contested renewable energy fuels, with many arguing over the benefits and the negative impacts of using biomass fuel. This can leave many confused as to where to stand on the topic.  

Parish Councils, charities and other community groups are now eligible for grant funding to conduct a feasibility study for renewable energy projects including biomass boilers. Carbon Smart has been working with communities in the UK and conducted research on biomass to help local groups understand how to implement biomass boilers that are sustainable, cost effective, and require little maintenance.

It is important to be aware of the negative impacts of using biomass though. Wood pellets, for example, are rarely manufactured in the UK, and are therefore shipped from areas such as the Baltics, the USA and Canada – creating a carbon footprint associated with travel. This, added to the energy taken to manufacture the pellets can make wood pellets a very carbon intensive fuel. Moreover, sourcing wood pellets and chips can lead to deforestation if the forest is not managed well. But there are ways to benefit from biomass energy in a sustainable way.

Firstly, research the most sustainable fuel for your area. As mentioned, there are a number of issues associated with wood pellets, so these are probably best avoided unless you are sure they are sourced and manufactured sustainably. Manufacturing woodchips, however, can lead to benefits for biodiversity, as sourcing woodchips allows previously undermanaged and degrading woodlands to be managed productively. Therefore, woodchips can be a sustainable fuel to use, so long as they are sourced from a managed woodland. It is also very important to source your woodchips as locally as possibly to keep the carbon footprint associated with travel to a minimum.

There are also increasing numbers of non-wood-based biomass fuels that are coming to the market that have fantastic sustainability credentials. Bio-bean, a business converting waste coffee grounds into biomass pellets is a fantastic initiative. This creates a closed-loop system, that converts waste into energy. Bio-bean partners with waste collection contractors such as First Mile to collect the waste coffee granules, and therefore can be collected with the rest of your waste.

Olive kernels is another waste product that can be used as biomass fuel. Olive kernels are a waste stream from olive oil production, requiring no extra energy for production. These do have to be shipped in from the Mediterranean, but the carbon footprint is still smaller than processed alternatives.

These are just a couple examples of the many new biomass fuels available today. Some require a specialist boiler, as many are designed purely for wood fuel only. Biomass Energy Coop has brought out the MultiBio boiler, which is adaptable to different fuels, and can therefore be used with the most sustainable fuel for your  area.

A biomass boiler system can be a sustainable and cost effective heating system. There is the additional benefit that biomass boilers are eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – providing financial support to the owners of the biomass system. Biomass boilers can therefore be a fantastic initiative for a community group, business or home owner to install. They can reduce reliance of gas and electric heating in the area, create income and reduce waste.

You can also benefit from installing a biomass boiler and our team can work with you to facilitate applying for funding and to deliver the feasibility study. For more information or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.