Our need for warmth and power has led us to burn vast amounts of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil. However, these fuels are harmful to the environment and reserves are depleting. These factors have resulted in the development of greener, renewable greener solutions such as biomass energy.
Biomass boilers create heat by burning fuel from renewable sources such as wood, specially grown crops such as miscanthus or agricultural waste such as rape straw or olive pits.
There are now international agreements aimed at reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels. In order to meet these, the UK government has created generous grant schemes aimed at kick-starting a switch to green energy like the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)
Biomass boilers are not new technology, they have been around for many years. Although now, with the shift in the public psyche towards adopting more sustainable ways of creating heating and warmth, biomass boilers have significantly increased in popularity. With this in mind, it is important to fully understand the science of biomass and why it is a sustainable fuel.
What is biomass
Biomass is the term used to describe biological matter from organisms that are either living or were recently living. In the context of biomass fuels this usually means plant or vegetable based materials but strictly speaking can also apply the animal derived materials as well.
What is the difference between biomass energy and fossil fuel energy?
The most important difference between biomass and fossil fuels is that of time scale.
Like biomass, fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are also made from carbon based biological matter.
The difference though is that the carbon that makes up fossil fuels was absorbed from CO2 in the atmosphere many millions of years ago and has been locked in to the fuel ever since. Fossil fuels offer a high energy density when burned. By doing this, the locked in carbon oxidises into carbon dioxide and the hydrogen to water (vapour). Unless these waste emissions are captured and stored they are usually released back into the atmosphere, thus returning carbon captured millions of years ago and thus adding to increased amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Biomass fuels take carbon out of the atmosphere while they grow and return it when burned. If it is managed properly (sustainably), biomass is harvested as part of a constantly replenishing crop such as fast growing willow trees. Even more effective is where biomass fuel is made from a waste product from an agricultural or food manufacturing processes such as wheat or corn production.
These sustainable, constantly renewable processes maintain a ‘closed carbon cycle’ with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.
Find out More
Learn more about the benefits of biomass heating
Biomass Energy Centre
All you need to know about Biomass Energy on one site.
Click here to find out more.
Department of Energy and Climate Change
Useful information from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Click here to find out more.