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Biomass boilers. A good alternative to fossil fuels?

With concerns over climate change and fossil fuel use, turning to a biomass boiler makes sense for many commercial and industrial uses.

COP26 showed that there is an appetite to reduce consumption of fossil fuels as a means to limit the rise in global temperatures.
COP26 showed that there is an appetite to reduce consumption of fossil fuels as a means to limit the rise in global temperatures.

Why might a biomass boiler be good for your business? Biomass has some clear advantages over other fuel types. In this blog, we’ve outlined a few of them.

It won’t have passed many people by that the COP26 climate conference took place in Glasgow in the late part of 2021. To achieve broader climate goals, there is a global consensus (of sorts) on the need for greater sustainability in energy usage. Weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is generally agreed to be the best way to limit the rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels. For some time now, there has been action on renewable energy in the field of commercial and industrial boilers too, with moves away from fossil fuels and towards biomass. At Hodgkinson Bennis, we work with organisations at every stage, from exploring the switch to biomass through to maintaining a biomass boiler. In this blog, we’re reviewing the technology and considering some of the issues surrounding biomass boilers.

Lower lifecycle emissions from renewable resources

As an energy source for boilers, biomass can replace coal, oil or gas. Biomass most often refers to plants or plant-based materials that are not used for food or feed. Instead of using fossil fuels to produce the heat, biomass boilers combust sustainably sourced plant products. These include materials such as wood pellets, woodchip, rape straw and maize cores.

One caveat is that carbon emissions from burning biomass are actually around a quarter higher than burning coal. However, biomass has been classed as a “renewable” energy source in international legal frameworks, because plants can be regrown. Since the carbon dioxide released during the combustion was actually absorbed while the tree was growing, they are carbon neutral in terms of lifecycle emissions. What’s more, unlike fossil fuels, they don’t require a great deal of resources and energy to extract them from the ground. And using waste wood (residues from forestry and wood processing) means that we don’t put more material into the ground as it eases pressure on landfill capacity. That’s vital, given that each year approximately 8.5 million tonnes of wood currently goes into landfill in the UK.

Capital costs and dealing with by-products are key considerations for the switch to biomass

There are also certain downsides for an organisation looking to switch to a biomass boiler. The capital cost of installing biomass is several times that of a fossil fuel plant. The UK government’s Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is now closed to new users. This financial scheme aimed to encourage the use of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. However, offsetting the initial capital outlay, long-term running costs for biomass are currently lower than conventional fossil fuels, given recent price spikes in global gas prices.

Organisations will also need to consider by-products when burning biomass. The biomass boiler will periodically need to be emptied of the ash produced by burning, so arrangements need to be in place for its removal. And there are fine particulates emitted from the flue, which need to be carefully managed to cut down on pollution. A solution such as ceramic filter technology can help to control levels of such pollutants.

Is a biomass boiler right for your business?

Hodgkinson Bennis can talk you through all the points you’ll need to consider before installing a biomass boiler. One key consideration is that they are normally substantially bigger than their fossil-fuel-burning counterparts – albeit biomass boilers do come in a variety of sizes. They are particularly suited to new-build projects that can design in a biomass plant at the outset. Similarly, they work in larger developments with central plant rooms such as schools, hospitals, housing associations and other institutional properties. If your plant is big enough, it might make sense for you to have a biomass steam boiler, given steam is an amazing method of transferring heat energy.

Just as with coal, oil or LPG, biomass must be ordered, transported and delivered, and then stored close to the boiler plant. If you currently have LPG tanks or an oil tank, you’ll know the issues involved in the continuity of fuel supply. The same applies to biomass, although it doesn’t constitute the same fire risk. With an increased demand for wood pellets, the number of manufacturers and distributors has increased in the UK. There are also EN standards for wood pellets, so it’s worth checking with the boiler manufacturer what grade is needed. And it’s important to think about making sustainable choices too.

We’re with you all the way if you choose biomass

Here at Hodgkinson Bennis, we can talk you through all the aspects of installing a biomass boiler. We can advise you on initial design; for most biomass deployments, we specify Gilles Biomass Heating systems. Gilles provides a range of biomass boilers suitable for every situation. Our expert engineering team can install and commission the boiler. And we’ll be on hand for ongoing maintenance, to get the most of your investment over your biomass boiler’s full lifecycle.

To find out more about Hodgkinson Bennis and our biomass boiler services, contact one of the team today.

About Hodgkinson Bennis biomass boiler services

Hodgkinson Bennis designs, installs, and maintains the most fuel-efficient commercial and industrial boilers. Headquartered in Manchester, we work across the UK, particularly in the North West, North East and throughout the Midlands. Contact us today to discuss how we can deliver advanced commercial and industrial boilers, and our range of other services. At Hodgkinson Bennis, we have worked with commercial and industrial boilers since 1872. This history gives us an enviable amount of experience as pioneers in the industry. We place an enormous emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of all team members, suppliers, contractors, and the public. We provide the most fuel-efficient boiler solutions for industrial and commercial applications.


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