Wood fuelled heating systems generally burn wood pellets, chips or logs to power central heating and hot water boilers or to provide warmth in a single room.

Biomass is organic matter of recent origin. It doesn't include fossil fuels, which have taken millions of years to evolve. The CO2 released when energy is generated from biomass is balanced by that absorbed during the fuel's production. This is why it is considered to be a carbon neutral process

Solid Renewables installs these systems under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme as an MCS approved installer.

Biomass is often called 'bioenergy' or 'biofuels'. These biofuels are produced from organic materials, either directly from plants or indirectly from industrial, commercial, domestic or agricultural products.

Biofuels fall into two main categories:

  • Woody biomass includes forest products, untreated wood products, energy crops, short rotation coppice (SRC), e.g. willow.
  • Non-woody biomass includes animal waste, industrial and biodegradable municipal products from food processing and high energy crops, e.g. rape, sugar cane, maize.
  • For small-scale domestic applications of biomass the fuel usually takes the form of wood pellets, wood chips and wood logs.

The benefits of heat pumps

There are two main ways of using biomass to heat a domestic property:

  • Stand-alone stoves providing space heating for a single room. These can be fuelled by logs or pellets but only pellets are suitable for automatic feed. Generally they are 5-11 kW in output, and some models can be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating.
  • Boilers connected to central heating and hot water systems. These are suitable for pellets, logs or chips, and are generally larger than 15 kW.

Stoves can be 80% efficient. They're normally used for background heating. They also add aesthetic value in the living area of the house itself. Many wood burning stoves act as space heaters only. But the higher output versions can be fitted with an integral back boiler to provide domestic hot water and central heating through radiators, if needed.

There are many domestic log, wood-chip and wood pellet burning central heating boilers available. Log boilers must be loaded by hand and may be unsuitable for some situations. Automatic pellet and wood-chip systems can be more expensive. Many boilers will dual-fire both wood chips and pellets, although the wood chip boilers need larger hoppers to provide the same time interval between refuelling.

Boilers can be designed with an integral hot water energy storage or accumulator tank that stores water up to 90º C, enabling the supply of heat to be further decoupled from the combustion of the fuel. This is particularly helpful with log boilers where systems operate at full load and the matching of demand with load is performed by the accumulator.

Is my house suitable?

You should consider the following issues if you're thinking about a biomass boiler or stove on a property.

  • Fuel: It's important to have storage space for the fuel, appropriate access to the boiler for loading and a local fuel supplier.
  • Flue: The vent material must be specifically designed for wood fuel appliances and there must be sufficient air movement for proper operation of the stove. Chimneys can be fitted with a lined flue.
  • Regulations: The installation must comply with all safety and building regulations (see Part J of the Building Regulations).
  • Smokeless zone: Wood can only be burnt on exempted appliances, under the Clean Air Act. This mainly applies to domestic appliances.
  • Planning: If the building is listed or in an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), then you will need to check with your Local Authority Planning Department before a flue is fitted.

Installation Costs

Capital costs depend on the type and size of system you choose. But installation and commissioning costs tend to be fairly fixed. Stand-alone room heaters generally cost around £4,000 - £8,000 installed. The cost for boilers varies depending on the fuel choice; a typical 20kW (average size required for a three-bedroom semi-detached house) pellet boiler would cost around £12,000 - £18,000 installed, including the cost of the flue and commissioning. A manual log feed system of the same size would be slightly cheaper.

Running costs: Unlike other forms of renewable energy, biomass systems require you to pay for the fuel. Fuel costs generally depend on the distance from your supplier. As a general rule the running costs will be more favourable if you live in an area that doesn't have a gas supply.

Payback: This depends on the fuel being replaced and the type of wood fuel being used. It too is more favourable in areas that don't have a gas supply.

Biomass benefits

Producing energy from biomass has both environmental and economic advantages. It is most cost-effective and sustainable when a local fuel source is used, which results in local investment and employment. Furthermore, biomass can contribute to waste management by harnessing energy from products that are often disposed of at landfill sites.

The estimated costs can often be quickly covered by the latest grants and incentive schemes available. Solid Renewables will help you with any paperwork and applications processes.