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Encourage your clients to earn while they burn

Biomass is, according to Simon Holden, a great solution for a range of unusual applications
Currently, the UK biomass market is considered underdeveloped, but this is set to change as the benefits, versatility and efficiencies of this technology are fast becoming realised. Since the commercial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was introduced, Euroheat has seen a significant increase in business across projects that are hugely varied in their type and requirements.

Biomass is naturally more suited to rural applications, with access to managed woodland more likely, plus the space to store the fuel and associated equipment readily available. Many of our clients have previously relied on oil so wood offers a healthy reduction on their fuel bills. Biomass systems can also help to meet Building Regulations, Code for Sustainable Homes Levels 3, 4 and above in residential builds, and BREEAM requirements for commercial applications. Often the choice for those interested in self-sufficiency, wood, unlike any other form of heating - renewable or otherwise - allows the end-user complete control over the equipment and its output.

Farming and food production

Many parts of farming and food production require heat and with wood often easily accessible for these customers, plus barns and space readily available, biomass is the ideal solution.

Charles Martell, the farmer who invented the famous Stinking Bishop cheese, overhauled his dairy using biomass to provide the perfect heat-source - the farm could supply its own timber thanks to a continuous supply of waste wood. The dairy requires a great deal of hot water for pasteurisation and heating the milk in the cheese-making process; cleaning needs large volumes of hot water, plus an underfloor heating system is also in operation - all of which rely on the biomass system.

At Martell's, an HDG Euro 50kW feeds into a 3000 litre buffer vessel held at a temperature of 80C. Combined with solar panels, mounted on the dairy roof, the two technologies provide an efficient solution all year round.

Biomass is very well suited to working with solar. In the summer months solar thermal allows end-users to replenish their wood stock, ready for the colder season (or optimum efficiency, wood must be split and left to dry for at least 18 months).

Modern biomass systems are set-up to run in combination with other technologies, with control options designed to accommodate multiple heating circuits, hot water stores, remote heating networks and additional heat sources; such as solar thermal or gas boilers. The crucial element of a system such as this, or in fact any heating system where more hot water than needed is generated, is a vessel to store this water, such as an accumulator, buffer tank or thermal store.

Most models of accumulator/buffer can include at least one thermal solar coil. Some models offer two coils, an upper and lower - if this is the case a dual-channel solar controller is utilised which prioritises the upper coil. Once the upper area is heated it switches to the lower solar coil; the volume of the accumulator/buffer can far exceed the production of the solar panels, ensuring all possible heated water is collected.

Since the introduction of the RHI, biomass customers have an opportunity to make money while they heat their properties, making it an extremely attractive proposition.

Whitewell's luxury accommodation in rural Worcestershire uses biomass to deliver heating and hot water to its seven holiday cottages. An HDG Compaq 150 pellet and Novara 50 log boiler, fuel stores and a 6000 litre accumulator replaces oil and storage heaters, with the log boiler using the site's recyclable timber, most of which comes from Whitewell's own woodlands.

Simon Durrant, Whitewell's owner, claims to have reduced his fuel bill by £15,000 a year, without the RHI assistance - from £25,000 for oil, to just £10,000 for pellets. The RHI gives them £16,000-£17,000 cash-back per annum, which makes the payback time for the outlay of the system just seven years - after that they'll be earning money from their heating.

Biomass can provide a great district heating solution, perfect for sites where a number of different buildings require heat in a range of guises.

At the famous Chatsworth House, RN Mechanical from Doncaster overhauled the existing heating system, which supplied numerous buildings on the estate in Derbyshire. This includes a swimming pool, office, club house, gymnasium, beauty salon, three large country houses and four staff cottages.

A bivalent biomass and gas plant room was installed, fuelled by wood chip sourced by the estate's own woodland. The system provides the energy for 16 heat interface units across the site (ranging from 15-125kW). Adjustments to the boiler can be made through HDG's web-based programme, which allows users and installers to assess its running and be kept up to date with maintenance, such as removing the ash.

Future-proofing internet use

At the same time as the district heating mains were installed, a new electricity sub main and fibre-optic cable duct were fitted; serving the estate's office and surrounding properties, while future proofing the internet capabilities of the local area.

The above examples highlight just some of the diverse applications to which biomass is suited. What all of these customers have in common is a desire to understand and feel good about the entire process of heating their buildings; they're not happy just to flick a switch and accept that heat is appearing from the ether, they want to see and feel their fuel and know that it has made minimum impact on the environment. Effectively, they're masters of their own heating and as long as trees continue to grow, wood biomass customers can be confident that their homes and businesses will keep warm.

The author is co-founder of Euroheat
10 December 2012

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