The renewable of the moment
Jeff House considers the significant contribution of biomass energy solutions in achieving UK climate change goals
When first mapped out in 2008, the road to 2050 and the fulfilment of the UK commitment to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, whilst ambitious and laudable, did seem achievable.
A comprehensive move away from the use of fossil fuels to renewable, sustainable energy sources would be the catalyst that would make this possible.
A mixture of persuasion, coercion and compulsion established a workable framework to achieve general and sustained progress towards the stated goals.
A significant role was identified for biomass energy sources, with both large and small-scale generation attracting central support and funding. But at the outset these plans were rudely interrupted by the devastating 'stinger' rolled out in the road in front of the world economy by the financial crisis.
The still continuing effect has been to seriously undermine the application of incentives intended to significantly extend the use of renewables, particularly in small-scale applications.
But this negative background has not affected the commitment of the heating industry to develop the equipment and system solutions that enable renewable fuel sources to be deployed.
Reliable statistics are not available that show the growth in overall take up of a biomass renewable fuel solution since climate change policies first took effect.
However, figures published by the DECC (Department of Energy & Climate Change) show that of the 1,540 commercial installations accredited under the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) between November 2011 and May 2013, over 90% involved solid biomass boilers.
It would be no surprise, then, if the reality is that solid biomass technology is also the major renewable solution of choice in applications that are outside the scope of RHI. It is not hard to see why, taking into account the credentials of this technology.
Not only is solid biomass fuel a sustainable solution, it is also dependable as, unlike latent energy sources such as wind, wave and solar, solid biomass fuel can be stored. Standards overseen by Ofgem apply across the biomass lifecycle, covering cultivation, processing, transport, storage and use, ensuring the delivery of real greenhouse gas reductions.
One manufacturer is able to offer a packaged biomass boiler system constructed as a containerised plant room, for installation inside a building or externally.
A prefabricated, containerised package of this nature offers distinct benefits, as it is designed to meet exact client needs, with quality controlled factory assembly, pre-testing, commissioning and 'drop and connect' simplified installation. In this particular instance, the design incorporates a storage facility, compliant with all regulatory requirements, to hold sufficient fuel to enable the boiler to meet its heat load for one month, or greater, dependent upon clients requirements.
Whether internal or external, this solution enables all system components to be unified, easing site assembly and enabling optimum positioning to simplify maintenance and fuel delivery.
The system can be configured to use either woodchips or wood pellets. As well as these physical aspects, the package includes advice on fuel storage, fuel delivery suppliers and ash disposal, as well as service contract opportunities.
Information concerning fuel will be of importance, as the quality of biomass fuel is strictly regulated to ensure minimum operating efficiency.
Where the biomass boiler is less than 1MW capacity, fuel must be purchased from an approved supplier licensed to ensure that all regulatory provisions regarding the quality of fuel supplied and provenance of source have been met, furthermore particulate and NOx emissions must also be taken into account.
In larger installations the owners and operators will be required to provide their own sustainability compliance report.
If an installation is able to meet its woody material requirements from its own locally grown sources, registration with the regulatory body as a self-supplier will be necessary.
Fuel quality is of key importance and robust ventilation and supervision measures apply concerning the control of decomposition and dust in enclosed solid biomass storage areas.
A further key consideration is moisture content, that if too high can lead to incomplete combustion and damage internal workings.
Furthermore, high moisture content in wood chips may cause degradation and decomposition in storage, reducing calorific value.
Moisture content also affects fuel density, which in turn affects the load weight and therefore capacity of a delivery.
Biomass solid fuel heat sources are establishing themselves as the renewables of choice as they offer dependable continuity of supply, assured harmful emission reductions and a financially attractive presence in Government funding arrangements.
The proactive response of leading manufacturers to long-term UK climate change policy commitments enables energy and cost efficient actions to be taken by commercial undertakings to harness renewable energy sources, with solid biomass fuel establishing itself as a prominent option.
The significant savings offered by the use of this technology are not dependant on accreditation under RHI, although accreditation would, of course, increase the benefits and vastly reduce payback on capital investment.
// The author is marketing and applications manager, Baxi Commercial //
15 August 2013