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Why wood is good

With biomass proving an increasingly popular choice for educational establishments, Mark Northcott shares one forward-thinking Council's route to low carbon heating
Biomass heating using woodchips or pellets is a low carbon system that has seen a huge uptake of late and is predicted to contribute around a third of the UK's mandatory renewable energy by 2020. Using solid biomass for heating typically gives reductions in carbon of around 80 to 90 per cent compared with fossil fuel alternatives. Indeed, the Carbon Trust's 2005 Biomass Sector Review states that carbon savings of 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year could be achieved using UK biomass resources alone.

It's a heating technology in which eco-friendly South Lanarkshire Council in Scotland has invested wholeheartedly with the introduction of Remeha-Gilles biomass systems into 22 of its new-build primary schools as part of its Primary Schools Modernisation Programme.

Biomass is held to be 'carbon neutral' by the Scottish Government. Although burning wood releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, this is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed in the growth of the existing and new trees in the never-ending carbon cycle. Just how 'low carbon' biomass is depends on careful resource management. In the UK, we source most of our biomass from sustainably managed forests. According to a recent paper by Professor Hubert Hasenauer from the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, sustainably managed woodland can save at least 10 times more CO2 than unmanaged forests.

South Lanarkshire Council currently has nine RHI-accredited primary schools, a further three pending approval, and an additional 13 pre-RHI biomass systems which will be retrofitted with RHI heat meters. The Council expects to receive around £0.25m annually from RHI payments and, in an astute move to maximise its tariff, additional schools will now have a higher output biomass boiler installed into the system to generate a larger percentage of the heating load from biomass.

As with all technologies, there can be pitfalls when installing biomass heating systems: to guarantee successful low carbon heating, it pays to employ the experts to design the appropriate system for your particular needs. One of the main differences between biomass and a fossil fuel heating system is that the biomass boiler is best suited to being operated relatively continuously (between around 30 per cent and 100 per cent of its rated output). This means that a fossil fuel system is often specified alongside the biomass boiler to manage peak demands.

School learns valuable biomass lesson
A new build development is providing a modern learning environment for children attending Spittal Primary School, in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. The purpose-built school includes seven classrooms, an ICT learning centre, a gym and changing areas, a kitchen and dining hall, an all-weather 3G synthetic sports pitch, an integrated pre-school nursery - and a Remeha-Gilles 120kW biomass boiler for heating.

The £4.4m Spittal Primary School development is part of South Lanarkshire Council's Primary Schools Modernisation Programme, an £812m investment in primary school estate providing state-of-the-art schools across the region.

// The author is managing director of Remeha Commercial //
17 April 2013

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