Wood biomass – the heat source of the future

There are many good reasons for choosing wood biomass as the heat source of the future.

If the UK continues on its current course, it will be dependent on imports for 80% of its natural gas requirement by 2020. Renewable heat means greater energy security. The UK’s Renewable Energy Strategy, covering heat, electricity and transport is estimated to reduce fossil gas imports by 20-30% by 2020 and biomass will play a major role in this reduction.

Across the industry, there has already been a sharp rise in the number of homeowners choosing wood burning stoves as both a practical way to cut fuel bills and an environmentally-friendly answer to heating their homes. It’s estimated that around 180,000 stoves were fitted last year alone.

However, many homeowners are unaware of the linked systems and new technologies available to provide all their hot water and central heating needs using logs as fuel.

Log burning stoves for hot water and central heating

Most often wood burning stoves are used to heat a room when the central heating is not in use but wood burning stoves can also be used for water heating and to run the central heating system, dramatically reducing the home’s carbon footprint.

A stove with a boiler can be used to entirely run your central heating and hot water or supplement your existing heating system when used in combination with a primary boiler system. Linking a wood burning stove with a gas condensing boiler, an oil burner or a heat pump to share the heating of the house will reduce the carbon output by 11-12% when the stove is responsible for heating 20% of the house and 23-24% when the stove heats 40% of the house.

The fact that wood logs are virtually carbon neutral means that using an efficient wood burning stove for water and space heating can reduce the house’s carbon foot print by more than 80% compared with gas, oil, LPG or heat pumps. In the case of heat pumps and gas, the reduction is eighty-four per cent and for oil it is 84%.

It’s the ideal supplement for resource-saving while at the same time warming your room and creating a cozy focal point.

Modern heating and installation practice can incorporate advanced energy saving system controls to reduce fuel consumption and the regularity of fuelling a water heating wood stove. Today’s system designs can allow for heated water to be stored for use later when the stove is not operating.

The future of biomass

There are many good reasons for choosing wood burning stoves as the heat source of the future.

Renewable heat avoids the emissions of heat energy from fossil fuels. When burned, high-quality wood emits less CO2 than it does with natural decay, and used with a correctly installed stove, approved for burning in smoke controlled areas, it provides both economic and environmental advantages for homeowners.

The increasing demand for sustainable wood fuel will also provide an incentive for active investment and management of UK woodlands, allowing for greater biodiversity. Ambient technologies like solar thermal are already popular and make up the great majority of micro renewable installations in the UK today, and integrate easily into biomass systems.

What is wood biomass and how does it differ from fossil fuel?

The vital difference is one of timescale.

Wood is a carbon based biological material derived from living or recently living organisms. In the context of wood biomass for fuel this is often used to mean plant based material such as trees or crops. Wood biomass can be harvested on a sustainable basis as part of a constantly replenished crop; CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by combustion of the previous harvest. This process is often referred to as being CO₂ Neutral – it maintains a closed CO2 cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are also derived from biological material, but material that absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere millions of years ago. As fuels they offer high energy density, but making use of that energy involves releasing CO₂ during the burn period, resulting in increased atmospheric concentrations.

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