Biomass fuel way of the future

IT wouldn’t be Christmas without log fires blazing on most hearths.

There’s no doubt that people are returning to traditional fuels. And could there be anything more timeless than wood, which has been used for heating and cooking by mankind for more than 500,000 years? Maybe it’s because we had so much bad weather throughout 2012, not to mention the high cost of oil, but people seem to be talking more about the need for heat in their homes.

We are the seventh most oil-dependent country on earth, with over 60% of our energy coming from oil. But, because oil, coal and gas reserves are being depleted worldwide, we’re constantly being told to look to renewable energy sources, with wood being most obvious.

In 2013, we’ll be hearing more about biomass fuel, which includes not only wood (chips, pellets and forest shavings) but also grasses, agricultural crops, human and animal waste and materials that normally go to dumps. You simply burn it.

Biomass can be used to create heat and electricity and people have also installed biomass boilers purely for domestic purposes. Also beginning here are district heating systems (DH) in towns and cities, with the aim of providing tens of thousands of people with hot water through a pipe network.

These systems can significantly contribute to national and EU policies to reduce carbon emissions. One of the first is in Dundalk, Co Louth, while others are planned for Dublin, Cork, Clonakilty, Tralee and Killarney.

About 60% of the Danish demand for heat is supplied by DH. Most European capitals have large-scale DH systems, one of the main advantages is that consumers have instant hot water with no requirement for boilers or hot water storage. This also frees up space, saves energy and reduces maintenance costs.

It can also be a useful way of diverting waste from landfill. Waste is regularly used in combined heat and electricity plants.

Earlier this year, an agreement between Coillte and Astellas Ireland Ltd came into effect for the supply of biomass fuel for a new 1.8MW boiler in the Astellas pharmaceutical facility where over 300 people are employed in Killorglin, Co Kerry. The fuel is coming from forestry sources in Kerry.

In regard to the ordinary householders, the cost of a biomass boiler can be more expensive that its fossil fuel counterparts, but fuels are cheaper and savings can be made over a period of time.


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