Getting it right with non-wood fuels

Many non-wood fuels are cheaper than their wood counterparts and are widely available in the UK. It’s quite possible that, if wood fuel prices begin to rise, existing biomass system owners might like the idea of cutting their fuel costs by switching to using alternative fuels. Also, developers of new projects might wish to consider cheaper non-wood fuels to assist the economic outlook of their scheme. It’s not only really important to consider all the options, but also to be aware of the issues of making such a choice.

Things to consider include:

  • The characteristics of the fuel, such as the ash content. Many non-wood fuels, such as straw and miscanthus, have higher ash contents than wood fuels so you need to consider the impact of this.
  • The bulk density of the fuel. Non-processed fuels, such as miscanthus chips and straw bales, have low bulk density and boilers may need to be oversized in order to produce the peak load simply because not enough fuel can be delivered to the furnace.
  • Can your boiler deal with the higher acidity of certain fuels? High chlorine and sulphur contents can seriously affect the inner lining of boilers, so you must be sure that your system is robust enough to cope.
  • Does your boiler have a valid emissions certificate? We have dealt with this in another blog available here.
  • How much fuel do you need, and, if you’re a farmer how much land do you need to commit to produce sufficient fuel? An annual requirement of 100 tonnes of straw would require 25-35 hectares of cereals or 8 hectares of miscanthus.
  • You also need to show that your fuel is sustainably sourced and demonstrate that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 60% below the EU fossil fuel average. The SFR has been set up to make this process as simple and transparent as possible.

So there you have it, our quick guide to getting it right with alternative fuels. If you have your eyes open to these important issues you will be well on the way to embarking on a successful and rewarding project.

A longer version of this article is available on the Wood Heat Association website.


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