Practical application

3.6 Heat-only applications for biomass are constrained to locations where biomass fuel is available and a market for the heat exists. At present this makes them particularly suited, but not limited, to rural areas without access to the gas grid. These areas otherwise have to resort to costly and polluting oil-fired heaters, electric heating or older wood stoves which are usually inconvenient and inefficient. The use of locally produced materials could also help with rural regeneration through investment and employment opportunities and provide an alternative market for sectors such as forestry (paragraph 2.59).

iv A range of possible combustion chamber configurations is available but, for the sake of simplicity, this kind of detail will not be considered here; nor will the various detailed refinements which can be employed to improve the efficiency of any of the general processes be discussed.

3.7 Wood from forest management seems therefore to be a particularly suitable fuel for heat producing plants. The college of West Dean in Sussex has operated a successful example of this type of development since 1980. Thinnings and other surplus wood arising from the management of woodland on the college estate fuel the heating system for the college. This provides both an economic incentive to maintain the woodland and a substantial cost saving on the college's fuel bills. Further details of this scheme are in Appendix B.

Chipper and storage shed

3.8 Another example of a small-scale wood-fuelled heat facility is a community housing association in Lochgilphead in Scotland. A 460kW boiler, powered by locally produced wood chips and by-product from a nearby sawmill, heats 50 one and two storey houses and a respite home.

3.9 There does appear to be emerging government recognition of the need to provide support to renewable sources of heat. Defra has recently awarded £16m in grants to a number of energy saving and heating schemes. The largest recipient was Leicester City Council, which was awarded £5.1m for a citywide community heating system. The first phase will link Leicester University, four housing estates and sixteen council-owned buildings. The scheme is not entirely biomass-fuelled but it contains some biomass elements (case study 1, Appendix B). Urban schemes such as this can be less suited to entirely biomass-fuelled schemes as the immediate availability of the materials is limited to management of urban green spaces and biomass from the surrounding countryside. Other fuels may therefore be necessary to supplement biomass; at least until the supply infrastructure develops.62

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