Key considerations in specifying a biomass boiler system

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If you're considering a biomass system as a feasible option for your project, then there are some aspects of choosing the right system for you that you must consider. This is where we come in. We try and understand you and your needs in order to ensure the best solution is chosen.

When in the early stages of specifying a biomass boiler system, it is important to consider design, fuel flexibility, efficiency levels and ease of use.

The design aspect is key and covers a number of different areas. It is important to understand your requirements to ensure that biomass is a suitable fit for your needs. Some end users enjoy a high level of involvement like manually loading fuel, but you may not have the time or the ability and this may necessitate a high level of automation so you will only need to empty the ash bin.

Fuel type

A good first step during the initial survey is to ensure that the space available onsite is suitable for the preferred biomass fuel type. For instance, wood chips have a lower density than pellets, so will require more space for storage. Deliveries will usually be several tonnes at a time, so there must be suitable access for large vehicles to park close enough to the fuel store and adequate space for the vehicle to turn. We will also survey to see if there is enough room for a boiler and fuel store in an existing boiler house or outbuilding that could be converted. Or perhaps a bespoke, purpose-built boiler house the better option.

The choice of fuel type does not have to mean you are tied into one specific biomass fuel. A number of biomass boilers on the UK market are multi-fuel and can burn a wide variety of fuel types including wood chips, wood pellets and miscanthus. This offers flexibility and allows you to choose the best quality fuel available for your money at any given time.

This 'multi-fuel' flexibility is accomplished in a number of ways. The most efficient systems on the market today feature a moving step grate. This enables the most complete combustion by continually moving and agitating the fuel during the burning process, delivering the most energy per unit of fuel and enabling the boiler to cope with a wide variation in fuel quality.

Efficency

You also need to be aware of headline efficiency levels quoted by boiler suppliers as a rate of 90% or above may only be achieved when the boiler is operating at full output. This is important because there may only be a requirement for the boiler to run at full output during cold weather. Good boilers operate as efficiently at 25% output as they do at 100%, which is called modulation. Some boiler systems will also require a technical support visit to switch between fuel types, but a high specification step grate system with electronic controls allows this to be done by the user at the touch of a button.  

The correct sizing of the boiler system is an important part of system design for a number of reasons. Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments are based on 'useful heat' so specifying a higher output than is necessary will not gain higher RHI payments. Rather than using one large boiler to meet the heat requirements, there are benefits to cascading a number of smaller boilers to provide the same output. The cascading approach allows for redundancy, in case there is a fault on one of the boilers, and delivers maximum efficiency whilst modulating at lower required outputs during the summer.

Savings

Biomass boilers can represent huge financial savings over fossil fuels. A recent installation that we completed for a 100kW system running on wood chips will gain fuel cost savings of 75% or in excess of £6,000 a year over heating oil. Typically, a 198kW system running on wood chips would save over £8,000 a year over oil.

Reduction in CO₂ is becoming increasingly important for both private and public sector organisations. The Biomass Energy Centre states that CO₂ savings of up to 96% can be achieved by burning biomass compared to fossil fuels, a great way for housing developers and specifiers to meet planning requirements. This became even more the case when the minimum emissions standards in the Building Regulations increased in 2013.

As well as reduced fossil fuel costs, the RHI offers a great incentive for the country to meet legally binding CO₂ reduction targets and to address climate change. The 100kW system above could expect to earn £10,000 or more a year for the 20 years of the scheme and the 198kW system would expect to gain over £20,000 a year.

Treco’s RHI calculator is available as a free download. This spreadsheet allows you to input the installed cost of a biomass boiler system and shows your potential RHI payments, fuel savings and the payback from the investment. The figures are expressed in both annual terms and as a total for the duration of the scheme. You are free to change the figures to better understand the RHI payments and fuel cost savings that can be achieved at different output levels. The combination of fuel cost savings and RHI payments offer a very attractive return on investment as the scheme often pays back within five years.

In summary, system design, fuel flexibility, efficiency levels and ease of use are key considerations. We always recommend visiting a similar installation to that proposed, enabling discussion with a client who has experience of the same type of system. We have installed over 700 biomass systems across the UK and might have one very close to you. Give us a call if you wish to discuss your project or arrange a viewing at one of our installations. Or fill in the form below and we'll be more than happy to call you back.

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