The right type and quality of wood fuel is fundamental to the successful, consistent and long term functioning of your biomass boiler. Fuel quality is the biggest cause of the issues our biomass customer support team are called out to fix. Many of which are avoidable. As is being cold, or having cold tenants, or no hot water or missing out on RHI payments because your biomass boiler isn’t working at its most efficient level.
There can be a learning process when switching to biomass boilers, which this blog will aim to help you with. As with anything, you just need to know what to look for.
Good news!! There is a growing and diverse quality wood fuel supply in this country. It ranges from large scale national distribution of wood pellets (£180-£220 a tonne). To small scale, localised wood chip suppliers (£100-120 a tonne). To contract wood chippers if you are lucky enough to have your own wood fuel supply (£40-50 per tonne).
Wood fuel does not grow overnight. From felling the tree to delivery of wood fuel to a biomass boiler, can take anything up to two years. The wood has to dry, or season. This reduces the moisture content from around 50% at felling to the 20%-30% required for use as wood chips. This needs at least a year for softwoods, two years for hardwoods – including a full summer.
Quality control is important when selecting the wood fuel for chipping to use in a biomass boiler. It should be seasoned before chipping, must be the right moisture content (under 30%) and of the correct size; G30 for use in the Guntamatic Powerchip. Although specialist fuel grade contract chippers are used, it requires trained operators and regular maintenance, adjustment and sharpening of the cutting blades to achieve the consistency in quality and size. So a good local contract chipper is a good place to start! Quality assurance is a big part of this, which we will go into in a bit more depth, but a visit to the Biomass Energy Centre’s UK fuel supply map is a must!
There are various grades of wood chip, and standards applied that are evolving into European Standards. These standards are best summarised in the FOEST Standards Guide, produced as party of a European Collaborative Project under the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme.
The UK partners for this were Regen SW, the University of Exeter, Severn Wye Energy Agency and SW England Forestry Commission. There is still an overlap in terminology, between national standards (such as the Austrian ONorm Standard), the emerging European Standard, and the British Standard (which is based on the European Standard). Once the European Standard is adopted, this supersedes national standards within member states, as has happened with pellets, where the ENPlus standard is now universal.
Quality Assurance of fuel is both an intrinsic part of meeting the standard, but also an on going part of a suppliers business to ensure the client continues to receive fuel of the right specification for their biomass boiler. There is no universal assurance scheme in the UK, but the leading scheme is the joint Woodsure/HETAS Accreditation Scheme, which provides such a service. This scheme also includes sustainability assurance as part of the criteria.
Quality is not just assurance and adherence to a standard; it is also linked with industry collaborating to a common goal to provide confidence to the market and users of wood fuel. The Renewable Energy Association (REA) and Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor) has set up a Wood fuel Suppliers Group, which brings together not only wood fuel suppliers, but all aspects of the wood fuel supply chain, including biomass boiler suppliers, installers and specifiers such as architects and M+E Consultants. The emergence of this group was also supported as part of the FOREST Programme. For a wood fuel supplier, full membership of this group requires quality assurance certification from a scheme such as Woodsure.
So what does this mean for the end user? In selecting the right quality of fuel, we’d always recommend using an accredited supplier. Nationally, there is an online search facility available through the Biomass Suppliers List (BSL). This website can be searched based on the boiler site location, and filtered for accredited/assured suppliers. In the South West Region, this map is complemented by the South West Woodshed which as well as containing supplier details also carries a wealth of information on biomass.
Biomass boiler fuel storage is also an important factor often overlooked. It is an important and core part of the design of Treco’s biomass boiler systems. Right from the first time we speak to someone who rings up, we factor in a fuel store with the right amount of size to minimise fills, the right amount of ventilation and measures to prevent the ingress of moisture. Fuel can be blown in through vacuum tubes, fed from an agricultural feed hopper, dropped in from above by a loader or tipped in through a specially designed door. You can build your own biomass boiler fuel store, or we can design and install it for you, or supply the entire boiler room, in a shipping container with everything pre fitted, to drop into place.
We want you to enjoy your biomass boiler and the years of benefit you will gain from saving money, CO₂ and getting paid from the RHI. To ensure this, we want you to buy the best fuel, easily and at the best price.
There are now no shortage at all of accredited, quality assured biomass boiler fuel suppliers for you to choose from. This means competition and a level of choice for the biomass boiler owner. We hope this article will help you know what to look for and where to look.