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Biomass Energy

What is Biomass?
Biomass is the name given to all living material – wood, straw, waste food, animal manure and plants are all examples of biomass. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun and when it is burned it releases heat – just like wood logs in an open fire. Wood is a fuel that has been used for centuries to cook and produce heat. One of the most used biomass resources is wood and it is becoming more popular in Northern Ireland to provide heat for homes, schools and businesses.

Plants absorb the sun’s energy in a process called photosynthesis. The energy in plants then gets passed on to animals and people that eat them or used as a fuel to provide heat when they are burned.

Some farmers in Northern Ireland are starting to grow special crops called willow which grows quickly in two years and can then be made into a fuel to burn. Using farming land to grow fuels is a very good idea and will help farmers to earn money in a different way as well as providing fuels which are grown locally in Northern Ireland.

 
Wood Pellets   A Willow tree field

 

How does biomass work?
When biomass is burned the energy is released as heat. If you have a fireplace at home, the wood you burn in it is a form of biomass. In our homes we can use wood biomass to provide all of our heating and hot water by using a specially made boiler or we can use it to provide heat for a single room using a biomass stove. Biomass boilers and stoves are becoming very popular in Northern Ireland as a way of providing heat because people are starting to realise that other fuels called fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are running out.

In these modern boilers, biomass can be used in different forms:

  • Logs
  • Pellets
  • Chips

Advantages of Biomass

  • Biomass does not run out as it is made from living material and does not use up limited resources such as coal
  • It does not rely on the weather, so it is available to provide energy all the time
  • Biomass is flexible and can be used in many different forms as you can have biomass logs, biomass pellets or biomass chips.
  • Wood pellets are convenient and controllable – You can choose how much you want to use and how often.
  • Using wood as a fuel can often mean that what would have been ‘waste’ can be turned into a useful fuel.
  • Locally produced biomass can help the local economy with jobs and incomes.

Possible disadvantages of Biomass

  • Waste materials have to be collected, which can be costly
  • Burning fuels (e.g. wood chips and rubbish) does cause some air pollution.
 
This picture shows a Wood Pellet Stove which can provide heat for a single room   This picture shows a Biomass boiler which can be used to provide heating and hot water for a whole house