An energy-efficient, carbon neutral alternative
If you think pellets are only good for feeding hamsters, think again! When it comes to heating your home, consider biomass boilers as an environmentally friendly alternative. Biomass boilers provide heat that is greener, locally sourced and relatively inexpensive when compared to other more conventional heating energy sources. Biomass pellets are produced from waste wood such as sawdust, wood chips, grass and other cellulose-containing plant matter. The pellets can be easily transported, stored and used on site to generate heat for domestic, commercial or industrial applications. The carbon neutral nature of this fuel source makes it an attractive option for reducing the environmental impact of heating your home or business.
Here’s how it works
The most common fuel for biomass boilers is pellets. Waste wood or plant matter is tightly compressed into pellets which are easy to transport and store. These pellets are then burned in biomass boilers to produce heat in the same way you would burn coal or wood. The heat is transferred to a liquid (usually water) and can be utilized to heat domestic (tap) water throughout the year or heat homes, commercial and industrial buildings through hydronic under-floor or radiator heating systems during the colder winter months. 13 to 20% of the average home heating bill can be attributed to the water heater alone. When a well insulated boiler is coupled with an energy recovery device, efficiency levels can reach the 95% mark, which is a vast improvement on the 60% efficiency of the old ’80s furnaces many of us have rattling around in the basement.
As the pellets are sourced from waste materials, they are cheaper than many alternate heating fuels and prevent waste materials from ending up in landfills. The CO₂ released by the pellets during combustion is mitigated by the processing of CO₂ by the plant matter from which the pellets are made. Hoppers can automatically feed the boiler with pellets on demand, reducing the need for maintenance and manual loading. Typical residential biomass boilers are roughly the same size as gas furnaces, although dry storage areas must be made available for the pellets. A large water storage tank, much like the one you probably already have in your basement, must also be installed for hydronic heating systems. Biomass boilers can be easily retrofitted and can utilize existing HVAC elements, thereby reducing installation costs. During winter months, biomass boilers provide full structure heating as well as domestic hot water. In summer, boilers can be programmed to maintain domestic hot water levels in the storage tank, requiring only occasional cleaning and maintenance to ensure optimum operation. Ash, resulting from the burning of wood pellets, will need to be disposed of about once a month.
Return on Investment
A residential 10kW biomass boiler could be purchased and installed for about $8000 CDN. Biomass pellets are priced at around $200/tonne (@14,000,000Btu/T = $14.29 per MBtu). The average Canadian home requires about 4 tons of pellet fuel per heating season, the running cost would be approximately $1000/year. There are many factors that can reduce or increase the payback on your initial investment, but as a rule of thumb, customers could expect a payback of about 4 years. Returns can be further expedited by government rebates like the ecoENERGY incentives offered by the Ontario government.