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Biomass Systems

The use of biomass in heating systems is beneficial because it uses agricultural, forest, urban and industrial residues and waste to produce heat and electricity with less effect on the environment than fossil fuels. This type of energy production has a limited long term effect on the environment because the carbon in biomass is part of the natural carbon cycle; while the carbon in fossil fuels is not, and permanently adds carbon to the environment when burned for fuel (carbon footprint). Historically, before the use of fossil fuels in significant quantities, biomass in the form of wood fuel provided most of humanity's heating.

The oil price increases since 2003 and consequent price increases for natural gas and coal have increased the value of biomass for heat generation. Forest renderings, agricultural waste, and crops grown specifically for energy production become competitive as the prices of energy dense fossil fuels rise. Efforts to develop this potential may have the effect of regenerating mismanaged croplands and be a cog in the wheel of a decentralized, multi-dimensional renewable energy industry. Efforts to promote and advance these methods became common throughout the European Union through the 2000s. In other areas of the world, inefficient and polluting means to generate heat from biomass coupled with poor forest practices have significantly added to environmental degradation.

Buffer tanks

Buffer tanks, sometimes referred to as 'thermal stores' are crucial for the efficient operation of all biomass boilers where the system loading fluctuates rapidly, or the volume of water in the complete hydraulic system is relatively small. Using a suitably sized buffer vessel prevents rapid cycling of the boiler when the loading is below the minimum boiler output. Rapid cycling of the boiler causes a large increase in harmful emissions such as Carbon monoxide, dust, and NOx, greatly re duces boiler efficiency and increases electrical consumption of the unit. In addition, service and maintenance requirements will be increased as parts are stressed by rapid heating and cooling cycles. It should be noted that although most boilers claim to be able to turn down to 30% of nominal output, in the real world this is often not achievable due to differences in the fuel from the 'ideal' or test fuel. A suitably sized buffer tank should therefore be considered where the loading of the boiler drops below 50% of the nominal output - in other words unless the biomass component is purely base load, the system should include a buffer tank. In any case where the secondary system does not contain sufficient water for safe removal of residual heat from the biomass boiler irrespective of the loading conditions, the system must include a suitably sized buffer tank. The residual heat from a biomass unit varies greatly depending on the boiler design and the thermal mass of the combustion chamber. light weight, fast response boilers require only 10ltr/kW, while industrial wet wood units with very high thermal mass require 40ltr/kW.

Types of biomass heating systems

  • Little biomass heating plant in Austria; the heat power is about 1000 kWThe use of Biomass in heating systems has a use in many different types of buildings, and all have different uses. There are four main types of heating systems that use biomass to heat a boiler. The types are Fully Automated, Semi-Automated, Pellet-Fired, and Combined Heat and Power.
  • Fully automatedFully automated systems operate exactly how they sound. Chipped or ground up waste wood is brought to the site by delivery trucks and dropped into a holding tank. A system of conveyors then transports the wood from the holding tank to the boiler at a certain managed rate. This rate is managed by computer controls and a laser that measures the load of fuel the conveyor is bringing in. The system automatically goes on and off to maintain the pressure and temperature within the boiler. Fully automated systems offer a great deal of ease in their operation because they only require the operator of the system to control the computer, and not the transport of wood.
  • Semi-automated or "surge bin"Semi-Automated or "Surge Bin" systems are very similar to fully automated systems except they require more manpower to keep operational. They have smaller holding tanks, and a much simpler conveyor systems which will require personnel to maintain the systems operation. The reasoning for the changes from the fully automated system is the efficiency of the system. Wood fire fueled boilers are most efficient when they are running at their highest capacity, and the heat required most days of the year will not be the peak heat requirement for the year. Considering that the system will only need to run at a high capacity a few days of the year, it is made to meet the requirements for the majority of the year to maintain its high efficiency.
  • Pellet-firedThe third main type of biomass heating systems are pellet-fired systems. Pellets are a processed form of wood, which make them more expensive. Although they are more expensive, they are much more condensed and uniform, and therefore are more efficient. In these systems, the pellets are stored in a grain-type storage silo, and gravity is used to move them to the boiler. The storage requirements are much smaller for pellet-fired systems because of their condensed nature, which also helps cut down costs. these systems are used for a wide variety of facilities, but they are most efficient and cost effective for places where space for storage and conveyor systems is limited, and where the pellets are made fairly close to the facility.
  • Combined heat and powerCombined heat and power systems are very useful systems in which wood waste, such as wood chips, is used to generate power, and heat is created as a byproduct of the power generation system. They have a very high cost because of the high pressure operation. Because of this high pressure operation, the need for a highly trained operator is mandatory, and will raise the cost of operation. Another drawback is that while they produce electricity they will produce heat, and if producing heat is not desirable for certain parts of the year, the addition of a cooling tower is necessary, and will also raise the cost. There are certain situations where CHP is a good option. Wood product manufacturers would use a combined heat and power system because they have a large supply of waste wood, and a need for both heat and power. Other places where these systems would be optimal are hospitals and prisons, which need energy, and heat for hot water. These systems are sized so that they will produce enough heat to match the average heat load so that no additional heat is needed, and a cooling tower is not needed.

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