Biomass stove

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

A handsome addition to your energy savings

Cosy, stylish and traditional - biomass stoves can dramatically reduce your bills and save masses of CO2. Think you could warm to the idea?

Demand for biomass stoves - or wood burners - is on the up. An attractive wood burning stove can save 1,000kg of CO2 a year - more if you switch your whole central heating system to biomass - and be the focal point of your room. You might watch it more than the TV!

Installation expense and storage are the obstacles. Stoves range from 150 to 1,500, with installation costing as much as 1,500 on top of that. Unless you buy seasoned logs they need to be dried for at least a year to burn effectively, so you'll need plenty of space.

Read more below
Photo: Biomass stove

Saves up to 1,000kg of CO2 a year

168 Bloomers are doing this

CO2 reduction 3 out of 5

Cheapness 4 out of 5

Popularity 3 out of 5

Cost 2,500

About these ratings

In this article:

What is it?

Pub Fact

  • 47% of Scotland, 40% of England and 10% of Wales is covered in woodland
  • There are around 3,100 million trees in Great Britain
  • Coniferous trees such as Pine are known as gymnosperms
  • A cubic metre of wood stores roughly 800kg CO2
  • As trees grow they naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere

Biomass stoves burn wood - either logs or waste sawdust and woodchips compressed into burnable pellets - but 'biomass' can actually refer to any fuel derived from living or recently dead material - plant matter or even cow dung.

Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are considered a non-renewable source of energy because these deposits, packed with carboncompounds, take millions of years to form. UK wood from sustainable forests, on the other hand, is considered renewable because although CO2 is released when it's burnt, trees are constantly being replanted and absorb a similar amount as they grow.

Back to top

How will it make a difference?

Replacing all fossil fuels with biomass will reduce CO2 emissions by up to 90%, but topping up your heating with a stove will still save a massive 1,000kg a year. Plus, the biomass for wood stoves is often timber industry waste that would otherwise need to be disposed of elsewhere.

Back to top

What's the debate?

In many developing countries where wood is the main source of fuel, forest resources are now scarce or dwindling. Controversial new research even links wood burning stoves in developing countries to increasing climate change.

Wood is regarded as a sustainable fuel source in Britain, because the forestry industry currently plants more trees than it chops down. In many tropical countries forests are scarce or dwindling due to deforestation. To add to this, they grow much more slowly than our forests, taking hundreds of years to regenerate their original biodiversity.

Back to top

How do I do it?

  • A biomass stove will need to be installed by a professional. Get the advice of a good plumber/heating engineer and make sure your installer is approved by HETAS
  • Search for a stove supplier via the Log Pile website and identify a model suitable for your needs - a nine kilowatt stove will heat the average living room. Some even qualify for the a grant from the Low Carbon Building Programme (LCBP)
  • Check if you live in a 'smoke free zone' to make sure the stove complies with the Clean Air Act. This restricts air pollution other than CO2. Find out which stoves you can still use in 'smoke free zones'
  • Make sure your installation complies with safety and building regulations
  • If you have a chimney, make sure it's lined and have it swept at least once a year
  • Find a fuel supplier with BigBarn and purchase seasoned wood by volume rather than weight, as even with seasoned wood much of the weight is water
  • You can use any wood, as long as it's not painted or treated, but buy local wood from sustainable sources and not tropical hard wood
  • Learn how to spilt wood
  • If you're feeling even more ambitious, of course, you could opt for the full shebang and get biomass central heating

Back to top

What's stopping me?

"Lighting a fire first thing each day sounds like a pain"

Unless you go for the whole biomass central heating sytem, the stove is basically backing up your existing heating, so you're not depending on it. In any case, the most efficient stoves will keep burning very slowly overnight, so your house is still warm in the morning.

"I don't have a chimney!"

Not a problem. When your stove and boiler are put in, you will just need to have a flue (a vent) installed through your outside wall.

"I don't see myself as the axe-wielding type"

You don't need to be. You can buy pellets or logs ready-chopped to the desired size.

"But I love my open fire"

Open fires are only 25% efficient and so waste most of the energy they create, but stoves are around 80% efficient - and you still get a good view of the wood being burned.

Back to top

or

If you like this action send it to a friend

Share this

Back to top

Comments

Baz, Shrewsbury 2009-01-29

Brian Wilson comments on the release of micro particulates (fine particles) from wood stoves. While most stoves produced in the UK do release particles, the USA has introduced legislation to have catalytic converters fitted to their stoves, these can be purchased in the UK. The down side to a cat, is that as the stove needs to run hot for the cat to work, these stoves rarely have a boiler of any real capacity fitted. Wood burning stoves have a place in the scheme of things, especially when the wood burnt would otherwise go to landfill or be burnt on a bonfire. Think positively and smile more! Every day in some little way I get a little greener.

Woodcrafts, Staffs. 2009-01-21

Do NOT try burning sawdust in a woodburning stove! It is too fine and extinguish the fire. Worse it can smoulder which releases the distillates in the wood, without burning them and they are probably worse pollutants than the CO2 released.
The bulk of timber waste is softwood, which burns very fast and is inefficient. The best wood for stoves are hardwoods, ash being the best, but they take much longer to grow. I seriously question the statistics for these stoves.

Baz, Shrewsbury UK 2009-01-11

We finished building our new house last year, it's in a semi rural setting with a resonable supply of wood available. I installed a 16kW wood burner with a wrap around boiler, this is connected in the return from the radiators before it enters the condensing gas boiler. A pump is fitted to the wood burner with a thermostat that cuts in when the water gets hotter than C.H. return. A by pass is fitted to the combi boiler to allow the water from the wood burner to by pass when the combi is not on.
The outcome is that on cold,not freezing days, the wood burner heats the radiators, when I get up in the morning the gas has heted the house, I light the fire and the gas cuts off on the combi boiler thermostat, gas saved, warm house to get up to.I know that the CORGI guys out there will not like the system and the stove makers wouldn't be too pleased, but it works, and how it works!

Meron, Ethiopia 2008-08-28

Biomass stoves are not readily available in stores around the world. I don't recommend burning wood to create a heating system, though it might lower the cost it nevertheless is one of the factors for chopping down of trees - resulting in deforestation.

Brian Wilson, UK 2008-08-03

Very concerned that emissions from biomass boilers contain levels of most hazardous pollutants fine particles, higher than oil and far higher than gas. There are in excess of 2000 peer reviewed studies linking exposure to particle pollution and consequent health problems and deaths with no safe level and WHO consider this the worst air pollutant and the EU have ratified a directive to reduce the existing level of air pollution. Biomass combustion produces fine particles mainly in the most dangerous size spectrum below PM2.5, straw apparently 80% submicron which allows access to the bloodstream. Biomass systems are known to be some 30,000 times dirtier than equivalent gas. CO2 is benign but sadly fine particles are deadly.

Flower representing the 'Biomass stove' action

People using this site

3% of Bloomers are doing this action

2% of women in their 60s are doing this action.

Top 3 popular actions that females aged 60-69 are doing

More about actions by people of this age and gender.

Latest actions on Bloom

Latest related BBC News stories

RSS icon | News feeds | View all stories

Related links

Elsewhere on the web

Related links open in a new window. The BBC is not responsible for content on external sites.

Browse all actions

Glossary terms used on this page
Air pollution
Air pollution usually refers to the presence of any chemical or particulate that alters the normal make-up of our atmosphere, causing direct threats to human health (such as breathing difficulties) or longer-term damage through its effects on our planet's ecosystem. Pollutants include smoke and dust, nitrogen oxides, methane, and the fumes from aerosol sprays and other solvents. Industrial processes and transport are major contributors to air pollution, but it can also be caused by natural processes such as forest fires and volcanoes. See also acid rain.
Biomass
Biomass is renewable organic matter that can be used as fuel. It is living or recently dead material - wood and other plant matter, or even animal waste. Fuel derived from biomass is known as biofuel. It does not include fossil fuels, which have formed - and stored their carbon - over millions of years. Because the CO2 released when biomass is burned is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during its production - and because new plant matter is re-growing and absorbing more CO2 all the time - it's regarded as carbon neutral.
Biomass
Biomass is renewable organic matter that can be used as fuel. It is living or recently dead material - wood and other plant matter, or even animal waste. Fuel derived from biomass is known as biofuel. It does not include fossil fuels, which have formed - and stored their carbon - over millions of years. Because the CO2 released when biomass is burned is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during its production - and because new plant matter is re-growing and absorbing more CO2 all the time - it's regarded as carbon neutral.
Biomass
Biomass is renewable organic matter that can be used as fuel. It is living or recently dead material - wood and other plant matter, or even animal waste. Fuel derived from biomass is known as biofuel. It does not include fossil fuels, which have formed - and stored their carbon - over millions of years. Because the CO2 released when biomass is burned is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during its production - and because new plant matter is re-growing and absorbing more CO2 all the time - it's regarded as carbon neutral.
Biomass
Biomass is renewable organic matter that can be used as fuel. It is living or recently dead material - wood and other plant matter, or even animal waste. Fuel derived from biomass is known as biofuel. It does not include fossil fuels, which have formed - and stored their carbon - over millions of years. Because the CO2 released when biomass is burned is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during its production - and because new plant matter is re-growing and absorbing more CO2 all the time - it's regarded as carbon neutral.
Biomass
Biomass is renewable organic matter that can be used as fuel. It is living or recently dead material - wood and other plant matter, or even animal waste. Fuel derived from biomass is known as biofuel. It does not include fossil fuels, which have formed - and stored their carbon - over millions of years. Because the CO2 released when biomass is burned is balanced by the CO2 absorbed during its production - and because new plant matter is re-growing and absorbing more CO2 all the time - it's regarded as carbon neutral.
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Climate change
Climate change is the variation in the average global or regional climate as measured by yardsticks such as average temperature and rainfall. This variation is caused by both natural processes and human activity. Weather is what happens over days or even hours, whereas climate is the average weather measured over a longer period. Increasingly when people refer to climate change, however, they specifically mean the phenomenon of global warming.
Compound
A chemical combination of two or more elements, such as carbon and oxygen in carbon dioxide (CO2).
Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are the deposits of crude oil, natural gas and coal formed by the decay, over millions of years, of organic material (plants, trees animals and bacteria). Because the combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon that has been out of the natural carbon cycle for so long (unlike with living or more recently dead organic matter, known as biomass) it affects the balance between stored carbon and carbon present in the atmosphere as CO2, a greenhouse gas.
Kilowatt-hours (kWh)
A kilowatt-hour is an amount of energy equivalent to a power of one kilowatt (a thousand watts) running for one hour. The unit is commonly used on electricity meters. If you know how many kilowatt-hours of energy your household uses, you can translate this into kilograms of CO2 emitted by multiplying it by 0.527. A megawatt hour (MWh) is an amount of energy equivalent to the power of one megawatt (a million watts) running for one hour. Similarly, a gigawatt hour (GWh) is a billion watts for one hour, and a terawatt hour (TWh) is a trillion. While your domestic gas bill will be set out in kWh, the output for a power station, for example, will obviously be expressed in one of these much larger units.
Renewable energy
Renewable energy comes from natural sources that can be replenished and not permanently depleted - such as biomass, hydro-power, geothermal heat, solar power, wind power, and wave and tidal power - and most of which do not produce CO2emissions. They are unlike fossil fuels, which took millennia to form and cannot be replenished.
Sustainability
Sustainability - whether applied to energy, technology, industry, agriculture or just consumption of resources in general - refers to the concept of using things at a rate that, while meeting our own needs, does not compromise future generations' ability to meet theirs. In environmental terms, a process or industry is unsustainable when it requires natural resources to be used up faster than they can be replenished.

bbc.co.uk navigation

BBC © MMXI

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.