¦ Biomass solutions were on display at the All Energy Show.
¦ Scott & Sergeant’s briquetting machine sales are up 25%.
¦ The market is expected to grow as a result of the Renewable Heat Incentive.
¦ Biomass boiler installation is no more complex than other heating systems.

If evidence were needed that the popularity of wood fuel is growing, then look no further than the recent All Energy Show in Aberdeen. With plenty of wood-fuelled boiler suppliers and pellet and briquette manufacturers displaying their wares, it was a perfect opportunity for potential customers to be enlightened on the benefits of biomass.

Not only that, but the Usewoodfuel Advice Team at Forestry Commission Scotland initiated what it called the “the Woodfuel Trail”, guiding individuals to the stands that had something to say about the kit; the technicalities; how to get a grant; and, most importantly, how wood fuel can save money.

With everyone from local authorities to hotels and leisure premises, schools and manufacturing industries looking to reduce their carbon emissions and their dependency on fossil fuels, wood fuel is becoming hot property. In the latest round of grants from the Scottish Biomass Heat Scheme, £1.1m was shared between 16 recipients including a sawmiller John Gordon & Son, fencing contractor and biomass boiler specialist.

“It does increasingly make sense for timber companies to do something with their wood waste – combusting it for heat, or turning it into briquettes or pellets for sale,” said Dr Geoff Hogan, of the Biomass Energy Centre, a UK forestry initiative that aims to be a one-stop shop for individuals and organisations interested in a wide range of biomass fuels and conversion technologies.


Despite possible problems with the supply of raw material, there are still plenty of opportunities for timber companies to take advantage of the growing interest in – and demand for – biomass. Timber companies such as Clifford Jones and Balcas have invested several million pounds to become large-scale producers of wood pellets and briquettes, while several other companies have also entered the wood fuel market, albeit on a lesser scale.

But it is the demand for wood-fuelled boilers that looks set to grow. “There is just more and more pressure for bio-type fuels,” said Paul Charnaud, managing director of Scott & Sargeant. Last year, the company supplied nine Comafer Dinamic briquetting machines to timber processing companies; this year figures are up as much as 25% which Mr Charnaud said reflects the market growth. “We’ve also got the first pelleting machine going into a timber business. Primarily our clients are using the briquettes for their own use, but any oversupply, they are selling on.”

Mr Charnaud said most firms’ interest in wood fuel is as a waste solution – the heat they can produce and money they can generate from selling surplus product is a handy extra. And, with the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme due to come in next year, he expects the market to continue to grow.

Under the terms of the RHI, companies have to make the initial capital investment on a wood-fuelled boiler, but then claim back the cost savings they’ve made producing ‘green’ energy against the use of non-renewable energy/fuels (ie electricity from the grid, oil or gas) to heat their plant and systems.

“Most of our boilers are supplied for clients who are looking to reduce carbon emissions or have specific planning requirements,” said Dave Hardwicke, renewable technology manager at Broag-Remeha, which supplies a range of biomass boilers. He believes this is likely to change with the RHI because people will be paid per kilowatt of renewable energy they produce (up to a certain limit).

“There will be incentives to produce heat from renewable sources,” he said. “People will be looking at wood-fuelled boilers as a relatively good investment. Only a tiny proportion of heat in the UK is produced from renewable sources at the moment, something that the RHI is trying to address.”

Secure fuel supply

But, he warned that, as with a conventional boiler, the first consideration is the fuel supply. “No-one would fit large gas boilers without first determining if the local network is up to supplying the boilers,” he said. “The same is true of biomass. Fortunately, there is currently a larger supply of wood chips and pellets available than there are boilers to burn them.”

For timber firms looking at installing a wood-fuelled boiler there are several questions to ask, including whether it’s better to get a system that can handle a range of wood waste, one that’s suited to fine material, or one that’s designed to take off-cuts and bigger chips.

Peter Young, director of Mercia Energy, which promotes and develops biomass heating systems and fuel supplies, said the choice of boiler for any timber company should be determined by what their heating needs are. “If you have a heating requirement for 1MW, you need to look at your wood waste products and what is available and ask yourself whether you are able to be self-sufficient,” he said. “The starting point for any company looking to swap to wood fuel is analyse how much gas or oil they currently use – and work back from there.”


And, according to Paul Brimble, a director at biomass boiler supplier Windhager, installation of the plant is typically no more complex than other heating systems. “On a commercial scale, commonly an outbuilding or plant room will be dedicated to the boiler installation, buffer tanks, pump distribution systems and sometimes combined with the bulk fuel storage hoppers,” he said. “Automatic fuel handling systems are available to manage and to refuel the boiler when required.”

Payback, said Mr Young, varies according to the site but, roughly, self-suppliers may be looking at anything between three to five years before they see a return on their investment; those who aren’t self-sufficient are looking at five to 10 years.

“The market is really booming – boilers are selling like hot cakes,” he said. “Woodchip does compete much better with oil, which is more expensive than gas. Anyone that is off the gas main has to use oil or LPG – by turning to wood fuel, they are going to be the big winners.”