Wood-fired heating gives biomass hope
A HEATING system for two neighbouring schools in Herefords and Worcs shows how farming could benefit from commercial biomass production.
The wood-fired boiler project at Weobley is being supplied with fuel collected within 10 miles of the village by the local 7Y machinery ring. "I believe the future of biomass fuel lies in small projects like this," says 7Y managing director, Nick Helme.
"The project provides a link between grower and user, something we have all but lost in food supply. We sell the produce directly to the end consumer and have much greater control."
The scheme sprung from the need for a new primary school in Weobley village and a new heating boiler in the neighbouring senior school.
The first of its kind, the wood fired heating system was designed and built by county council engineers and architects and now provides hot water and heating for the primary school and heat for the senior school.
"Crucial to the success of the project is a secure supply of wood fuel," says Arnold Penney, former county chief engineer. "The 350kW boiler requires seven times as much wood as it would coal, and to keep the environmental impact low this must be obtained locally."
7Y Machinery Ring was contracted to provide 300t of woodchip a year. "We have been involved right from the start and were even involved in the design of the delivery area," says Mr Helme.
"We could not justify biomass cropping just to fuel Weobley school, but many of our members have their own woodlands and provide thinnings and woodland waste," says Mr Helme.
"The harvested wood is left to dry for at least 12 months and the wood chipper is moved from site to site, as the chips are needed. We always keep one trailer load ready for immediate delivery, and wood to hand, ready to chip.
"We are paid monthly 85% of the estimated value of each load delivered. The balance paid at the end of the season depends on the amount of heat produced as given by the heat meter readings." Growers are paid the equivalent of a low pulp price.
7Y bought the woodchipper, but the twice-weekly deliveries are made by tractor and trailer.
• Over the past 15 years 350 similar plants have been built in Austria, says Joseph Spitzer, chairman of IEA Bioenergy. They serve rural communities of up to 10,000 people and account for 500MW of power production. Like Weobley, each has received 35-50% of capital costs as grant aid. *