Biomass boilers – plan carefully to avoid hassle

Not enough thought is being given to fuel storage and delivery when installing wood chip biomass boilers, leaving too many projects compromised by a high labour requirement and leading to unnecessarily large heating bills.


With the popularity of these boilers growing as a result of the Renewable Heat Incentive, often on farms to heat houses and additional buildings such as holiday lets or converted office complexes, more focus on long-term fuel management planning is needed, according to Joe Fergusson, microgeneration consultant with land and property management specialist Bell Ingram.


“The critical but often overlooked fact about chip and log heating is that it is not just the installation of a piece of hardware, but a never-ending logistical exercise. Recognising this is what separates a really successful system from the rest,” he said.


There were many examples of existing chip boilers, and more being put in, where design effort had been put into achieving the cheapest and easiest installation. That resulted in a fuel store which was either too small, resulting in unnecessarily frequent refills, or was awkward to fill, leading to deliveries of up to an hour when the job should only have taken a few minutes.


“The critical but often overlooked fact about chip and log heating is that it is not just the installation of a piece of hardware, but a never-ending logistical exercise. Recognising this is what separates a really successful system from the rest.”
Joe Fergusson

“This may not seem that important when perhaps tens of thousands of pounds are to be saved on the capital cost, but the result will be higher heating costs indefinitely and whilst the price of hassle is difficult to gauge, it certainly rises with repetition,” Mr Fergusson said.


The cost of good fuel stores and fuel delivery arrangements, which could allow several weeks’ supply to be tipped in a few minutes, only added up to a small proportion of the total project cost, he said. But, given its importance the additional cost should be considered a core aspect of scheme design, Mr Fergusson maintained.


“Biomass project planners must concentrate on the long-term view. There is a strong case for an experienced independent consultant to do this, specifying the design and components to the suppliers.”

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