Are Biomass Boilers Environmentally Friendly? [Pros vs Cons]

In the field of renewable energy and heating homes in environmentally friendly ways, biomass boilers have always piqued people’s interest.

Recently, biomass boilers have grown in popularity and are now available in a variety of designs to suit a wide range of homes and properties.

Some people considered these appliances to be a positive for the environment, whereas others think are either known for their positive environmental impact or the exact opposite.

So, are biomass boilers environmentally friendly? Continue reading to learn more about the environmental benefits and drawbacks of biomass boilers!

Can Biomass Boilers Be Considered Environmentally Friendly?

The short answer is yes, biomass boilers are environmentally friendly when considered on balance and against the alternative fossil-fuel choices.

Biomass energy is organic, which means it’s produced from materials derived from living organisms. Wood, plants, and waste are all excellent sources of biomass materials, also known as biomass feedstock.

Domestic biomass boilers are powered by wood logs, pellets or wood chips. Ultimately, biomass fuel comes from wood, which is used to generate electricity or direct heat for our homes.

Since biomass boilers don’t rely on any fossil fuels, they’re considered an effective source of renewable energy. This is because the biomass feedstock, aka trees, are regarded as a renewable and can be managed sustainably through certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council – learn more on what the FSC is here.

In contrast, fossil fuels are a non-renewable source and eventually will at risk of depletion. This isn’t to mention the environmental damage they cause when burned. As you know, fossil fuels are the primary cause of global warming as concluded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

That comes as no surprise given that this non-renewable energy source accounted for 89% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018.

industrial biomass boiler
Industrial biomass boiler

How Can Biomass Boilers Be Good for the Environment?

Using biomass boilers offers several environmental benefits, with the following two being the most significant:

1.     Reduce CO2 Emissions

By now, you may be aware that biomass energy is a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. Statistically speaking, when used to generate electricity, biomass emits 14% to 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

However, biomass boilers do emit carbon dioxide while operating, albeit in smaller amounts. A long study conducted between 1990 and 2017 confirmed that switching to biomass boilers instead of fossil fuels would reduce CO2 emissions. This study, published in 2020, was based on the monitoring of 27 European Union member countries after they switched to biomass energy.

The findings revealed that as wood biomass energy consumption increases, CO2 emissions decrease.

It also helps that wood is considered a carbon-neutral energy source. During the photosynthesis process, plants absorb carbon dioxide – this is why tree planting with the likes of Ecologi so popular now. With this in mind, any CO2 that biomass boilers emit from burning wood is thought to be balanced out by the amount they absorb as living trees.

2.     Produce Useful Waste

Ash is a natural by-product of biomass boilers, in particular the burning of wood. Wood ash has been found to have significant soil health benefits (when used correctly of course), as well as holding important macronutrients such as:

  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium

This means that the ash produced by a biomass boiler can be added to soil as a fertiliser to help plants thrive. It’s also being researched for other applications, such as replacing cement in mortars, which would be brilliant.

biomass boiler inside
Pellets inside a biomass boiler

How Can Biomass Boilers Be Bad for the Environment?

Unfortunately, using biomass boilers can cause environmental damage too.

As the demand for biomass energy grows, so does the need for wood. In fact, one of the three main causes of deforestation is wood extraction for purposes such as domestic fuel. This isn’t good.

The phenomenon of deforestation shouldn’t be taken for granted. It has a hugely negative impact on wildlife by destroying their habitat and reducing their chances of finding food. Over time, this contributes to the loss of biodiversity on a large scale.

Even more, the removal of such a large number of trees has a direct link to climate change and increased greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

The sad reality is that we deforest around 10 million hectares of land each year. This is roughly the size of Portugal. Currently, only half of this deforested land grows back.

Are Biomass Boilers Polluting?

Another negative impact of biomass boilers on the environment is the pollutants they emit.

The majority of the harmful gases produced by biomass energy can degrade air quality. In some cases of inefficient biomass burning, the gases emitted can cause health issues for humans.

It’s been shown that biomass burning contributes between 20 and 60 teragrams of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in the form of methane each year. This amounts to about 5 to 15% of global annual methane emissions. High concentrations of methane can be harmful to individuals.

Other harmful pollutants emitted by biomass boilers include sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM). That said, each pollutant is emitted at varying concentrations. They’ll be determined by factors such as size, design and efficiency of the biomass boiler.

windhager biomass boilers

Do They Cause Indoor Air Pollution?

Biomass boilers are regarded as one of the least indoor-polluting energy sources. For example, using a biomass boiler for heating will result in better air quality than traditional fireplaces.

On a side note, other types of wood burners and fireplaces that operate by burning wood are also considered a type of biomass-heating system.

Fireplaces release combustion particles in the air that can be breathed in. These particles are hazardous as they can cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, they emit carbon monoxide (CO), which is toxic to humans and can cause death at high concentrations. Of course, all new wood burning stoves and fireplaces are now designed from a safety first perspective.

On the other hand, a biomass boiler uses advanced technologies to limit such emissions. The more advanced the technology, the safer the boiler, and biomass boilers with emissions control systems are an excellent example.

Is a Biomass Boiler Worth It for the Environment?

Overall, a biomass boiler is a good way to begin lowering your carbon footprint. Despite having some negative environmental effects, they still give back in a variety of ways.

These boilers contribute significantly to the recycling of wood waste and they can operate from good quality scrap wood, in the form of pellets and chips, that has no other purpose.

Not only that, but the process of converting wood into energy produces a useful by-product, ash. Even if you didn’t use the ash in gardening, it wouldn’t harm the environment if left as it is.

I think it’s fair to say that a biomass boiler would be a sustainable investment since it’s less harmful than any fossil fuel alternative.

Wrap up on environmentally friendly biomass boilers

I hope that managed to answer your question on ‘are biomass boilers environmentally friendly?’

If you do decide to purchase a biomass boiler, remember to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance and cleaning instructions.

Aside from that, get ready to enjoy saving money on energy bills and doing a little more for the environment!

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Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

I’m the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. Away from the laptop, I love spending time in nature and with my young family (plus Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.

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