Biomass: a renewable, carbon-neutral and socially responsible energy

Biomass heating is a renewable, carbon-neutral and socially responsible energy form. Discover our pitch in the new brochure you can download below.

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Biomass heating based on wood-energy chips is a commonly used energy in Northern Europe. In Finland for example, it covers almost 30% of the heating needs of the whole country. In Canada, biomass heating is not yet a big part of the energy mix, but there is more and more federal and provincial initiatives to develop it, like the programs of Natural Resources Canada (RNCAN).

A tree can provide raw materials for several different industries

The first principle of renewable forest biomass heating is simple: a tree does not grow for energy. There is no ecological nor economical sense in chopping a tree just to grind it into woodchips and burn it.

On the other hand, a large quantity of trees is already processed by other industries like sawmills and the pulp and paper industry. The forestry operations related to those fibre streams generate a lot of untapped residuals: branches, treetops, hog, non-commercial species, surface boards… The secondary transformation of wood by construction and furniture industries generate also wood-based residuals. All the carbon contained on those residual materials will end up by being released in the atmosphere during the natural decomposition of wood.

The residual wood biomass will discharge the same amount of carbon in the atmosphere during the natural decomposition as it will if it is burned. Therefore, one can use this resource to get the energy out of the combustion without emitting a single gram of additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Moreover, in many cases the heat that is made with biomass will be displacing the combustion of fossil fuels.

Trees will capture CO2 during their growth. The CO2 that is discharged to the atmosphere during the combustion of the wood will be reintegrated by the trees growing in the forests. This is the opposite of fossil fuels where old carbon is pumped from underground and discharged in the atmosphere.

Therefore, biomass heating made with residual wood biomass is a renewable, carbon-neutral energy, as long as the forests are managed in a durable way.

Forest growth, harvest and use of woodchips for heating in Finland

The graph above shows the forest growth and harvest in Finland in millions of cubic meters. In the 1950s, harvesting operations begun to exceed the natural regeneration capability of the forests. Hoping to avoid losing this precious resource, the Finnish government made new regulations regarding forest management.

All Finnish forests are now regularly maintained by thinning. During the thinning operations, all the brushwood is cleared to allow light to penetrate the forest. Remaining trees will then grow in diameter instead of trying desperately to grow up to reach the light. This results in more carbon stored by the forest as the trees get bigger. Thinning operations protect also the forest against many parasites and diseases and help to reduce the risk and spread of forest fires.

Treetops and branches: a renewable energy source

The wood cut during the thinning will be converted into biomass fuel. About a third is left on the forest floor to ensure a good soil regeneration, and the ashes from the combustion are transported back and spread to the forest as fertilizer.

On the graph you can also see the quantity of woodchips used for biomass heating in Finland. Woodchip heating represents 26% of the total heating consumption in the country, meaning that Finnish forests would be able to regenerate and still grow even if the whole country was heated with woodchips. This means that it is clearly a renewable energy source.

In the last years, many people have voiced their concerns about biomass energy. The data we present on this page demonstrates that biomass heating is a renewable energy source for a country such as Finland. This same data can’t be applied to the British model where the United Kingdom imports large quantities of wood-pellets from around the world to generate electricity. In such a case, there will be a lot of transport involved, meaning increased carbon footprint and the fuel may be sourced in parts of the world where the forests are not managed in a durable way. So please, do not mix up heating with local biomass and outsourced pellet-based electricity production when discussing renewable biomass energy.

Unlike the compressed wood-pellets, woodchips take a lot of space. Therefore woodchip heating is an economic heating energy only if used locally. This means that woodchip heating contributes naturally to the local economy.

When you fill the petrol or propane tank of your heating device, the only local company that will profit is the company that transports the fuel to your place. He will send the rest of the money away in a petrol-producing country or province.

When you fill the silo of your biomass boiler with locally produced woodchips, your money will circle in the local economy and feed a lot of people from the delivery guy to the nurseryman, the forester and the contractor who chips the wood. Heating with locally produced woodchips generates local jobs.

Several studies have demonstrated the positive effects of woodchip heating on the local economy. We can provide you the translation of one of those studies free of charge, just send us a message to request it.

 

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