Wood Pellets - A Good Choice for Heating

06 gennaio 2008
Wood Pellets - A Good Choice for Heating

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Many building owners use fossil heating fuels, such as oil or propane, for space heating. These fuels are often expensive and unstable in pricing, and are threatening the global climate and sustainability of communities. Proven alternatives to fossil heating fuels exist and are already in use across North America: Biomass fuels are a local, renewable resource for providing reliable heat.

Wood pellets are a common type of biomass. Biomass is any biological material that can be used as fuel—including grass, corn, wood, and biogas as well as other forestry and agricultural residues.

Wood Pellets

One biomass fuel that has gained national attention with rising fossil fuel prices is wood pellets. Wood pellets are compressed by-products from the forest products industry, often woodchips and sawdust. They are a locally available and a cost-effective heating fuel with several advantages over other types of biomass.

Wood pellets are a condensed uniformly sized form of biomass energy, making them easier to store and use than many other biomass fuels. Pellet heating technology is also quite simple, minimizing operation and maintenance requirements. These heating systems can be easy to plan for and install and can save a building owner thousands of dollars in energy costs over time while providing significant local economic and environmental benefits.

Advantages to Heating with Biomass

Using biomass fuels helps mitigate such environmental issues as acid rain and global climate change. Perhaps the greatest advantage of biomass fuels, however, is that they cost on average 25-50 percent less than fossil heating fuels and are more stable in pricing. It is unlikely that any future carbon or energy taxes will increase the cost of biomass fuels and are more likely to raise the cost of heating with fossil fuels. The technology is becoming well established in the North American market and the choice to heat with biomass fuels can be as simple as choosing a traditional fossil fuel heating system.

In addition, wood pellets:
• are convenient and easy to use, and can be bulk stored in less space than other biomass fuels
• have a high energy content, and the technology is highly efficient compared to other biomass fuels
• are a clean-burning renewable fuel source
• are produced from such waste materials as forestry residues and sawdust
• are price stable compared to fossil fuels

Who Should Consider Wood Pellet Heating?

There are currently about 800,000 homes in the United States using wood pellet stoves or furnaces for heating, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute. Wood pellets are manufactured in the US and Canada, and are available for residential use in 40-pound bags from feed stores, nurseries, and other supply outlets.

Increasingly, heating with wood pellets is becoming common on larger scales—in municipal or federal buildings, educational facilities, housing complexes, office buildings, and other businesses. While the majority of installations of this size are in Europe, a growing number are in North America, including New England. The greater heating requirements of these larger buildings differ from those of residential settings, thus requiring different technology (boilers rather than stoves) and fuel supply infrastructure (bulk wood pellet supply rather than bags).

Candidates for Wood Pellet Heating

The best candidates for wood pellet boilers are buildings between 10,000 and 50,000 square feet (SF) that use heating oil, propane, or electricity to produce space heat and/or hot water. Natural gas is generally a less expensive fossil fuel for space heat, and wood pellet prices are not always competitive. When natural gas prices are significantly higher than the national average price, wood pellets may be the better alternative. Wood pellet heating systems are also a viable option for new construction.

Other important site characteristics to consider include the layout of the building. It should have—or the owner should plan to convert to—a centralized hot water heatdistribution system. There should be adequate space for the wood pellet boiler and storage silo as well as adequate access to the silo for fuel truck deliveries.

The distance between the building and the wood pellet distribution center ideally should be no more than 50 miles since the actual cost paid per ton for bulk wood pellets will include a delivery charge that may make wood pellets less cost effective as the delivery distance—and delivery charge—increases.

Wood Pellet Boiler Technology

Wood pellet boiler technology is becoming well established in the North American market. There are several vendors with proven track records of reliability and performance (vendors and contact information can be found on page 24) and several demonstrations in New England of wood pellet boilers replacing fossil fuel heating systems, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and saving building owners money. 

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