Energy savings, care for the environment, sustainable resource management, not forgetting home comforts. All this can be provided from biomass and in particular wood fuel. A brief overview of the energy source of the immediate future.
It is a topic of daily conversation. In the media, among colleagues and with family. Our energy consumption model is leading us up a blind alley. Despite the large reserves of fossil fuels, gas and oil, still remaining, these will be exhausted in a few years. Moreover, they are the cause of significant climate change, the initial impact of which is already being felt. In short, it is high time to switch to renewable energy sources in order to ensure nothing less than… our survival. Europe has set a target of obtaining 32% of energy consumed from renewables by 2030. And biomass features high in the European figures for achieving this goal.
Biomass is simply the name given to all the material of plant or animal origin found on the planet. Organic and plant waste from animal and arable farming and biodegradable household waste are also categorised as biomass.
In short, any plant or animal product, by-product, residue or surplus product can be processed in a variety of different ways. In particular to produce food, materials and… energy. Biomass is the oldest fuel used by man: when we discovered fire, we used biomass for the first time to provide light and heat.
Biomass is classified as either dry (for example, wood) or wet (organic waste, plant waste, etc.). Each type is processed differently using specific techniques.
Biomass is used in particular to produce heat and electricity. Dry biomass is most frequently burned directly and this is referred to as wood fuel. Wet biomass, for its part, is fed into a digester (a large closed tank) in order to produce biogas, a gas with a high calorific value, via a process of biomethanisation (anaerobic fermentation of the material). These large plants provide electricity to the grid. Heat, on the other hand, is used locally via underground networks. Many places in Europe already have facilities of this type.
The renewable energy figures for 2016 (EurObserv’ER barometer 2017) speak for themselves as far as its use for heating and cooling in the European Union is concerned: solid biomass provides 79.3 % of renewable energy, and this increases to 87% if all biomass is taken into account. In comparison, solar energy accounts for only 2.1 %.
The use of wood in Wallonia and in France is a major contributor to these results. It accounts for more than 50% of the renewable energy produced, and this figure is set to increase in the future. Our countries must meet the targets set for the proportion of renewable energy in the total final energy mix (heating, electricity). In France this figure is currently 16% (with a target of 23% in2020), and in Belgium 8.7 % (2020 target 13%). As well as contributing to these targets, biomass, and wood fuel in particular, have many financial and environmental benefits which make them ideal sources of energy.
In Europe, we are lucky. We have an abundance of biomass resources. This gives us the opportunity to face up to the challenges of climate change by using new methods of energy production much more in tune with environment, such as wood fuel. Figures for the performance of Stûv modern wood burners, inserts or stoves, for logs or pellets are impressive, with outputs of the order of more than 80%, a world away from the open hearths of old. We can now enjoy the benefits of biomass via our own “wood-fuelled” generator, with a cosy atmosphere as an added bonus.
Note, too, that in France there is support available (CITE (tax credit for energy conversion), éco-PTZ (0% interest eco-loan), éco-subvention Anah (national housing agency eco-grant), etc.) to encourage the installation of wood burners by qualified professionals. Always worth knowing in terms of combining savings, comfort and care for the environment.