Billed as radical by Manchester University, biomass-based district heating is being touted as being capable of dramatically cutting residential greenhouse gas emissions.
Effective it is, radical it is not as the practice is well established in Austria and Sweden at least.
Manchester is, however, correct to say that building district heating schemes which would provide heat and hot water for a neighbourhood or community would not only drastically reduce greenhouse gases but would also be highly cost-effective.
Focus groups to test the UK public’s eagerness for such schemes have already been held and have resulted in the majority of people being in favour of the localised centres.
Research claims that using wood in UK power stations gave greenhouse gas reductions of over 84% and even higher savings of 94% were possible for heating schemes.
Prepared by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research to highlight the effectiveness of using sustainable fuels rather than rely on fossil fuels, a series of reports advocating biomass-fired district heating was recently presented at the BioTen conference in Birmingham.
Key to its success is that biomass must be grown sustainably, taking into account potential for damage to the environment or undesirable socio-economic impacts.
Previous work by Manchester University researchers took this into account in concluding that sustainable biomass could supply at least 4.9% of the UK’s total energy demand.
Realising that potential could result in savings of 18million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with around 2.7million households.
Dr Patricia Thornley, from the School of Mechanical Aerospace and Civil Engineering at Manchester University, says: “Bioenergy could play a very important part in helping the UK meet greenhouse gas reduction targets that will help to reduce the impact of climate change.
“Heating homes with wood reduces greenhouse gas emissions because plants and trees absorb carbon dioxide when they are growing and then re-release it when they are burnt for heating – so the only increase in greenhouse gas emissions are those involved in things like harvesting and processing the fuel.
“If we can combine the low-carbon wood with really efficient heating systems, that offers an efficient and cost-effective route to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions.
“The challenge for the industry now is to concentrate on developing new efficient and cost-effective technologies for biofuel production and to concentrate on getting the heating technologies deployed in the right environment.”
However, Energy believes that simply learning from our neighbours on the continent would achieve most of the projected gains.