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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
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    GBP-Keith wrote
    I think we need to just get to work on sorting out which are good examples of biomass use and which are not.

    I aggree, and in my opinion large scale biomass burning such as power stations with the local impact and transport demands (either road rail or ship) that this involves is not and never will be a 'good example' of biomass use.
    • CommentTimeOct 23rd 2010
    Posted By: Peter_in_HungaryI aggree, and in my opinion large scale biomass burning such as power stations with the local impact and transport demands (either road rail or ship) that this involves is not and never will be a 'good example' of biomass use.

    I totally agree that 'best practice' should be applied where practicable, but should not be considered the be all and end all.
    There is an economic concept called 'division of labour', this seems very apt when discussing biomass. If we as a nation need biomass for energy do not have enough land area to spare but we are extremely good at processing goods (or develop a product or service) that has value that allows us to sell that product or service in exchange for biomass from a country that has plenty of spare land but does not have the will or expertise to develop a product or service that we offer then there is no reason not to trade.
    Being 'green' is not all about buying local and not moving goods. Trade stimulates inventions and niche markets, constraint of trade isolates a country, ask a Zimbabwean or a Cuban what they think of being self sufficient.
    GBP-Keith wrote, I think we need to work on sorting out which are good examples of biomass use and which are not. Agreed but what is our criteria for choice.
    I note Greenbuilding news reports action to reduce waste in construction industry and WPIF urge action to reduce burning of waste timber (www.makewoodwork.co.uk), UK waste wood availability has already been reduced from 10.5 to 4.6 million tonnes to cover panel making, animal bedding, re-use and recycling. The waste to energy operators are already diverting feedstock from above preferred uses for burning in powerplants with only 15% operating efficiency and creating hazardous air pollution 250 times higher than equivalent fossil fuel i.e. 1263g of sulphur dioxide/ MWh compared with 5g detailed for gas .
    At domestic level there is need for serious scrutiny of inversion characteristics with biomass combustion and fine particle pollution created with health impacts locally.
    What is a good use for biomass? Could it be conversion to transport fuel rather than direct combustion,this would appear to remove uncertanties surrounding contamination and efficiency of burn.
    • CommentAuthorGBP-Keith
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2010 edited
    Most forum users would probably agree that a good use for biomass is domestic and small scale heating. I and many other could, I am sure, provide adequate practical evidence to prove that it is a clean, efficient and sustainable fuel. Lets not confuse the new-wave of boilers with ad-lib consumption of damp timber by people topping up coal fires to save on their coal bill.

    So to start:

    Yes to high efficiency boilers with accumulators at domestic and small (locally sustainable) commercial scale
    Yes to high efficiency wood burning stoves in energy efficient homes
    Yes to the encouragement of others to follow good examples of wood fuel consumption

    No to the use of wood in old-fashioned and inefficient appliances for the purpose of cutting down on coal or solid fuel consumption.
    No to the the overnight burning of wood with the stove closed down
    No to power stations that require more fuel than is available and therefore find themselves burning secondary fuels.
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2010
    Good start Keith, agree on all points except the last one as I am not sure exactly what you mean by 'available' and 'secondary fuels'. Co-firing may be the only method of effectively burning some biomass (seaweeds).
    GPB-Keith- agree with your reservations on use of biomass combustion but experience places doubt on clean energy claims. Having witnessed damage caused by using woodburners in unlined chimneys, being aware of need for increased lined chimney cleaning requirement due to pollution caused by biomass burning and aware of local degradation of air quality due to emissions inversion problems. Note Southall decision to reject application for biofuelled CHP due to air quality degradation, a decision backed by UK Gov inspector.
    I agree we need urgent education on location and use of woodburners to mitigate damage, they have a role to play in energy provision but are sadlywide open to abuse with serious health and environmental consequences.
    Steamy tea- I agree co-firing would appear to be best use as it directly replaces coal but importing low grade biomass thousands of miles must defy logic and due diligence. Biomass combustion is shown to be dirtier than all other alternatives except coal in the comparitive study published by UK.Gov Sep 2006 a concern confirmed by Gov report on renewables published June 2009.
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    I agree that biomass is not as clean as it could be, but this is down to the combustion techniques and equipment. With the right legislation, monitoring and enforcement in place this shoudl not really be an issue in the long term.
    Transport is often a red herring though, it is the overall energy use/embedded CO2 that is important not really where the fuel comes from. It may seem counter intuitive that using a large ship, running on bunker oil must be extremely polluting/energy wasteful but if there is no alternative except a worse one (coal or oil for electrical generation) then we shoudl surely use the alternative until market matures and efficiencies kick in. We all want this to happen today but as the electrical generation industry has to look at the long term, greater than 50 years and maybe over 100 years, it is very early days.
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    Transport energy (CO2 and £) costs seem remarkably low for biofuel arriving by sea...


    • CommentAuthorowlman
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    Posted By: SteamyTea
    I agree that biomass is not as clean as it could be, but this is down to the combustion techniques and equipment.

    Correct ST; I've been amazed at the clean burn on my log gas boiler, fire chamber temps. in excess of 1000 C. The hot gasses then with fan assistance, exit via a convoluted route through the heat exchanger tubes before exiting the flue. I cleaned the flue in Summer after nearly 1600 hours burning and barely a dusting on the inside. These machines are NOT to be confused with the bog standard bonfire in a box.
    • CommentAuthorGBP-Keith
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    May I suggest that we 'the forum' collectively put together a paper outlining the do's and the don'ts of biomass and put it in our fundamentals thread or even submit it to the relevant authorities to assist their future plans. We have, as a group, perhaps the most practical (and dare I say scientific) experience that can probably be found in one place so we should bring it together for the cause.

    Who fancies writing the draft?

    The rest of us could put together case studies of our 'real-world' practical experiences. to attach to it.
    • CommentAuthorgcar90
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010 edited
    I think Brianwilson is bang on the money with his comments. Burning biomass which even when "dry" still contains a lot of water is a poor fuel with a comparatively low energy density for power generation.

    There should be great concern about the inability to regulate operation of domestic woodstoves - ultimately people can stick what they want on there and if it's dark and no one sees the smoke they think they have got away with it, at least for the time being. Even in the latest "high efficiency" stoves they don't become clean burning until high temperatures are reached to ensure the smoke is mostly burnt off, start up will always be very polluting. Due to the low energy density of wood, several cycles maybe required to maintain heat over the day which means yet more dirty start ups are required albeit not from stone cold. I think air pollution from biomass burning is a greater immediate threat that the c02 on a local basis.
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    I think that is a good idea, not sure how it will actually work. Can you make a thread with links to separate topics on the issue then we can comment on a separate thread within our specialist knowledge. Then when there is a pool of knowledge worry about editing it.
    • CommentAuthorgcar90
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010 edited
    Actually, outside using the biomass material as a material, a better use for biomass would be Torrefaction and Fast Pyrolysis to make higher quality, higher value fuels: ie bio-coal & bio-oil - better energy density and cleaner burning.

    Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrefaction


    Both these processes can be done nearer where the resource is based and save carting energy poor water laden stuff all over the place.
    May I also "stir the pot" with respec to growing willow for biomass.
    The money is made ( or has been here in N I ) by getting paid a fairly obscene amount of money to fertilise the willow with sewage sludge, the coppiced willow is then almost a "byproduct".
    Ditto for an operation by deleted (unsure of name) Woodlands growing conifers up in the mountains, an shocking amount of shit/sludge being buried in deep trenches, causing much local dissent
    Which is fine but there should perhaps be more transparency.
    • CommentAuthorowlman
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010
    By: gcar.
    start up will always be very polluting.

    I agree this is the most polluting time of the burn cycle, but with accumulator storage, I have about 190-200 burns per year depending on weather. I takes the boiler about 10-15 minutes of perhaps a 6 hour burn to reach operating temp. and smoke is only visible for about 5 minutes. Contrast this with the constant cycling of, for instance oil boilers. In my, off the gas grid, village. The smell of kerosine often pervades the air especially in inversion weather conditions.

    Posted By: GBP-Keith May I suggest that we 'the forum' collectively put together a paper outlining the do's and the don'ts of biomass and put it in our fundamentals thread or even submit it to the relevant authorities to assist their future plans. We have, as a group, perhaps the most practical (and dare I say scientific) experience that can probably be found in one place so we should bring it together for the cause.

    Keith, As, I think you may have already alluded, as a starter we could categorise biomass useage. for instance; Large industrial scale, small local plants, industrial waste by product use, eg joiney works, farms. domestic boilers, and room heaters. There will be others. Some things will be common, but not all. I think it fair to say that none of us think biomass heating is perfect in every instance, but then neither is gas, electricity, or oil, A pragmatic approach is needed.
    Orangemannot- DEFRA detail willow requires minimum 600mm of summer rainfall and sewage sludge with 95% water content is used as supplement. The pathogen pollution causes concern, it can infiltrate any aquifer where it is known to travel large distances destroying potable water extraction. Willow is some 55% water when cut requiring energy input to drive out water and convert to woodchip. Willow woodchip can present a serious health hazard due to spores created in storage.
    Damon HD- Canadian timber suppliers detail predicted 48% energy loss in processing and transport of biomass to EU powerplants, energy content is reduced by proposal to import woodchip which is understood to be 19% air . 1 ship in 5 wasted ! Shipping emissions are detailed to be 50-70 times higher per tonne/km than HGV transport mainly due to high sulphur content heavy oil usage. We should compare impact of importing low energy content biomass of uncertain quality with pest and disease risk against high energy density LNG transported in ships fuelled by NG.
    I note a press report today describing particulate pollution as the silent killer and detailing need for reduction. This is a fundamental concern in biomass combustion with cleanburn appliances known to create fine particle pollution 1000 times higher than eqivalent gas. We are failing to apply BAT at industrial level, I understand we export superior WESP filter systems for mitigation of biomass particulates but use bag filters in UK, Continental plants are known to use ceramic filters with 3 fold reduction in fine particle release.
    There are many concerns surrounding our use of biomass combustion in energy provision and it is hoped a reasoned argument can be made to protect health and environment from avoidable impact.
    • CommentAuthorGBP-Keith
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010 edited
    You are bringing a lot of facts to the thread Brian, thanks for that because it is really improving the debate. However,it would be very useful to know your professional interest or are you just a concerned individual?

    Perhaps, and because of your knowledge/experience, you would be good enough to post us a few links to reinforce the arguments that you are putting forward.

    I have just done a bit of googling regarding pollution from biomass and although I have not spent long on the research, I am failing to find much to back up some of your claims. The best I have been able to find so far are websites that discuss air pollution (in a biomass context) from forest fires, deforestation, disgruntled neighbours of biomass plant, and much of that is about 5 years old. However, I do have a neighbour who's job it is to gather pollution information from right across the UK so I will go and pester him for some data on how things are going pollution-wise in the UK at the moment.
    Page of information about wood burning and PM 2.5 emissions (PM 2.5 are particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter that are particularly bad for health and mostly associated with wood burning)


    Paul in Montreal
    • CommentAuthorJoiner
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Why is North America so ahead with legislation? I doubt whether this will be echoed in the UK, where passion isn’t a strong point…


    Although what do you do with your £900 wood stove (at 2000 prices), bought because you thought you were going ‘greener’ by moving away from coal when you’re scared witless by things like this…


    And how far are the warnings about the need for caution going to be heeded when you’ve got this sort of thing to contend with, scattering complacency all over the place…


    This is what the general public is looking at for advice on what to buy. This next one has no mention of the particulates issue in the ‘downsides’ section.


    All the formulae and tables and graphs in the world don’t help in the decision whether to go the wood-burning route and certainly not in the selection of a particular stove.

    You get some help on sites like this…


    …but if you’re not in a smokeless-zone it’s fine. Oh? Why not?

    And on this site a particularly cynical piece of whitewash…

    “Because we are unsure of the effects of smoke particles we actively seek to promote the stoves that provide the most efficient clean burn technology.” Pardon? You’re unsure of the effects of smoke particles and yet claim to be a professional in the business of selling environmentally friendly stoves?

    Although they attempt to redeem themselves with: “The fact that the quantity of particles emitted depends very much on how you use your stove is a completely different matter.” Really. Well, that lets you off the hook then.

    And if anyone cares to follow up on this, you’ll see how far I had to go on Google to find anything remotely helpful on the particulates issue if I was looking to buy a stove and was ignorant of the issue (not everyone reads GBF). Plenty of warnings, although general and, as Keith says, aged and either about cigarette smoking or forest fires.

    Perhaps we should all move to North America. Could always sell the stove to buy the tickets with. Any buyers?
    • CommentAuthorowlman
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Yes joiner, and all that rhetoric has to be laid alongside the USA's coal fired electricity generation. Second only to China with all the same problems and more. Open cast mining, radioactive particulates, acid rain etc etc. and 36% of the USA carbon emmisions, last time I looked. It seems some folks can't see the wood for trees (ha), You move if you want.
    • CommentAuthorgcar90
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Just been to an very small industrial estate and after getting out the car I could smell something a bit iffy, looked round and particulates were pouring from a small smoke stack of nearby joinery. I was quite some distance away but it was quite pungent indeed.
    The amount of pollution knocked out by these things is highly dependent on user skill and quality/dryness of the feedstock meaning it is impossible to get a virtually guaranteed clean burn even after a smoky startup on anything less than a gasification burner.

    Owlman has obviously got a decent bit of kit and perhaps his location means that start up smoke does not affect anyone near by. Bit of smoke is probably not desirable but still tolerable in the countryside but not in urban/suburban areas.
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Just been doing an academic search and and a lot of the results seem to be on the face of it negative.

    What would be the best way to upload them all?
    • CommentAuthorJoiner
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Give it to a student as a research project?:wink:
    • CommentAuthorbillt
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    There's this one http://www.3sc.net/airqual/mapping.html.

    Christchurch has a bit of a problem with wood smoke pollution.
    GBP-Keith- My background covers experience in power industry and other industries involving pollution control, my experience in plant automation and programming computer control systems required good working knowledge of various processes. I am now a retired but a very concerned individual.
    Joiner- my sympathy is with you, after moving to a home with good access to clean timber I set about logging and storage of wood as recommended then researched for cleanest woodburner which was installed in accordance with regulations. Performance was great with warm home thro' winter 24/7 but became aware of emissions inversion problem local to our property. With children in adjacent properties and further research highlighting impact of wood combustion on developing respiratory systems we felt obliged
    to make difficult and costly decision to replace woodburner with high efficiency gas appliance.
    We thought possible cause of problem was our bungalow but a near neighbour with 3 storey property is experiencing emissions inversion from woodburner. I understand a basic requirement is the fluestack should be more than 5 times height from any adjacent structure more than 50% fluestack height in order to avoid downwash problems with trees being a particular problem.
    Keith reference links I have to admit ignorance on procedure but will try and educate myself in the art,Nick Grant and Alan Clarke have published interesting paper headed Biomass=a burning issue (Biomass%20-%20A Burning%20Issues%20-%20published%2020101pdf(SECURED))
    WHO(World health organisation) have confirmed fine particles as the most hazardous air pollutant so due diligence should prioritise mitigation plus use our knowledge and influence to avoid creation by use of BAT.
    We should also scrutinise NOX and SO2 burden per unit of power produced.
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    Steamy Tea- Excellent work will certainly keep me occupied for a while checking data provided. It is hoped the brains studying this forum will be able to cut thro' myths and spin surrounding biomass combustion to try and ensure future use minimises impact on health and environment whilst making best use of resources.
    The argument of carbon neutrality is lost and it is important that total emissions impact is considered in comparison with alternative energy sources. Going back to basics we know a tree planted in certain soils requires 10 yrs of growth to sequestrate the CO2 released from the soil in the planting process.
    The current media hype surrounding the "wow" factor of a woodburner in "homes" programmes is combining with forums recommending scavenging for timber to cause further concerns, Pallets have unknown history of contamination and encouraging rapid increase in woodburning with inadequate indigineous feedstock will mean wood fuel will be the most volatile energy source with people locked into long term financial investment . The decision of the previous Gov to financially encourage farmers to move from wheat production to dedicated biomass in order to provide additional 60,000 ha by 2013 will only satisfy partial needs for 1 large powerplant. It will also take away food plus feedstock for ethanol production.
    I have mentioned NOX concerns in previous comment because we know climate impact is some 300 times higher than CO2 and operational data from a waste wood combustion plant details NOX emissions 11 times higher than fossil fuel plus SO2 burden 250 times higher per unit of power . Biomass pollution contains all ingredients for tropospheric ozone, acid rain, secondary particulate formation etc. all bad news for health and plant life. Straw chlorine content is shown to be 20 times higher than alternative biomass, chlorine is an indicator of dioxin creation. Compare boiler heat exchanger life, fossil fuel 100,000 hrs, wood 40,000, straw 20,000hrs which highlights corrosive content of combustion gases.
    I understand Swedish Authorities were conducting study into health impact of biomass combustion but sadly I have been unable to access any findings , can anyone help please?
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010 edited
    Thanks Brian

    Shall have a loot at the university library and see what I can find about the Swedes (used to call 'country folk Swedes when I lived in Buckinghamshire, tappy lot up there)


    Brian, have you just put yourself forward as an editor for Keith on this issue?
    • CommentAuthorGBP-Keith
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010 edited
    Brianwilson said: "but became aware of emissions inversion problem local to our property."

    How did you become aware of this Brian? Perhaps your property had poor chimney arrangement or unfortunate localised downdraughts.

    Could users please refrain from using the word 'hype' liberally in their postings please. We should all remember that forums are the perfect place to spread 'hype' so by referring to it we are perhaps spreading our own particular brand it and it is unhelpful.
    • CommentAuthorGBP-Keith
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010 edited
    I think I detect nimby. like with the wind turbines debate.

    For a bit of fun - which one of the following are you? I'm 4/5 because I'm worried about the future but with occasional pangs for 1!

    1. Some of us have tried living with woodburning and found it a little too burdensome. What with all the extra labour and time involved, it's a little too taxing on our busy lives. An excuse to revert back to good old easy gas street would be wonderful. I'll let others (in another country or in the future) pay the price for my consumption."

    2. Others of us are frightened to death of manual labour such as chopping wood to keep warm so campaign to rubbish the concept.

    3. Others among us want all the wood all to ourselves so are happy to scare the masses away to protect our little niche.

    4. some of us want freedom from interference, to live our lives sustainably.

    5. Some of us just like burning stuff!

    Until you have really tried living with wood, gas never seemed so clean and such a perfect a choice!

    The future is going to be tough folks.

    NIMBY |ˈnimbē| (also Nimby)
    noun ( pl. NIMBYs)
    acronym for not in my backyard, referring to those who object to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous in their own neighborhood, such as a landfill or hazardous waste facility. (or woodburners. ed.)
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