Frequently Asked Questions
- What is biomass?
- Why use biomass as a heat source instead of gas, electricity or oil?
- Where do I start if I want to consider a biomass project?
- How do I know if it's right for me?
- How can I find grants and other funding for the project?
- How long will the project take?
- What are the air quality impacts?
- What do you use for fuel with a biomass boiler?
- How does biomass intersect with forest management and restoration?
- What's the cost comparison and justification?
- What's the long-term benefit?
- What's district energy?
What is biomass?
The term biomass describes a variety of organic materials that can be used to create energy — including forest, agriculture and plant wastes. The United States Forest Service defines woody biomass as "the trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves and other woody parts grown in a forest, woodland or rangeland environment that are the byproducts of forest management." It can also mean sawdust from wood manufacturing.
We design and install heating systems that use woody biomass as a clean and local energy source. (See more on fuel types below.)
Biomass energy is one of the few markets that can make use of low-value waste wood materials, which are typically removed from the forest as byproducts of restoration activities and/or other management operations. By removing dense forest material where wildfire is an active part of the landscape, biomass energy systems can help reduce the risk of high-severity fires and improve forest health.
Why use biomass as a heat source instead of gas, electricity or oil?
The short answer is that it's better for your community and better for the planet. It can also positively impact the local economy. For communities and businesses that have access to woody material — natural wood debris and wood waste — resources in their areas, biomass energy not only replaces fossil fuels with a renewable resource, it also increases the user's energy independence by using locally available material. Doing so keeps dollars in the local and regional economy, benefitting local forest products businesses, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) companies, electrical contractors and fuel providers.
If a gas or oil heating system is converted to wood, net carbon dioxide emissions for heating are reduced by 75–90 percent, depending upon how much of the fossil fuel use is replaced.
Where do I start if I want to consider a biomass project?
We have a tiered system for approaching a project, from feasibility studies through compressive, construction-ready designs, to construction. We can be involved in all tiers, or provide assistance for one or more steps along the way. See our project process page for more details.
How do I know if it's right for me?
We will do a comprehensive analysis of your community or facility needs and available wood-fuel resources. This will help determine if a biomass boiler project is right for you.
How can I find grants and other funding for the project?
Wisewood Energy offers a separate consulting service that can assist you with grant applications. Once an appropriate grant program has been identified, Wisewood Energy can help you with the application process.
How long will a project take?
We invest in long-term relationships with our clients, helping investigate what will work for a community, as well as outlining engineering and constructing solutions. From conception to completion, a biomass project can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, and will vary depending on the scope of the project.
What are the air quality impacts?
While the carbon neutrality of biomass energy is hotly debated, the types of projects that Wisewood Energy develops are virtually always considered to be carbon neutral, if not actually beneficial to forest health and the reduction of carbon emissions. Our projects source the byproducts of existing forest restoration activities and management, as well as industrial manufacturing processes. Instead of burning whole mature trees, Wisewood Energy biomass systems use what would otherwise have been burned in slash piles or, in some cases, left to decompose on the forest floor.
When wood is burned, it releases carbon that is naturally occurring in the carbon cycle. When the forest is managed sustainably, the carbon released from burning is naturally offset through photosynthesis, making biomass energy a carbon-neutral process over a period of time. The carbon neutrality of biomass energy is best when it replaces a carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and when the biomass system is highly efficient.
Using carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as fuel oil, propane and coal takes ancient carbon from underground and burns it for energy. The result is that carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere, with no offset over any period of time. Wisewood Energy uses state-of-the-art boiler technology that generates clean biomass heat at 80–90 percent efficiency. It is the most carbon neutral use of biomass energy available.
What do you use for fuel with a biomass boiler?
The spectrum of biomass fuel quality is defined by the size of the particles being burned and the moisture and ash content of the particles. We select a boiler to match the local fuel source.
- Hog fuel: This is lightly processed and consists of tree bark, limbs and tops collected as a byproduct of forest restoration and management activities — wood that is otherwise considered “unmarketable” and would typically be burned or disposed of in landfills — which is considered low quality.
- Select or “clean” wood chips: These are in the middle of the quality spectrum and have been processed to control for size and moisture content.
- Compressed wood pellets: Wood pellets or other compressed fuels tend to be produced from manufacturing residuals. They are highly refined, making them a more expensive fuel choice. They are uniform and easy to manage and are considered at the highest end of the biomass quality spectrum.
- Cord wood: This option operates much like a wood stove. Logs and chunks of wood can be burned as fuel.
The appropriate fuel source must be matched to the boiler choice. Large boilers can burn almost anything, while smaller boilers generally require refined fuel. The type of boiler used — and subsequently the type of fuel required — is decided upon the most readily available fuel source, the most beneficial type of fuel processing and the project objectives.
How does biomass intersect with forest management and restoration?
There is a growing understanding that healthy forests — particularly in areas where fire plays an important role in shaping the landscape — can benefit from some level of active management to reduce heavy fuel loadings in the form of small diameter trees and other woody debris. This biomass material has a low market value, and removing it can be very costly, making restoration efforts prohibitively expensive. Biomass energy is one of the few markets that can make use of this low value material, which is typically removed as a byproduct of restoration activities and/or other management operations.
What's the cost comparison and justification?
When we compare costs of biomass systems to existing systems, we work with clients to consider the following:
- Existing fueling and heating bills
- Grants, loans, tax credits and other opportunities to lower engineering and capital costs
- The availability of local fuel and wood resources
- Its contribution to energy independence
- The opportunity to lower carbon footprint
- Stabilizing fuel bills by minimizing reliance on volatile fossil fuel prices
What's the long-term benefit?
The long-term benefits of biomass stretch beyond getting cheaper heat. To put it simply, our heat and energy solutions can save you money over time, stabilize energy costs, improve local forest health and management, keep more dollars in the community and increase your energy independence.
What's district energy?
In a district energy system, hot water or steam is produced in a centrally located boiler, then piped underground to heat individual buildings within the network. Generating energy at one central location reduces management costs while improving efficiency. Heat customers no longer have to worry about financing their own systems, procuring their own fuel or maintaining their own boilers — they just pay for the heat. Overall, the system has a lower environmental footprint than if every building was responsible for its own heat.