Biomass Boiler Ireland: How Do They Work in 2024?

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Woman pointing at a biomass boiler

Biomass boilers in Ireland: Are they the right sustainable heating solution for you? Discover how switching from a conventional boiler can reduce your carbon footprint and potentially lower energy bills. This guide delves into the pros and cons of biomass boilers, aiding your decision-making for home heating.

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What Is a Biomass Boiler?

A biomass boiler uses fuel developed from organic materials, such as wood and plants, to produce heat. This heat can then be used to warm our homes and even generate electricity. Instead of burning gas or oil to produce heat and increasing carbon emissions , a biomass boiler combusts sustainably sourced materials. No matter if these materials are sourced from plants or animals, they’ve all absorbed chemical energy from the sun.

The following are the most common fuels for a biomass boiler:

  • Wood (logs, chips or pellets)
  • Straw
  • Animal waste
  • Agricultural waste
  • Crops

Even though a range of fuels can be used, different biomass boiler types require different biomass fuels. If you use the wrong type of biomass fuel, it could result in the following:

  • Safety issues
  • Boiler damage
  • Boiler inefficiency
  • Excessive emissions
  • Blockage in the feed hopper

Biomass boilers tend to be much larger than other types of boilers. This is because the boiler needs to be large enough to hold a large amount of fuel, such as wood pellets. You may also choose to install an automatic feed hopper, which would take up even more room.

What Is an Automatic Feed Hopper?
This hopper stores wood pellets or other biomass materials that are automatically fed into the boiler when needed. This makes it so you don’t need to refuel the boiler very often.

What Different Biomass Boiler Types Are There?

Let’s have a look at the most common types of biomass boilers.

  1. Fully Automated Biomass Boiler
    With this type of biomass boiler, the wood is automatically fed from a hopper (or sometimes a silo) into the boiler’s combustion chamber.
  2. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Biomass Boiler
    CHP boilers generate both heat and electricity. These are more suitable for larger businesses.
  3. Semi-Automated Biomass Boiler (Residential)
    These boilers are smaller in size and designed for residential properties. Their appearance resembles a standard log burner and they have recently become much more popular in smaller homes.
  4. Semi-Automated Biomass Boiler (Industrial)
    These boilers come with a hopper that can hold a reasonable amount of fuel. It will, however, need to be manually replenished more often. These boilers are cheaper than fully automated units.
  5. Log-Fed Biomass Boiler
    These units are appropriate for those with access to firewood. They can be rather time consuming as they must be fed by hand. They are generally cheaper than automated boilers.
  6. Wood Stove
    Besides an open fire, this is the most basic form of a biomass heating unit. It is, however, much more efficient than an open fire and can be used to heat the whole home and provide hot water.

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How Does a Biomass Boiler Work?

solid fuel

A biomass boiler works by burning biological materials, such as wood or crops, just like our ancestors have done for thousands of years. We break down the process of how a biomass boiler turns these materials into heat below.

  1. Biomass materials are fed (either automatically or by hand) into a combustion chamber where they are burned.
  2. This burning process produces hot gas and air.
  3. The hot gas and air pass through a flue.
  4. They then pass through a heat exchanger. This transfers the heat to the water used in the central heating system. Any excess heat is stored in a thermal tank.

If you have a manual hopper, you will need to refuel it every one to two days during the winter months and every two to three weeks during the summer.

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How Efficient Are Biomass Boilers?

When properly installed and maintained, biomass boilers have an efficiency of around 80% to 90%. With an efficiency rating of 90%, around 10 cents are wasted for every euro spent on heating. With an efficiency rating of 80%, around 20 cents are wasted, even it reduces your carbon footprint.

For comparison, electric boilers have an efficiency rating of 99 to 100% and gas boilers typically have a maximum efficiency rating of 93%. Biomass boilers also use a lot less water than combi boilers.

Are Biomass Boilers Cheaper To Run?

Biomass boilers are typically cheaper to run than other types of boilers, especially if you buy in bulk. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the average cost of running a biomass boiler if you buy a bulk delivery of wood pellets is 11.66c per kWh.

You can see how the price of wood compares to other fuel types in the following table.

Fuel

Cost

Wood pellets (bulk delivery)

21.87 cents/kWh

Wood pellets (bagged)

24.32 cents/kWh

Wood briquettes

38.13 cents/kWh

Electricity

8.49 - 29.14 cents/kWh

Natural gas

11.51 - 15.88 cents/kWh

Gas oil

16.86 - 17.21 cents/kWh

Kerosene

17.17 - 17.21 cents/kWh

Source: SEAI
Last Updated: 21/11/2023

How Much Does a Biomass Boiler Cost?

For a domestic property, the cost of a biomass boiler generally ranges from €3,000 to €8,000. The cost of the biomass boiler depends on the following factors:

  • The type of biomass boiler
  • The fuel type
  • The storage size

Before buying a biomass boiler, you should request quotes from different companies to compare prices. In addition to the boiler itself, you should also get a quote for how much it will cost to deliver and install the biomass boiler. You might be able to get an indirect boiler grant from the SEAI.

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How Long Does a Biomass Boiler Last?

Biomass boilers are designed to last around 20 years. High-quality electric and gas boilers will typically last 15 to 25 years and an oil boiler usually lasts 15 to 20 years.

Regular maintenance will help your biomass boiler last longer. You should get a standard boiler service every year (or every 2,500 running hours) and an extended service every two years. A service can also help you with bleeding your boiler and will protect you from accidents such as carbon monoxide leaks.

What Are the Advantages of Biomass Boilers?

Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons of having a biomass boiler so that you can decide if they are worth it. Although they have great renewable credentials, does their high upfront cost akin to condensing boilers justify the savings?

Pros

  • Renewable energy source.
  • Suitable for off-grid locations.
  • Utilises waste wood effectively.
  • Less susceptible to price increases compared to gas, oil, and electricity.

Cons

  • Requires more space due to larger size.
  • Needs storage space for fuel.
  • Increased maintenance requirements.
  • Releases CO2, contributing to climate change.
  • Higher upfront costs than oil, gas, and electric boilers.

Still not sure if it’s worth getting a biomass boiler? Head to our guide on home heating systems to compare the different types and decide which is the best option for your home.

The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.