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Biomass: At Home

Although you may not be aware of it, biomass is used for heating, cooking and electricity in homes all over the world. Wood pellets and wood chips can be used to fuel boilers in much the same way that gas and electricity can. Biogas, the end product of one of two possible harvesting processes, can be as clean as the normal gas we use on an everyday basis and is particularly useful in rural areas where gas lines and mains electricity may not have reached. Biofuels such as biodiesel, meanwhile, can be used for powering generators or as fuel for cars and other engine-powered machines. For remote communities, farmers and environmentally-aware citizens the reliability and affordability of these three biomass-fuelled technologies has led to a huge surge in interest, with many people now working to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Biogas

Biogas is a blanket term used to describe several gases produced from biological matter such as wood, garbage and sewage. There are two processes for creating biogas, anaerobic digestion (which produces carbon dioxide and methane) and the gasification of wood (which garners hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide). Anaerobic digestion is the most commonly used of the two techniques in domestic situations, and this is mainly due to the fact that digesters can be set up easily and can use just about any sort of biological fuel, including manure, garbage and waste water.

A basic digester consists of a concrete-lined in-ground pit (the deeper and wider the pit the more matter it can contain and therefore the more gas it can produce) complete with piping that leads from the pit to the point of use (a stove, a boiler, and so forth). The pit needs to be able to be completely sealed as the main requirement of anaerobic digestion is that there is a lack of oxygen. The pit should be filled with waste and then sealed off, allowing the microbes in the waste to begin the digestion process. A common source of waste for use in the digesters is cow manure - in India the use of cow manure creates what is known as 'Gober Gas'.

Water Heating

Whilst biogas technology is certainly promising there are some limitations to the situations in which it can feasibly used in a domestic setting. Many people do not have the space or the resources to fuel anaerobic digesters.

Fortunately there is another technology that accomplishes the same tasks as biogas but is much easier (and cleaner) to use in the home: wood-chip and wood-pellet fuelled boilers. Pellets and chips can be made from by-products of the milling and construction industries, meaning that they recycle what would otherwise have been sent to landfill. The biomass boilers and stoves which take the wood fuel are manufactured to be energy efficient and clean - the flues contain a number of filters that reduce harmful chemicals and airborne residue from escaping into the atmosphere. The majority of new wood boilers are suitable for use in Smoke Control Areas as marked out by the British government's Clean Air Act.

Moreover, because the boilers can be used for heating both internal space and water and the stoves can be used for cooking the incorporation of both into the average home can cut reliance on mains gas and drastically reduce your annual electricity bill. In the present climate of increasing energy costs, installing a biomass boiler can make a real difference to domestic energy costs.

Biomass Generators And Engines

Both the technologies discussed above, biogas and wood-fuel, can also be used to run generators and engines. Biogas, if compressed to industry standards, can be used in normal gas-fuelled cars. Wood-fuel, meanwhile, can power wood gas generators which, when attached to internal combustion engines, can provide a fossil-fuel free way of running your car. If you are looking for an affordable and reliable way to power your car or generator in an emergency or back-up situation, however, a third option, that of biodiesel, is probably preferable simply because it can be stored easily and used for any diesel-fuelled engine.