Biomass heating and CHP systems can make a valuable contribution to reducing urban CO2, if the equipment is selected carefully, and the full environmental impact assessed, according to Environmental Protection UK and the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Air emissions of concern, mainly particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), can be significantly reduced with careful technology selection, high-quality biomass fuels – such as wood pellets – and ensuring that the design, implementation and maintenance of the equipment is of a high standard.

“Like any energy technology, biomass has a number of pros and cons in terms of its impact on the environment,” says Ed Dearnley, policy officer at Environmental Protection UK. “Air quality, transport and climate change impacts need to be considered, as well as the area planned for development. What is suitable in a rural area may not be in a major city with poor air quality.”

Gideon Richards, head of heating and cooling at the REA, adds: “Biomass heating and CHP for urban areas provides a major opportunity for those wishing to reduce their carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels – if carried out sensitively.

“It is important, however, that the industry does its part in providing information and support to council officers and, likewise, they do not reject biomass projects on the basis of assumed potential accumulated affects. These issues should be managed at a more macro level.”

Many new building developments are now subject to planning requirements demanding that a proportion of their energy needs are provided from renewable sources, sometimes known as the Merton rule. The developing zero-carbon homes agenda is also a key driver for the use of renewable technologies in buildings.

City concerns

Often the most cost-effective way of providing this is through relatively small biomass heating systems, or combined heat and power. In recent months, however, concerns have been raised that too many of these units in urban areas may have a negative effect on air quality.

A recent report by London councils concluded that a large increase in the number of small biomass burning units in London could mean significant increases in levels of air pollutant PM10. However, the study focused upon a very ambitious increase in the number of biomass units in a city with existing air quality problems.

Both Environmental Protection UK and the REA want to ensure that planning decisions for biomass heating and CHP are based on sound assessments and quality guidance, and that the framework is in place to support the development of a responsible biomass industry.

Both parties are now working with other industry stakeholders to develop and promote practical advice and guidance for developers who are considering how to meet renewable energy requirements, and also for local authorities to assist with their planning functions.

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