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What about Biomass

Find out about biomass heating, woodfuel and timber use across Wiltshire. Whether you are a householder, community group or a business looking for a heating solution or land owner with some undermanaged woodland we can help you find the answers.

The cost of fossil fuels is predicted to rise significantly before the end of the decade, however, real price increases have risen, leading to some renewable heating solutions now being cheaper than coal and heating oil.

A quick cost comparison of common fuel types can be found on the Biomass Energy Centre website. Many industry bodies and commercial organisations base their calculations on this data.

With approximately 30% of Wiltshire not having access to mains gas grid there is an enormous opportunity for biomass to replace oil in many situations. A biomass boiler can be connected to virtually any existing heating system reducing energy cost, improving energy resilience and contribute to reducing carbon emissions. To see the high pressure gas network map for Wiltshire, see the National Grid website.


Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms. This generally means plant-based material but can equally apply to both animal and vegetable derived material as well.

Biomass growth takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and returns it as the material is burnt. Where timber is managed on a sustainable basis, meaning woodfuel is harvested as part of a well managed crop, new growth takes up CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by combustion of the previous harvest. By virtue of the fossil fuel used during production and transportation woodfuel is regarded as very low or even zero.

Where it acts as a substitute for coal, oil or gas, it can be used in modern fully automated boilers to heat buildings of every scale and type. Biomass boilers use locally sourced wood fuel in the form of quality assured woodchip or specially made pellets.


In response to the increasing interest in community renewable energy this comprehensive guide is aimed at communities who want to manage local woodlands to produce wood fuel, or who are planning or considering a community woodfuel heat project, and are thinking about where their fuel is going to come from.
You can find more information on the Forestry Commission website.


There are three options for woodfuel, each with different pros and cons and likely to appeal to different users, depending on their specific needs.

Wood fuel heating solutions commonly use three different types of fuel: – logs, pellets or woodchip. Some boilers are designed to use only one kind of fuel, whereas some are multi fuel.

  • Logs - Modern wood-fired boilers and stoves can burn logs in an efficient, semi-automatic manner that completely transforms the experience. You will need some space to stack and season the logs before burning.
  • Pellets and briquettes - Wood pellets and briquettes are produced through mechanically compressing wood or energy crops such as miscanthus. The natural lignin in the wood means there are no additives. You will a need space to store bagged pellets or briquettes which are fed manually into the boiler. Pellets can also be stored in a larger hopper which requires more space but automatically supplies them to the boiler for you.
  • Woodchip - Woodchip is virgin or reclaimed wood which has been processed and screened to defined standards to suit customer requirements. This is often cheaper per Kilowatt Hour (kWh) than wood pellets but more variable. It is better suited for large domestic or commercial situations. You will a need space to store bagged pellets which are fed manually into the boiler or space for a larger hopper which automatically supplies them to the boiler.
  • Pellets vs woodchip - Wood pellet and woodchip boilers are very popular and most can be automatically fed by a hopper. The two fuel types have various benefits and drawbacks so we have produced a short mini guide to compare them.

You can find more information in the download section.


Whether you are a community group; individual or business there are a number of benefits to using a biomass system.

Correctly managed, biomass is a sustainable fuel that can offer a wide range of benefits:

  • Woodfuel is a low and sometimes zero carbon fuel producing a fraction of the emissions of fossil fuels.
  • There is sufficient woodland and forestry in the UK and Wiltshire to provide locally sourced fuel on an indefinite basis, contributing to security of supply.
  • Most biomass fuels generate lower levels of atmospheric pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, a main factor in 'acid rain'. Modern biomass combustion systems are highly sophisticated, offering combustion efficiency and emission levels comparable with the best fossil fuel boilers.
  • The use of biomass fuel provides an economic incentive to manage woodland which improves biodiversity.
  • UK sourced biomass can offer local business opportunities and support the rural economy.
  • The establishment of local networks of production and usage, allows financial and environmental costs of transport to be minimized. All regions in the UK can produce biomass.

See the woodland management section and the Wiltshire council timber study.


Total costs vary considerably on a site-by site basis. In general installed cost per kilowatt decreases with increasing scale. The exception to this is log boilers which are significantly cheaper per kW than other woodfuel boilers. This is due in part to the lack of necessity for a dedicated fuel store.

The Renewable Heat Incentive from the Energy Saving Trust means that eligible customers receive quarterly tariff based payments per kilowatt of heat they generate. The scheme is spilt in to commercial and domestic. Tax free, these payments are contracted for 20 years (commercial) and 7 years (domestic) in both cases they are represent expected costs of renewable heat generation over 20 years. Tariff levels will increase in line with RPI (retail price index).


With the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) making biomass an increasingly popular fuel source here we explore some of the myths around biomass and why it could be a useful and profitable improvement for your business or home.

The financial incentives are difficult to secure and pay back takes a long time.

Return on investment is, on average, between four and seven years. Tariff rates are guaranteed for seven years for domestic and 20 years for non-domestic systems.

The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) has continually developed the Renewable Heat Incentive application process since inception in 2012.

Feedstock for biomass systems have to be manually loaded into the boiler.

Both pellets and woodchip systems are automatically fed into modern biomass boilers with vacuum or auger systems.

There are now several biomass systems, installed by Wiltshire companies, which use mobile phone technology allowing the operator to remotely control and monitor system operation.
Biomass boilers are difficult to install and maintain.

While it is true they are more technically complex than a traditional fossil fuel system and that storage space is required for the wood fuel; the installation and maintenance market in the UK is sufficiently advanced that a competent person should have little trouble.

Check the credentials of any biomass engineer on the HETAS and MCS websites.

Annual maintenance should be undertaken by a competent professional, the same as any other heating system. The operator will have to regularly empty the ash and should familiarise themselves with basic fault finding.

Biomass heating systems will emit CO2 and are environmentally unfriendly

Yes all wood burning emits carbon dioxide (CO2). However, as long as this wood comes from sustainably managed sources, where trees are re-planted to replace felled ones, net emissions are limited to transportation and production. This is described as a low or even zero carbon cycle.

Unlike traditional fossil fuels, biofuels emit no sulphur when burned and so reduce acid rain.

There are also strict governmental standards around biomass fuel production and supply associated to the RHI.

Biomass heating is a threat to woodland areas

Many organisations which manage or have an interest in the UK’s woodlands support the growing biomass industry. Wildlife and Countryside Link is a partnership concerned with the conservation, enjoyment and protection of wildlife, countryside and the marine environment. Its members include the Woodland Trust, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Wildlife Trusts and taken together they manage over 690,000 hectares of land, including woodland

In 2009, they jointly supported The Forestry Commission’s wood fuel strategy which charts the planned growth of wood fuel in the energy economy by 2020.

They believe sustainable development of a bioenergy economy can assist positive forest management while adding character and diversity to the UK’s woodlands. Moreover, these organisations urge governmental bodies to commit to the delivery of wood fuel targets through investment in appropriate infrastructure, whilst maintaining mechanisms to ensure environmental sustainability.

Wiltshire Council through our Timber Study (2014) support this, insofar that targeted evidence based support has a role in reinvigorating the rural economy while providing major gains for wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage. Both we and the Wildlife and Countryside Link advocate the use of local biomass in high efficiency modern boilers as the most appropriate end use for woodland.
You need planning permission to get a biomass boiler

Biomass boilers and stoves are generally covered by ‘permitted development’ and don’t need planning permission as long as the flue protrudes less than 1m above the roof height and is not on the home’s ‘principal elevation’. If you live in a listed building or a conservation area this may not be the case, and you should contact your local planning office.

The Planning Portal website can advise if permission may also be required for any new external structures i.e. fuel stores/plant rooms. The level of planning permission required is similar to that required for a shed/garage.

Biomass systems and their flues must meet current UK building regulations, and in designated smoke control areas (e.g. many towns and cities) only certain exempted boilers and stoves can be used.

The HETAS organisation promotes the safe and effective use of solid fuels, biomass and related technology and are an excellent source for finding more information on biomass fuels, retailers and installers.

The Renewable Energy Consumer Code was set up by the Renewable Energy Association with the aim of guaranteeing a high quality experience for consumers wishing to buy or lease small-scale energy generation systems for their homes which includes biomass.


While installing biomass systems is an important factor the ability to source locally produced fuel is an important factor. For example, in practical terms it is only economical to transport up to a distance of 30-40 miles. In a county as large as Wiltshire this lends itself to multiple processors and suppliers serving the increasing numbers of biomass systems here and elsewhere.

The forestry and Timber Study commissioned by Wiltshire Council (2014) identified that despite the high proportion of woodlands in management (57%), there is still room for growth. A further 50,000m3 of timber could be harvested each year in the county creating additional jobs in the forest management and timber harvesting supply chain, as well as within the processing sector. The Wiltshire Timber Study is

Further information on Forest management, timber harvesting and processing, supply chain and woodfuel assurance:

myForest, a free service for woodland owners, forestry businesses and wood users

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust with an active campaign to bring woods into management

Small Woodland Association - National organisation for the management of small woodlands

Wood Net - National supply and brokerage website

Woodsure - company dedicated to the promotion and understanding of assured wood fuels.

Grown in Britain - Government-backed, industry-led umbrella organisation bringing together a range of forest, woodland, manufacturing and end-user interests.


We have completed an in-depth study into the opportunities for the forestry and timber sector in Swindon and Wiltshire.

This work provides wholly new insight into the sector. While high quality timber is grown in the county and there are many experienced forestry contractors, managers and processors, only a proportion of the available timber grown in Wiltshire woodlands is harvested each year and this represents a lost opportunity in terms of rural jobs, import substitution and biodiversity improvements.

The Wiltshire timber executive summary and full report are available in the download section. Use of data from these documents is permitted but please attribute it to Wiltshire Council.

Should you wish to discuss the work of the Forestry and Timber Working Forum please contact get@wiltshire.gov.uk.

You can see more information in our Energy change and oppertuity (ECO) strategy


Energy crops are plants grown specifically for use as fuel. They offer higher output per hectare than other forms of biomass.

Although not as high profile as other forms of biomass understanding of energy crops and their abilities in the UK is well advanced. The high quality of the landscape in Wiltshire mean it has some of the highest rates of short rotation crops planning in the south west.

For further information on the potential of energy crops, Crops for Energy has produced a study looking at the potential contribution of woody energy crops to south west region in terms of: renewable energy targets, greenhouse gas reductions, economic development and wider environmental benefits.

Information on planting Miscanthus, Willow and a range of crops can be found on the Crops for Energy website.

For more information on technical and archive information, visit:


The following resources offer non-commercial advice when considering biomass.

Prepared by Buro Happold Ltd and Mercia Energy UK, (Jan 2007) the concise *Procurement guidelines for biomass heating provides assistance to planners, architects, building service engineers and other professionals with all aspects of procuring a biomass heating system from feasibility to preparing tenders and beyond.

Biomass Energy Centre website - although no longer updated, this site contains a wealth of information.
The following are relevant:

  • *Biomass heating: A guide to feasibility studies
  • *Biomass heating: A guide to medium scale woodchip and wood pellet systems
  • *Biomass heating: A guide to small lof and wood pellet systems

The Carbon Trust website have provided a detailed guide to the feasibility, installation and operation of biomass systems.

  • *Biomass heating: A practical guide for potential users

In the course of installing our own systems, we have developed the following tools which you may find useful:

  • *Wood fuel site assesment template
  • *Wood ash reuse information (aimed at gardeners and those with allotments)

* Can all be found in the Biomass download section.


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Last updated: 27 October 2016 | Last reviewed: 27 October 2016