The A to Z of Biomass


Biomass is a major source of green electricity production. But what exactly is biomass? The term encompasses a variety of organic materials, from wood chips to animal meal, used to produce electricity and heat. What are its benefits? What place does it occupy in the market for heating networks? Focus on an economic and ecological energy.

The biomass ecosystem

More than any other renewable energy source, biomass forms a virtuous cycle. This term includes wood and wood by-products (industrial waste), residues and waste from agriculture (straw, fodder) and reusable food and household organic waste. These materials are converted into energy by burning (wood heat), anaerobic digestion (biogas) or chemical processing (biofuel).

The principle is identical regardless of the organic source: the process features recovery, transformation and use of energy, all while revitalizing the source of production. To be considered as clean energy (carbon neutral), the use of biomass must meet certain criteria:

– A geographically close source to limit transport needs;

– Consumption that adapts to the capabilities of the source;

– A process for renewing the raw material (reforestation, planting, recycling …).

In consequence, biomass is not suitable for all heating networks, but it is a source of ecological and economic energy that promotes job creation and development of the countryside.


Biomass: a developing source of green energy

The first Grenelle of the Environment in France (2007) increased the development of district heating systems using biomass (98% of energy wood). The commitments were ambitious, aiming to:

– Double the share of energy produced from biomass by 2020 to bring it to 850 TWh.

– Reach a production of 300 ktoe heat in 2010 and 1200 ktoe in 2020 for biomass heating networks;

Projects involving boilers and biomass cogeneration have also increased under the impulse of the Heat Fund, introduced in 2008 and managed by ADEME.

According to the latest survey on the 411 listed heating networks in France, carried out by SNCU in 2013, 239 networks, or 58%, used biomass (against 150 in 2009). After natural gas and energy recovery plants, biomass was the third source of production for heating networks (3026 GWh).


Biomass networks in France

Biomass heating networks abound in France. Among the most important of these is the wood boiler in Cergy-Pontoise which was commissioned in 2009 and has a 25MW capacity which can heat 4000 homes.

In 2014, Dijon installed three wood boilers with a power capacity of 30 MW. The boilers currently supply a university hospital, schools, public buildings and soon two eco-districts (Heudelet and Jardin des Maraîchers).

The Vittel biomass boiler accounts for 61% of the heating and hot water needs of its subscribers (2473 residences) in 2014. Finally, the second largest heating network in France, Grenoble, also uses biomass!

With projects underway in Bagnolet and Arras among others, biomass continues to seduce customers and replace fossil fuels (natural gas, fuel oil) in French heating networks.

Image source: pixabay (Louanna)

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