Biomass renewable heating markets

Biomass in many different forms, including the solid, liquid or gaseous forms, has been used to produce thermal energy for residential and industrial heating applications. Solid biomass has been burned directly in both traditional stoves and more modern appliances so as to provide heat for cooking. Biomass has been providing renewable thermal energy for residential heating and water heating. It can also be used on larger scales to provide heating for industrial and commercial premises. Biomass can be used to provide cither low-temperature thermal energy for heating and drying applications or high-temperature process heat. Various forms of biomass thermal energies could also be со-generated to produce electricity via combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Bio-heat energy can also be distributed from larger production facilities by district energy systems to provide heating and cooling to residential, commercial and industrial customers.

The traditional uses of biomass for generating heat have involved the burning of wood biomass or charcoal as well as animal dung and other agricultural residues. These have traditionally been burnt in simple but inefficient stoves or burning devices. In recent years, there have been significant improvements in developing more advanced and cleaner burning stoves for both homes and industrial applications.

The consumptions of fuel wood for traditional biomass energy uses have been remaining relatively stable since 2010. Globally, some two billion cubic metres (m3) of fuel wood have been used annually, which is equivalent to some 15 EJ of heat energy. The largest shares of fuel wood, dung and agricultural residues have been consumed in the emerging economies of Asia, South America and Africa. The production of fuel charcoal for use in cooking in the urban areas has also increased. In recent years, the charcoal growth rates have slowed down with various new municipal environmental and pollution guidelines issued by different municipal governments, in various emerging economies and developed countries, so as to reduce environmental pollution.

The growth of bioenergy for heating has also slowed down in recent years. Bioenergy uses in industry have also not increased in recent years. The main bioenergy industrial uses have been in various bio-based industries, such as the pulp and paper, timber, and food and tobacco sectors. The cement industry has also been using larger volumes of waste biofuels.

The principal regions for industrial bioenergy and bio-heat applications have been the emerging economies in Asia and South America. In Asia, bioenergy applications have included bagassei, rice husk, straw and cotton stalk applications. In South America, particularly in Brazil, biomass from agricultural and wood residues has been used to produce bio-heat for the food, tobacco, and pulp and paper industries. Bioenergy from bagasse has also been used in the sugar and alcohol industries.

North America has been the next largest user of bioenergy after Asia and South America. In Canada, 22% of all industrial heating has been provided by bioenergy. A good example is the use of bioenergy heating in the pulp and paper industry. Looking ahead, there have been some signs of reduced bioenergy uses in North America. At the same time, there are also signs of stronger growths in Asia. These are reflecting changes in production patterns in various key industrial sectors, especially in the pulp and paper sector.

In the buildings and residential sectors, the USA has been the largest consumer of modern biomass for residential heating. The US market for wood biomass and pellet boilers has remained stable, despite the strong competition from the low fossil fuel prices. Europe has been the largest consumer of bio-heat by region worldwide. EU member states have promoted renewable heat in order to meet their mandatory national targets under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Finland and Poland have been the largest producers and users in Europe. In Eastern Europe, the market for bioenergy in district heating has continued to grow. A good example is that in Lithuania wood chips have overtaken natural gas as the major fuel for district heating schemes. It is important to note that in the EU the increased uses of residential bioenergy, in particular wood pellet burning, have also led to rising environmental concerns. The key reasons are that these applications have contributed to rising atmospheric pollutions, especially in increased particulate emissions.

Biogas has also been used in both industrial and residential heating applications. In Europe, biogas has been used increasingly to provide heating for buildings spaces and industry processes. Biogas has often been applied in conjunction with electricity production via CHP systems. Asia has led the world in the use of small-scale biogas digesters to produce gas for cooking and water and space heating. A good biogas example is that around 4.9 million rural households have been operating village-scale biogas plants in India. These biogas plants have been fuelled mostly by cattle dung and agricultural wastes.

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