A source of clean heating is required for all businesses to meet green targets. High-grade (or high-quality) heat is still in big demand for many industries, as they require high enough temperature to run several processes. Heat pumps fail to achieve these temperatures, but biomass boilers are currently the only technology that can reach these temperatures and meet sustainability goals.
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Where Biomass Boilers Stand with Today's Heat Demand
Global heat consumption is expected to increase by 6% by the end of 2027 with China and India together representing 60% of industrial heat demand growth. In 2020, the European Union’s (EU) heating and cooling needs accounted for half of the total gross energy consumption, with industrial heat demand being a third of that total. Industries are in dire need of a source of heating, away from fossil fuels that can deliver a wide variety of high temperatures at any point in the day. The non-domestic (commercial) Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in the United Kingdom has seen great success in this area as businesses installed biomass boilers for nearly any heat demand, including drying wood products, aggregates, district heating, and food production, with some hailing it perfect for their business. They have even been used in Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, making some enterprises completely self-reliant for all energy demands and saving thousands.
Biomass boilers do not garner much attention nowadays, as shown by heat pumps dominating the renewable heating market with an estimated US$86.4 billion in revenue in 2022, in comparison to biomass boilers reaching US$10.9 billion. However, as heat pumps continue to grow, they will always struggle and fail to penetrate the supply of high-grade quality heat, and this is the niche landscape in which biomass boilers thrive.
Where Biomass Boilers Excel and Why They Are Here to Stay
High-grade heat will always be in demand. Currently, heat pump manufacturers release technical sheets that show their products having the capability of producing heat at temperatures as high as 55° Celsius (C). While heat pumps output temperatures that can go past this point, the downside is a considerable drop in efficiency, rendering them expensive to run. This is the hard limitation that heat pumps face. Countless businesses and industries rely on higher temperature heat for process heating, processes that include but are not limited to:
- Disinfecting equipment that requires a sterile environment (sterilizing dairy tanks and equipment)
- Increasing temperatures of material for further production (heating wooden posts and planks for treatment)
- Drying materials to reduce moisture content (drying crops, aggregates to sell competitively)
- Food production (brewing, distilling, baking, and canning food)
- Electricity production (high-pressure turbines that can also function as CHP systems)
These applications require a higher grade of heat to attain the desired results. Sacrificing the quality of heat for efficiency will jeopardize the product, so this is where biomass boilers can fill the gap. Biomass boilers can offer a clean source of heat, combusting organic matter to achieve high temperatures (>70° C). This has been a promising drive for biomass boilers and will undoubtedly be a contributing factor for industries aiming to achieve net-zero targets and sustainability goals.
When to Opt for Biomass Boilers and Their Main Contender
The biomass boilers industry is starting to grow at a steady pace with more developed countries increasingly seeing this trend with newer generations of biomass boilers emerging. When replacing a legacy system, it is crucial to highlight the grade of heat required for the products. Space heating for staff welfare and water heating for taps and showers can be handled with heat pumps that have immersion heaters if a boost is ever required, but once temperatures above 60° C are required, then biomass boilers will be needed to deliver the heat.
ABI Research recommends having thorough discussions with multiple vendors before committing to one product. Vendors will be able to cover multiple regions and countries thanks to the distributors, but be aware that some may change the name of the model, but not much else.
- MAWERA: U.K.-based experts in large-scale boilers ranging from 0.85 Megawatts (MW) up to 13 MW; seen heating lumber sites with kilns using waste wood from production to fuel the boiler.
- Hargassner: European Union (EU) company with boilers up to 2.5 MW for industrial heating.
- Linka Group: Two companies (Linka Energy and Jernforsen) under this parent company that enable it to cover a range from 0.25 MW to 35 MW; Europe based.
- Heizomat: European company that has distributors in the United Kingdom and America.
Enterprises looking to take their next step toward sustainability and net zero will need to look at how heat is generated, as governments have already started enacting policies to ween society off fossil fuels. It is important to note that the operating costs for biomass boilers are increasing, as most of them rely on woody fuel. Like fossil fuel, there is a supply that must be met, and the world must be ready as more boilers switch to biomass; otherwise, the cost of fuel will increase to a level that is unsustainable for owners.
An alternative to biomass boilers for high-grade heat is hydrogen boilers. Hydrogen as a fuel source is still evolving as renewable electricity can help generate green hydrogen. The advantage of hydrogen is that it has a much higher energy density than biomass, so it requires less fuel for the same amount of heat. However, the industry is still new with a size of around US$4 billion, but it is expected to rapidly climb to US$50 billion in 2028 as some reports suggest. This market includes the fuel for transport, but with that kind of investment, any kinks with long-term storage and transportation or health and safety concerns (e.g., ensuring accidents are not catastrophic) will be solved in no time. When that happens, biomass boilers could find themselves a real contender for high-grade heat and see a wave of existing clients make the switch.