Producing heat is a necessity that the human race has been pursuing for thousands of years. As it turns out, the technologies we use haven’t changed much. The direct combustion of biomass has historically been the main source of heat and still is in much of the world. Wood, peat, dung, and other biomass options are routinely burned to generate heat. New technology is now being employed to make biomass cleaner and more user-friendly as a heating option.


The benefits of biomass heat are cost, accessibility, and low technical barriers. Biomass, particularly wood and wood pellets, is often easy to obtain and thus very inexpensive. Wood heating is usually much less expensive than gas, oil, or electricity.

Biomass is easy to obtain because it requires no special infrastructure or transportation. It can be moved by hand and can be found in just about any location. Wood, peat, dung, and a variety of other things have been burned to provide heat.

Finally, burning biomass is a simple prospect. All that is needed is an apparatus to contain the fire and a vent to remove toxic smoke. There is no need for special knowledge or installation, which not only makes biomass accessible, but also helps to keep costs low.


While biomass heat may seem like a good option due to its low cost and easy availability, it does have drawbacks. The chief drawback is that biomass pollutes. In particular, burning solid biomass leads to carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and volatile organic compound release. If enough biomass is burned in a relatively confined setting, air quality can be greatly affected.

The other major drawback to biomass is that it would be detrimental to the environment if everyone used it. Cutting down forest reduces carbon sequestration capacity and extracts nutrients from the environment. Biomass also uses up land needed for agriculture.


Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

The biggest advancement in biomass heating has come in the form of cogeneration or combined heat and power. In these settings, both electricity and heat are harvested from the same basic biomass reaction. Such systems are more efficient, a fact that arises from the propensity of electricity generation to produce waste heat. Harvesting that wasted heat, rather than just discarding it, not only allows the plants to be more efficient, but also prevents the discharge of heat into the environment, which can impact fish and other wildlife. CHP need not only be applied in centralized heating facilities, it is also very popular in industrial settings such as paper production, oil refining, and chemical plants.