The Potential For Biomass
At present the biomass market in Northern Ireland is quite small. It tends to operate almost invisibly in a number of private arrangements between producers and consumers. If hydrocarbon prices prove to be higher in the future, and we firmly believe they will, then the economics of local biomass production will improve commensurately. But farmers will be reluctant to grow biomass unless they know there is a market for it. This chicken and egg situation is what BENI is intending to resolve. SRC willow also has the potential to clean up waste materials, such as dairy waste, sewage effluent and sludge. This offers an additional income source to growers, as well as a lower cost alternative to high capital investment in waste water treatment works.
How much biomass could be produced?
There are an estimated 1.3 million hectares of cultivable land in Northern Ireland. If 5% of this was planted with SRC willow then annual production would be:
65,000 x 10 = 650,000 odt
with a heat output of
650,000 x 3550/1000 = 2.3 million MWh or 2,307 GWh.
At a generous estimate of 20,000 kWh of heat use per house per annum, this would be sufficient heat for 115,000 houses.
This simple illustration shows that locally grown biomass is an obvious growth area for indigenous and sustainable energy production.