Eco-sustainable combustion

One of the most extraordinary qualities of wood biomasses is that they have a zero emission balance of CO2, the main climate-altering gas, in case of combustion: this happens because wood is a biogenic fuel, generated by photosynthesis from carbon already present in the atmosphere; if wood were left to rot on the ground, it would release the same amount of CO2 that is obtained by combustion.

In addition to this very important fact, it should be considered that a responsibly cut forest grows back quickly, lush and more protected, since the maintenance of the forests preserves them from fires. Yet, on the subject of global warming and biomass there are still problems due to the transformation and transport of the same, activities that obviously produce significant emissions of CO2 and pollutants. However, the final balance of emissions is always lower than the use of fossil fuels, which confirms the wood biomasses such as firewood, wood chips and pellets, proponents of a virtuous and environmentally friendly cycle, as well as excellent alternatives to fossil fuels.

Precisely because of these qualities, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency of the United States of America) has officially defined the combustion of biomass as zero emission and the same definition has been taken by the European Commission through the decision 2007/589/EC.

However, another important problem remains in order for this balance to remain zero and for no pollutants to be produced: combustion must be optimal and controlled. In fact, a wood biomass that is burned without the necessary precautions can emit gaseous and particulate compounds such as methane, one of the heating gases indicated by the Kyoto Protocol. Besides this, a wrong combustion can also cause the so-called “black carbon” or “black smoke”, that is, elemental carbon, another powerful climate altering agent.

In short, the bad combustion of wood can nullify the advantage in terms of emissions that is obtained compared to the use of fossil fuels while, with a controlled combustion, wood and its derivatives become an important ally in the fight against climate change.

  1. Controlling wood humidity
    Excessive humidity in wood modifies its calorific value, reducing it considerably since part of the energy released in the combustion process is absorbed by the evaporation of water. A “fresh” wood usually has a water content of 50% while a properly seasoned one reaches 20% or less, with an increase in heating value of 78%. wood biomass with excessive moisture content burns less, produces more emissions and is therefore also uneconomical because the consumer will not be paying the price of wood alone but will be buying water as well. To determine the water content of a wood biomass, simply use a hygrometer which, when placed in contact with the bark in at least two slit sections of the wood, returns the moisture content.

  2. Buy certified and local wood
    Firewood, wood chips, pellets, briquettes: all of these biomasses, to be eco-sustainable, must be traced from the forest to the stove, so as to curb inefficient and contaminated timbers, or those that come from uncontrolled forests, sources of deforestation and excessive CO2 emissions. If these biomasses are local or close to the area of combustion, the climate-altering effect is even less impactful, since emissions for transport are being limited. There is also an ethical and economic aspect to it: the controlled supply chain curbs ecomafia and tax evasion.

  3. Use latest-generation combustion equipment
    Just think that the combustion of a ton of firewood allows to avoid the emission of about 80 kg of CO2 if burned in an open fireplace while the advantage increases to about 900 kg of CO2 if burned with an efficient stove. This figure shows how combustion appliances have evolved over the years, thanks to legislation that has prompted manufacturers to design increasingly technological and efficient appliances, which are able to reduce by 90% the unburned fuel released into the atmosphere and reach an efficiency that often reaches 90%. Even the problem of particulate matter emitted by the combustion of wood biomasses is due to obsolete appliances: in Italy, for example, 70% of firewood and pellet combustion appliances are more than 10 years old and inefficient technologies cause, alone, the emission of 86% of PM10 from domestic biomass combustion. In short, a modernization of combustion appliances is necessary both for the environment and for the wallet.

In addition to these three fundamental points for sustainable combustion, there are also other solutions that Altrefiamme is pursuing, such as the sensorization of flues, the control of the biomass supply chain through blockchain, the remote training of operators to ensure the efficiency of the devices and much more. All this in order to make the most of the great resource of wood and its derivatives, in total respect for the environment and with a circular and virtuous economy.