Fully automated systems operate exactly how they sound. Chipped or ground up waste wood is brought to the site by delivery trucks and dropped into a holding tank. A system of conveyors then transports the wood from the holding tank to the boiler at a certain managed rate.
This rate is managed by computer controls and a laser that measures the load of fuel the conveyor is bringing in. The system automatically goes on and off to maintain the pressure and temperature within the boiler. Fully automated systems offer a great deal of ease in their operation because they only require the operator of the system to control the computer, and not the transport of wood.
Semi automated or "Surge Bin" systems are very similar to fully automated systems except they require more manpower to keep operational. They have smaller holding tanks, and a much simpler conveyor systems which will require personnel to maintain the systems operation.
The reasoning for the changes from the fully automated system is the efficiency of the system. Wood fire fuelled boilers are most efficient when they are running at their highest capacity, and the heat required most days of the year will not be the peak heat requirement for the year. Considering that the system will only need to run at a high capacity a few days of the year, it is made to meet the requirements for the majority of the year to maintain its high efficiency.
The third main type of biomass heating systems are pellet-fired systems. Pellets are a processed form of wood, which make them more expensive. Although they are more expensive, they are much more condensed and uniform, and therefore are more efficient. In these systems, the pellets are stored in a grain-type storage silo, and gravity is used to move them to the boiler.
The storage requirements are much smaller for pellet-fired systems because of their condensed nature, which also helps cut down costs. these systems are used for a wide variety of facilities, but they are most efficient and cost effective for places where space for storage and conveyor systems is limited, and where the pellets are made fairly close to the facility.
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