Bioheat: A Clean Energy Option with Local Economic Benefits


According to Natural Resources Canada, more than 60 percent of the total energy usage in residential buildings goes towards space heating1; a huge outlay, particularly considering the trend of increasing heating fuel prices.

And, as climate change continues to be top of mind, communities are taking a more serious look at energy alternatives. “Bioheat systems—fueled by sustainably-sourced, solid woody biomass from Canada’s crown forests—are a more affordable and price stable option when compared to electricity and fossil fuel systems,” says Glen Prevost, Forest Bioeconomy and Wood Manufacturing Industry Advisor with FPInnovations. “Bioheat technology is well-developed and many countries in Europe as well as the northeastern United States and Alaska have embraced bioheat and benefitted from building local, sustainable and low-carbon bioeconomies.”

What is Bioheat?

Modern wood burning appliances are highly engineered mechanical systems that produce thermal heat by burning wood pellets, wood chips, wood briquettes, or conventional firewood. The bioheat that results provides space heat and domestic hot water for community buildings, businesses, and private homes. No longer rudimentary, contemporary fireplaces and stoves for burning wood fuel now have sophisticated controls and low emissions similar to their fossil fuel counterparts. In residential homes or small buildings, wood stoves, furnaces, and hot water boilers are used, whereas only boilers are appropriate for larger commercial or institutional facilities.

Why Heat with Wood Biomass?

Reliable and efficient, bioheat systems can supplement or replace current fossil fuel and/or electric heating systems with local, sustainably sourced, and renewable solid woody biofuels. Today’s technologies also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, because the fuel source is solid, the risk of contamination from fossil fuel spills is virtually eliminated.

From an economic perspective, bioheat is easily justified. “Since wood fuel can be produced locally, bioheat is affordable and accessible,” explains Prevost. “Bioheat also supports local economic development through the creation of clean energy jobs, keeping money in the communities unlike electricity or fossil fuels which tend to flow out of them.” And, because bioheat fuel is produced from forest operations and residuals, it assists in diversifying Ontario’s forest product industry and the economic recovery of the overall forestry sector in general.

Solid Wood Bioheat Guide for Ontario’s Rural and Remote Communities

Recognizing the social, environmental and economic benefits of bioheat, it became very evident to a provincial working group in Ontario that bioheat could bring many advantages to rural and remote communities where energy options are often limited or expensive. Consequently, a comprehensive Solid Wood Bioheat Guide was written to promote bioheat to these areas. Authored by Glen Prevost, with direction and guidance from a steering committee composed of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, CanmetENERGY, Natural Resources Canada, and FPInnovations, the guide details the different types of solid woody fuel, combustion systems, costs, and provides general guidance for undertaking a bioheat project. Geared at residential, commercial and institutional buildings, the guide is intended to arm individuals and community leaders with the information and confidence to start bioheat projects. Although it is specific to Ontario’s regulations and resources, the majority of the document is technical in content and applicable to any jurisdiction.

Getting Started

Interested in initiating a bioheat project? The first step of the process is to become familiar with bioheat, using the Solid Wood Bioheat Guide as a key resource. From there, Glen Prevost advises to engage the community. “For public projects, the best place to begin is through discussions with bioheat professionals and community stakeholders and then bring accurate information to the local community.” For large private projects, Prevost recommends appointing an engineering firm to manage the design and installation of the project, whereas small projects can be handled by qualified mechanical contractors and vendors. “The Bioheat Guide includes information and resources within Ontario, but alternatively FPInnovations is equipped to help facilitate the process.”

The bioheat community in Ontario is knowledgeable and passionate. Those who want to join will be welcomed and well supported. The Solid Wood Bioheat Guide will be published in late fall to early winter of 2019. For more information, please contact Glen Prevost at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

1 Energy Efficiency Trends in Canada, 1990-2010, Natural Resources Canada.

Source: FPInnovations