The Gas Safety Trust has awarded a grant to Cranfield University to investigate the environmental and health impact of the current trend of an increasing use of biomass fuel for the production of heat and electricity generation.
The 10 week research project will be carried out in and around nearby Milton Keynes by postgraduate students undertaking MSc courses concerned with environmental and health management and protection.
Biomass use equates to fuel switching away from the current major fuels (e.g. gas, electricity) either for use in existing buildings or in those built in the future. Biomass burning creates a range of gasses and particulate pollutants, and has characteristics that differ from those produced by combustion of other fuels. This could have both local and national implications for air quality and health. Burning solid fuels such as wood in homes may present a changing risk of indoor pollution and fires. This risk may actually be enhanced by air tight energy efficient homes which are now being constructed, and also by major programmes to improve the energy efficiency of existing home.
The project will include consideration of those pollutants generated and the risks to health of people exposed in non-occupational (homes, outdoor air) and occupational environments (biomass fuelled power plants). It will involve laboratory and field studies including surveys of people’s awareness of risks. It will look at the toxicity of combustion products in comparison to other fuels as well as considering wider issues about sustainable supply of biomass fuel and impacts on biodiversity, seeking to identify any possible adverse and beneficial outcomes of increased use of biomass fuels.
Chris Bielby, GST Chairman, welcomed the research saying: “I am pleased that the Gas Safety Trust is funding this important project which addresses a topic about which we do not fully understand. Given the emerging trend of carbon monoxide poisoning incidents where biomass fuel was involved it is essential that we gain a better understanding of the particular characteristics of what is produced when it is burnt.
"The UK has made huge strides in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning over the last few decades but we cannot be complacent and it is important that we identify and address new dangers as they are identified".