Surplus straw – a cost-effective fuel source

Farmers investing in renewable energy should consider the cost of the fuel source as the most critical factor in ensuring long-term savings, believes Keith Wilson.

Keith is the managing director of International Energy Crops (IEC), the farmer-owned biomass grower and installation company. He explained: “While many farmers are attracted by the government Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments, the most critical factor to consider in the long term remains the cost of the fuel used. 

“While most biomass boilers only burn expensive fuels like wood pellets and virgin woodchip, IEC’s multi-fuel boilers offer a real alternative with the flexibility to use home produced straw as a source of fuel. Big baled straw is one of the lowest cost fuels available to farmers requiring heat for applications such as grain drying and poultry housing.

“Our figures show heating systems using big baled straw at 15% moisture – whether wheat or oilseed rape – can achieve fuel costs of just 1.5p per kWh. Our boilers are also able to burn other low cost fuels like Grade A recycled woodchip and miscanthus, which work out at approximately 2p per kWh. This is compared to more expensive fuel like virgin woodchip which is approximately 3p per kWh and wood pellets which average 4.5p per kWh. It may only look like a difference of pence, but when multiplied by thousands of kWh over a course of a year, this is where the significant savings can be made.

“Because our multi-fuel boilers can easily burn different types of biomass, farmers have the opportunity to use surplus straw, oat husks or grain cleanings to achieve consistently low heating bills. The genuine multi-fuel option also ensures ‘fuel security’ and competiveness as prices fluctuate, providing an effective and sustainable heating solution for the farming community.”

IEC has been involved with over 300 successful biomass installation projects across the country to date, helping farm businesses to move away from a reliance on expensive, unsustainable fossil fuels to more affordable alternatives.