“Biomass” is organic matter used as fuel. The fuel can be either a liquid or solid, such as chipped wood, energy crops like switchgrass, forest or agricultural residue or waste, manufacturing waste, (i.e., wood shavings from a furniture factory or a paper mill), wood pellets, sewage sludge, or construction and demolition waste. Pennsylvanians use biomass primarily to generate heat, either on the smaller residential scale or on the institutional scale. Biomass is primarily fired in boilers, similar to coal, natural gas or fuel oil. Liquid biomass fuels occur most often as ethanol and are typically used to supplement gasoline for vehicles.

Residential scale units, which includes woodstoves as well as outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWBs), typically burn wood in uncontrolled ways that produce relatively large quantities of dangerous air pollution. The impact from these pollutants is felt more dramatically by those nearest to the OWBs because these units are often older, are of a less efficient design, and are operated inefficiently. Efficiency is critical because a failure to completely burn biomass creates excess air pollution. More specifically, incomplete burning creates highly dangerous forms of particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns in size or less. This smaller particulate matter penetrates deep into the lungs. Some highly efficient designs exist but are not widely used in Pennsylvania.
Institutional scale units, also referred to as institutional, commercial, and industrial boilers (ICIs), typically have more pollution controls than their residential counterparts and are often operated by trained specialists. While these units emit fewer harmful criteria pollutants relative to their OWB counterparts, they still emit these pollutants in greater numbers. Further, the particles they emit are typically products of higher burning temperatures and higher oxygen conditions, meaning that the particles may not be as dangerous as those produced by OWBs. Nonetheless, their heavy adoption in Pennsylvania, at the rate of several new ICI boilers a month, means that hundreds of tons a year in air pollutants are being emitted near factories, schools, and hospitals.
The Council provides a critical oversight role for this rapidly expanding energy sector. At every turn, the Council seeks to ensure the most protective standards are adhered to and the best pollution control technology is applied in the context of biomass burning.

 Staff Attorney Chris Ahlers just published this primer on wood burning. Download it by clicking here.

Wood smoke neighbor guide coverod smoke pollution is a problem facing residential communities across the country. But sometimes our concerns about a possible confrontation prevent us from taking that first step to initiate a conversation with a neighbor whose smoke is affecting us.

October 27th, 2014                                                                                                         

Mollie Simon
(412) 275-0600 x 128

This guide contains step by step information about how to track biomass operations and related rules and regulations, and how to effectively use this information to impact decision-making on permits, rules, and regulations.

On January 21, 2014 Clean Air Council attended a Regulation Subcommittee meeting of Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee to present a “No Burn” Model proposal to the committee to consider for revision of its open burning regulations. The suggestion was supported by the American Lung Association in a letter to the committee.  Also attending the meeting in support of the model regulation was the Executive Director of Women for a Healthy Environment.