It seems that our ancestors may have been on to something when they burned wood as fuel. A new study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has found that burning biomass is far cheaper, more efficient, and cleaner than burning heating oil.
The study shows that millions of US homes and businesses would benefit from burning switchgrass biofuel pellets in basement furnaces.
Economically, the idea of converting heating systems to burn switchgrass biofuel instead of oil makes good sense as switchgrass is cheaper than heating oil, especially in the North East where heating oil prices are generally higher.
Looking at the total cost of installing and fuelling a new biofuel pellet heating system in a house, the ARS report estimated that it would cost $21.36 per gigajoule of energy (the standard unit of energy measurement), whereas oil would cost $28.22 per gigajoule.
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According to the study burning switchgrass pellets is also better for the environment. Looking at the entire supply chain, from the production of the switchgrass seeds, to their growth, harvesting , and then burning, the study determined that a ton of dry switchgrass would produce 192 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per gigajoule of heat produced; 146 pounds of CO2e less than oil.
Switchgrass biofuel has always been considered as a an alternative to gasoline, but the study states that this focus has been all wrong and that the biggest market for switchgrass would be as a replacement to heating oil.