Technology and Innovation Roadmap "BioHeating and Cooling"

The Roadmap links with the energy research strategy of the Austrian Council for Research. It was developped together with national stakeholders from industry to deduct recommendations for policy makers. It includes clear suggestions for research topics until 2020 and provides an outlook on the contribution of biomass to the heating sector of a decarbonised energy system in 2050.


The Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology has commissioned Bioenergy 2020+ and the Energy Economics Group (EEG), Vienna University of Technology, to develop a research, technology and innovation Roadmap “BioHeating and Cooling” together with national stakeholders from industry and to deduct recommendations for policy makers. The Roadmap should include clear suggestions for research topics until 2020 and provide an outlook on the contribution of biomass to the heating sector of a decarbonised energy system in 2050. The Roadmap links with the energy research strategy (“Energieforschungsstrategie für Österreich - Vorschläge für Maßnahmen im Bereich Forschung, Technologie und Innovation”) of the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development and considers the political aims to limit global temperature increase to 2°C until 2050 and to make Austrian industry an “Innovation Leader”. Moreover, the on-going activities of the European Technology Platform - Renewable Heating & Cooling are taken into account.

Biomass is stored solar energy and can be used on demand. National value added can be increased by biomass fuel production and by export of technologies. The position as global technology leader of the Austrian manufacturers of small scale biomass combustion systems provides the precondition to reduce costs by mass production and to achieve ambitious goals for reducing emissions and for increasing efficiency until 2020. Successful market deployment in Europe (and worldwide) does not only require technical progress, but also regulatory measures, which oblige to the use of appliances complying with the most advanced state-of-technology throughout Europe.

The technical potential of small scale biomass combustion appliances is not fully exploited in real life applications and biomass combustion contributes relevant shares to PM concentration in ambient air. The reasons are the technologically outdated stock of appliances still in operation, the shortcomings whilst planning, installation, and operation, and the gap between testing and real life behaviour. RTD efforts are required to identify and overcome the reasons for this gap. To support the related technology development the assessment methods need to be further improved and quality standards need to be established in Europe. The success of these RTD efforts shall be assessed against their effects on air quality and emission factors in real life applications.

The basis of the Roadmap is the development of the space heating demand until 2050. The share of poorly or not refurbished buildings decreases in the chosen reference scenario “Bioheating” to 35% until 2030 and to 10% by 2050. The share of biomass for space heating and domestic hot water increases to 50% by 2035 and slowly decreases afterwards. The share of fossil fuels goes towards zero until 2050. The relevance of solar thermal and heat pumps increases in houses with very low heat demand. Biomass heating systems maintain a dominating role where heat demand is high and the energy saving potential is limited. The decreasing biomass fuel demand after 2035 reveals novel opportunities for using biomass in other sectors (i.e. for material uses or for production of transportation fuels).

The transformation of the energy system from the traditional fossil based to a sustainable one will last decades and requires substantial capital investments. The appropriate selection of technologies is needed to ensure socially acceptable energy costs. The Roadmap shows the way to the “House of the Future”: It is an integrative component of the future energy system, raises quality of life of the occupants, offers bidirectional energy flow opportunities and herewith is a node in the grid of the future energy system. All energy flows of the “House of the Future” are based on renewable energy sources. Biomass is used according to its real value. In 2050 combined heat and power (CHP) systems have widely substituted conventional heating technologies and small and micro CHPs are manufactured in mass production and are available and cost effective for everybody.

The recommendations for research, technology and innovation consider fundamental, pre-competitive, and applied research and demonstration and deal with resources, logistics and harvesting technologies, biomass fuels, stoves, inserts and hearths, boilers, heating and cooling systems, and micro CHPs. Incremental improvements of existing technologies and radical innovations are included. Based upon the state-of-the-art and the vision for 2050 detailed recommendations for short to medium term research have been developed. The recommendations focus on such measures, which are suited to contribute substantially to the objectives of the National Action Plan on Renewable Energy and to the supporting of Austrian industry as “Innovation Leader”. The key aspects are the optimization of room heating devices, boilers, and overall heating systems taking into account the requirements in 2020. Moreover, the long term strategy for the development and demonstration of small and micro CHPs is considered. Large (district) heating and cooling grids, seasonal heat storage and the production of biogas and/or synthetic natural gas (SNG) have not been in the scope of this Roadmap.

Woody biomass is currently the most relevant renewable fuel. Innovative biomass will gain importance in the medium to long term. The key challenges are the harvesting of agricultural and forestall by-products and the environmentally sound use of secondary fuels. Improved (also decentralized) processing technologies, energy efficient drying process and smart supply chain concepts and innovative user models may contribute to strengthening the sector. The optimization of supply chains (i.e. by using geographic information systems, minimization of transportation distances, closing of nutrient cycles), the proof of sustainability and the demonstration of the feasibility of short rotation coppices or perennial crops (i.e. Miscanthus) may reduce costs and herewith create additional economic resource potentials.

Room heating devices, such as stoves, inserts and hearths, are the most traditional technologies for using biomass. These simple, but robust technologies have a significant relevance for the supply of space heating in Europe, now and in the future. But the requirements to the devices are undergoing a substantial change. Lowest emissions, highest efficiency and optimum building integration are to be accomplished. The key challenges are to demonstrate the advantages of novel and advanced technologies, such as water heating room heaters, emission reduction by primary measures, automatization, and the increase of efficiency under real life operation. Moreover, practically feasible secondary measures for emission reduction and novel short term heat storage concepts need to be developed.

Small scale biomass boilers have achieved a substantial degree of technical maturity and are widely used. They are - together with room heating technologies - key technologies in the “House of the Future”. The key challenges are to increase efficiency in real life operation, to further reduce emissions towards the vision of “zero emissions”, and to develop fuel flexible boilers, particularly for non-wood biomass. The (further) development of flue gas condensation technologies, intelligent control concepts and novel heat storage technologies will serve to increase efficiency. Moreover, the specific requirement of lowest and passive energy buildings and the development of hybrid technology solutions making use of more than one renewable energy source are to be considered. The further reduction of emissions is accomplished by the development and implementation of advanced primary and novel secondary measures.

The development of novel assessment methods to determine annual efficiency and emission factors for space heating devices and boilers is recommended. Such methods form the basis for improvements in real life, they support the policy makers in the determination of emission thresholds, they guide technology suppliers towards effective technology development goals and they support consumers in their purchasing decision. The relevant methods need to be developed for a European level and should be implemented in the European regulatory frameworks.

The integration of system components reduces costs and increases efficiency. Smart - bi-directional - heating and cooling grids and new feed-in and storage technologies need to be developed accompanied by increased efforts on system integration. New business models shall be found and the optimum coordination of technical and economic needs of consumers, suppliers, and manufacturers is to be ensured. Hybrid technology systems allow for cost reduction by optimum sizing and design of the overall system, by intelligent selection of components, and by the development of integrated products. The development of intelligent (probably self-learning) facility management control systems is essential. The deployment of innovative hybrid systems needs to be supported by the development and implementation of necessary technical and regulatory framework measures.

In order to allow the substitution of electrically driven compression heat pumps with thermally driven ad- and absorption-based chillers for cooling purposes the economics of the thermally driven technologies need to be improved. This requires further developments (more efficient processes and novel materials), downscaling of existing technologies, and the introduction of cooling grids in densely populated areas. Alternative grids for heating and cooling purposes require standardized distribution systems and interfaces between energy producer, energy distributor, and consumer.

Micro CHPs allow for a radical change of the energy system. Electricity is produced where heat is needed and can be fed into grids. Efforts to develop and introduce small and micro CHPs are going on since the energy crisis in 1973 with little success only. Also fossil fuelled micro CHPs have not yet achieved a breakthrough. Already known technologies, such as small Stirling and steam engines, shall be developed until they reach maturity. The biggest challenge in this process is to overcome the “valley of the death” related to the development of mass production technology. The support of technology development (“technology push”) is not sufficient to activate the needed market forces (“market pull”). A continuous support and promotion portfolio along the value chain starting with fundamental research and ending with the market introduction and demonstration is a must. It is therefore highly recommended to develop a “Master Plan Micro CHP” with all concerned actors in policy and industry (including the automotive sector), to support the development with a market incentive program und accompany the market development with a long term technical and economic monitoring.

Thermoelectric generators shall be further developed in the short to medium time frame. These are particularly suited to provide additional value, such as electric grid independency of heating and ventilation systems, and electricity production to operate controlling components of stoves. The objectives along the value chain are the development of novel high-temperature resistant and/or cost-effective materials, novel generator technologies up to mass production, and the thermal integration of the thermoelectric generators into the appliances and heating systems.

Searching for radical and risky innovation is highly desirable. Such innovations must be assessed against competing technologies and should be considered for further development only if technology leadership regarding costs, resource efficiency and sustainability appear to be reasonable. It is also recommended to examine the opportunities for feeding biogas and SNG into existing gas grids aiming to produce heat and electricity via gas engines and/or fuel cells.

Policy measures in addition to R&D support are inevitably necessary according to the opinion of the authors of this Roadmap. Amongst others the use of heating systems based on renewable and sustainable energy sources should be obligatory in new buildings and buildings undergoing major renovation. In order to avoid social hardship cases, to ensure affordability and to increase acceptance, such measures need to be accompanied by investment support programs. For compensation means the introduction of CO2 taxes should be considered. Overall, the technologies serving the residential heating sector require a balanced mix of instruments, which support the intensified introduction and use of biomass, solar thermal, and geothermal technologies and the integration of renewable based systems.


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