By Nina Stasova
Straw is very useful, being suitable as litter and livestock food, as fertiliser and as a building material, besides making hats and baskets, and filling mattresses and armchairs. It is also an excellent bio fuel, being used to heat the agro-town of Zaostrovechie in the Kletsk District.
Energy from collective farms’ fields
Alexander Novitsky, the director of Kletsk housing and communal services, tells us, “Boilers operate exclusively on straw until January; only as the severe frosts set in do we use woodchips. This project has taken blood and sweat, as we developed it without assistance.”
How did such a boiler-house appear in Zaostrovechie? Its predecessor burnt coal for nearly thirty years, opening in 1984, as a four-storey building with almost full mechanisation. Only one other similar existed in Belarus but age takes its toll and the equipment started to fail. Repairs were labour-intensive and expensive, so it made sense to build a new boiler-house.
One hundred stacks for warm winter
The experimental boiler-house has been operating for two seasons, providing heating for housing and several organisations, including a kindergarten. However, some improvements are needed: a private transport link for the straw; and storage facilities for the 3,000 tonnes of straw needed for the heating season. At present, bales are stored on collective farms’ fields; if humidity exceeds 30 percent, the straw can rot. Last year, the snow melted in the middle of winter, proving disastrous.
Bio-fuel of the future
Although there are obstacles to overcome, the new project allows domestic straw to replace expensive imported fuel; it is also a cost-effective use of plant waste and, naturally, is environmentally friendly.
Mr. Novitsky adds, “The smoke from the old boiler-house was dark while that from the new one is almost invisible.”
In fact, one tonne of straw replaces 550kg of coal or 350 cubic metres of natural gas. The boiler-house produces nearly 3,600 gigacalories of heat per year while the use of straw (rather than coal) saves over one billion roubles. In comparison with peat, it saves four hundred million.
Everyone knows how quickly dry stalks blaze and the same is true in a boiler: a great deal of ash is generated rather quickly, which can prevent airflow and the efficiency of the system. Accordingly, a special fan is used to keep air circulating, blowing out the ash and allowing oxygen in. Even the waste ash has a purpose, being used to enrich farm soil. The new boiler-house is almost completely automated, needing only two personnel at any time.
Mr. Novitsky comments, “Practical Europeans have been using straw as fuel for a long time, especially in the countryside. If straw can be transported efficiently and funding found, we should see more such boilers set up in Belarus.”
Energy saving and efficiency are a priority so the use of straw as a natural energy source can only benefit us.