People tend to burn biomass in two ways. The simplest method is to use a wood-burning stove, an enclosed metal box made from something like cast iron, with opening doors at the front where the fuel is loaded up and a small flue to carry away carbon dioxide, smoke, steam, and so on. This generally provides heat in a single room, much like a traditional coal fire.

A biomass boiler is a more sophisticated option that can heat an entire building. Unlike a wood-burning stove, a biomass boiler does the same job as a central heating furnace (boiler) powered by natural gas, oil, or electricity: it can provide both your home heating and hot water and it can even power modern underfloor central heating. A biomass boiler is not at all like a dirty and labor-intensive coal-fire and doesn’t require huge amounts of starting up, cleaning, or maintenance. All you have to do is load in your biomass (generally, you’d use wood pellets, wood chips, chopped logs, cereal plants, or a combination of them) and periodically (typically every 2–8 weeks, depending on the appliance) empty out the ash, which you can recycle on your compost.