Cranfield University undertook a 10-week research project in Milton Keynes, carried out by postgraduate students undertaking MSc courses, concerned with environmental and health management and protection.

Biomass use equates to fuel switching, away from the current major fuels (e.g. gas, electricity) either for use in existing or future buildings. Biomass burning creates a range of gasses and particulate pollutants, and has characteristics that differ from those produced by the combustion of other fuels.

This could have both local and national implications for air quality and health. Burning solid fuels such as wood in homes may present a changing risk of indoor pollution and fires. This risk may actually be enhanced by air tight energy efficient homes which are now being constructed, and also by major programmes to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes.

The project included consideration of those pollutants generated and the risks to the health of people exposed in non-occupational (homes, outdoor air) and occupational environments (biomass fuelled power plants).

The project consisted of laboratory and field study, including surveys of people’s awareness of risks. It looked at the toxicity of combustion products in comparison to other fuels, as well as consideration of wider issues about sustainable supply of biomass fuel and impacts on biodiversity. This was with a view to identifying any possible adverse and beneficial outcomes of increased use of biomass fuels.


  • For future scenarios using locally supplied energy crops, it is recommended to study the human health impacts of small-scale biomass burning devices for these different types of feedstock.

  • In order to analyse how a massive change to biomass burning devices would affect Milton Keynes air quality, further research should be done. More houses and a longer duration should be analysed to achieve more conclusive results.

  • There should be an incentive to improve appliances by replacing old burners with new ones. Smart use of maintenance and ventilation are advised to reduce health risks.

  • Awareness should be raised on the risks associated with current fireplaces or old appliances, especially regarding the possible health impact that long term exposure to the emitted pollutants as CO or PM could have.

  • A functional ash handling and disposal system should be put in place for homes in the Milton Keynes area, to address the potential risks posed by heavy metals from biomass burning.

Final Report

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Executive Summary Report

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