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From Biomass Magazine via Pellet Mill Magazine
By Susanne Retka Schill

An Alaskan boiler retrofit illustrates the potential for biomass heating in other federal buildings.

The pink, six-story Ketchikan Federal Building is a landmark in the southeastern Alaskan community of Ketchikan, population 8,000. When it came time to replace the original 1938-vintage steam radiators—the kind that clank and bang all winter long—the building not only got a more efficient hydronic heating system, but a state-of-the-art pellet boiler to match. 

As the first pellet boiler among 1,500 federal buildings managed by the General Services Administration, the Pink Building (as it is known locally) has become a case study. The GSA’s Green Proving Ground Program asked the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to study the potential for biomass heating in other federal buildings. The study shows positive results for pellet heating systems and identified 150 buildings as possible candidates for biomass heating across the nation. That was in spite of the fact that NREL found the payback for Ketchikan boiler system was going to be much longer than ideal, at an estimated 30 years, due to the high cost of removing and replacing the original steam-heat radiators and installing a back-up oil boiler. Of the total $4.7 million project cost, NREL researchers estimated $450,000 was directly associated with the biomass heating system. Another factor increasing this system’s payback was the installation of an oversized pellet boiler and the relative high cost of pellets due to the remote location.

“This was a new technology for us, we’re learning,” explains Jim Langlois, Alaska-based property manager.  “This is what it was all about.” Planned before he became property manager, he explains the America Recovery and Investment Act helped move the project forward. The retrofit was completed in January 2012 and, after a year’s operating experience, NREL conducted efficiency testing at the site and evaluated the lessons learned.  

NREL’s efficiency tests were done during an unusually warm period in the winter of 2013, when daytime highs were in the mid-50s. Even though the boiler was running at just 45 percent of full load, NREL calculated an 85.6 percent efficiency factor, verifying the manufacturer’s claims.

NREL’s overall assessment was quite positive: “The biomass system works well, needs very little maintenance or attention of any kind, and performs well within the efficiencies put forth by the vendor. These biomass hot water heating systems are efficient, cleaning burning and provide a reliable source of renewable energy.” 

The biggest issue identified in the Ketchikan installation is that at 1 MMBtu per hour output, the pellet boiler is oversized with a system capacity factor of about 13 percent, according to the report.  “Since there was a large amount of capital expended for a system that is often idle or at low load, the payback is high at approximately 30 years. Additionally, the payback is calculated using the most current price for pellets in the area, which is approximately $250 per ton.”  The report goes on to say that in other installations, the backup oil-heating system, as required in federal buildings, could help meet peak heating demand. “A typical rule of thumb is to design the system output for 60 percent of the peak load,” the report says, while adding that a higher percentage may be warranted in areas with a flatter heating load profile. 

Points for Evaluation

While detailing the Ketchikan installation, the NREL researchers discuss the technology and multiple points applicable to other potential installations. “This type of technology has been commercially available for many years,” the report says, describing pellet boilers as a mature technology. “However, small biomass systems that require little operator attendance are relatively new.”  Other points made in favor of pellet heating include: 

• The availability of multiple vendor sources should aid competitive pricing. 

• Biomass fuel pricing has remained stable compared to fossil fuel. 

• Recent improvements in biomass systems and the implementation of pellet fuels has made the required maintenance and operational attendance minimal.
The report also makes a number of observations and recommendations:

• Biomass heating systems be considered for buildings with hydronic heating, as the conversion from steam heat to hydronic is not likely to offer a reasonable payback. Generating steam with biomass on a small scale is feasible, although hot water systems are more common and less expensive. 

• Deployment economics will vary from building to building depending primarily on the size of the biomass system, the hours of operation throughout the year and fuel costs. Candidate buildings will have a substantial heating load and an extended heating season.

• Energy savings due to the difference in efficiencies between the old and new technologies can be an advantage.

• A major consideration will be the proximity to fuel sources. Several suppliers that are relatively close would be preferable, since relying upon a single supplier could introduce supply risk. Also, transportation comprises a large percentage of fuel cost. A current rule of thumb is that transportation cost is about 15 cents per ton-mile and, if the project is remote, bad roads and high fuel prices could double the transportation cost.

• Candidate buildings will be located where natural gas is expensive or not available.

Unique Location
 Ketchikan is also a case study in how each location will be unique.

The community is located on the coast of a large island in Southeast Alaska, 679 miles north of Seattle and 235 miles south of Juneau.  Average low temperatures during January and February are just under freezing and record lows hover around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. While Ketchikan may not meet the criteria for extreme cold, it does meet the criteria for lacking inexpensive natural gas for heat. “Everything here is brought in by barge or airplane,” Langlois explains. The federal building typically required 9,000 gallons of fuel oil each winter. In contrast, the new, efficient pellet boiler required just 83 tons of pellets for the first fiscal year. That was not for an entire heating season, though, but rather from startup in January 2012 through Sept. 30. 
Initially, bulk pellets were brought up from the lower 48 which added substantial transportations cost, but Langlois reports the Ketchikan Federal Building now has a contract with a local pellet producer.

Tongass Forest Enterprises is a new pellet producer, starting quite small to meet the initial limited local demand—the federal building, the city library and a handful of others. The company specializes in producing custom building products, such as flooring, trim, paneling and decking, and it manufactures outbuildings like saunas and small green houses. It works in four woods that come from the Tongass National Forest,  including Sitka spruce, western hemlock, yellow and red cedar. 

“We build up enough sawdust and make pellets,” says Larry Jackson, owner. The pellet operation runs one 1-ton-per-hour unit that, if it ran 200 production days a year, would produce roughly 2,000 tons annually. “It’s not profitable,” Jackson says, but it has helped turned a liability into a positive, taking a waste stream and making a new product. “Right now, we're running 10 percent capacity because we don't have the demand. We're trying to grow with demand in the region.”  All of the business is bulk, delivered in a used feed truck the company located in Iowa. 

Fostering the growth of a pellet industry was one of the initial goals of the project, Langlois adds. “Southeast Alaska is trying to develop a pellet mill industry. There's a push here and people are being proactive in trying to get this going. If we can establish fuel suppliers locally, it generates jobs.”

Read the original here.

From Biofuels Digest
By Isabel Lane

In the UK, leading renewable energy trade bodies have come together to launch a series of “tests” for the political parties to encourage them to support renewable energy ahead of the next election.

The six key tests laid out by the grouping are:
1. Support the Climate Change Act to keep us on course to meet our carbon commitments and back global efforts to tackle climate change.
2. Set a new renewables target for 2030 of 30% of UK energy
3. Back the Independent Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to set a binding target for low carbon electricity by 2030.
4. Fund the Renewable Heat Incentive for new applications after 2016.
5. Boost the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation to reach the 10% renewable energy target for transport by 2020.
6. Reform the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to ensure the market takes account of all sectors’ polluting cost of carbon emissions.

The group, which includes ADBA (Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association), BHA (the British Hydropower Association), the British Photovoltaic Association, the Renewable Energy Association, RenewableUK, Scottish Renewables and the Solar Trade Association, has launched a campaign encouraging members of the public to write to the different party leaders to encourage them to take forward the principles into the General Election.

Earlier this year, the Renewable Energy Association expressed their disappointment in the Department of Transportation, as the group has failed to outline how it will meet its binding 10% 2020 renewable transport target. The current RTFO obligation level is set at 4.75% by volume, or approximately 3.5% by energy, so a nearly three-fold increase in biofuel supply is needed by 2020.

Read the original here.

By John Davis


The home state for Arbor Day, the national holiday honoring trees, is handing out some money to help develop woody biomass into energy. The Nebraska Forest Service is offering two cost-share assistance grants that could cut utility costs for private, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

Part of the new TREES Heat Nebraska program, these grants are designed to help establish woody biomass utilization markets, specifically for heating and cooling and for generating electricity…
Organizations that could benefit include municipalities, universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, livestock and agricultural facilities and horticulture greenhouses.

“The grants will help cover the upfront costs of installing wood-fueled energy systems,” said Adam Smith, NFS forest products utilization team leader. “Historically there has been a lack of capital assistance for the development and installation of these energy systems, often derailing potential projects. Utilizing these grants will allow organizations to more quickly benefit from fuel savings—potentially realizing a 50 percent energy savings per month,” Smith said.
Two different types of grant funding are available:

1) cost-share assistance to public, private, for-profit and not-for-profit agencies or organizations located in Nebraska to purchase and install woody energy systems, including the construction of new systems and the renovation or expansion of existing energy systems;
2) cost-share assistance for contractual services for technical engineering feasibility studies that investigate the potential for wood energy use. NFS encourages facilities to engage with NFS early in the project planning process.

Read the original here.

From the Washington Times
By Mary Esch

    TROY, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has launched a $27 million initiative to build the market for high-efficiency, low-emissions wood heating systems in the state.

The program, launched Tuesday at Troy-based Evoworld, a maker of high-efficiency wood-pellet boilers, is aimed at developing more clean technology manufacturing in the state along with a skilled heating system installer base and sustainably harvested wood fuels from state forests.

The money is coming from New York’s share of proceeds from the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants.

John Rhodes, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said the program will lower costs for efficient, low-emissions wood heating systems for residential and commercial installation.

“In rural New York, many homeowners spend up to 30 percent of their income just heating their homes,” said Matt McArdle, chairman of the New York Bioenergy Alliance. He said the technology exists today to provide a renewable, lower-cost alternative to fossil fuels.

The Renewable Heat NY program will offer incentives to retire and recycle highly polluting outdoor and indoor wood boilers and stoves and replace them with efficient, low-emissions wood heating systems.

A new residential pellet heating system costs about $2,000 to $6,500. NYSERDA is offering a $1,000 incentive for homeowners who buy a new, high-efficiency, lower emissions pellet stove and recycle an existing, highly polluting wood stove. Financing is available for the remaining cost. A small commercial pellet boiler costs about $22,000, and NYSERDA will provide an incentive equal to 25 percent of the installed cost. Large commercial installations can receive an incentive of 25 percent of the installed cost, up to $150,000.

“NYSERDA will jump-start the initiative with large anchor projects, which will help increase demand for wood pellets and decrease the costs for smaller residential and commercial customers as the market grows,” Rhodes said.

Read the original here.