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By Chris Hanson Biomass Magazine December 17, 2013

In the Northern Forest region of New Hampshire and the western foothills of Maine, the Northern Forest Center’s Model Neighborhood Project is helping residents switch from fuel oil to wood pellet boilers and fostering growth in the pellet industry.

The project began as a collaboration between the Northern Forest Center and Maine Energy Systems. “We were hearing there needed to be more places for people to sell and use low-grade wood in order to make forestry more viable,” says Maura Adams, program director at Northern Forest Center. “So we had been thinking about pellets and wood heat and ended up talking to Maine Energy Systems about an idea they’ve been developing on incentivizing residential wood pellet boiler purchase and installation. The two ideas kind of fused as we figured out that creating this demonstration project was needed to bring attention to these systems and show how valuable they are.” 
Berlin, N.H., was selected for the first project because of its forest product legacy, the Berlin BetterBuildings program and the economic hardships facing the city after a paper mill closure, Adams says. By teaming up with BetterBuildings, Northern Forest’s project was able to make a larger impact by combining fuel switching with energy efficiency improvements.

Instead of large heating projects, the Berlin program focuses primarily on household systems, while including two affordable housing units and a community arts center.  Adams says by including the three larger projects, the program demonstrates greater economic impact and serves as a more comprehensive community model. “For the residential part, as a condition of participation, they open their houses to tours. That’s kind of the point of the project,” Adams explains. “People need to see these systems at work, to see what they look like and understand they’re not traditional wood stoves, they’re not traditional pellet stoves, but these are very, very modern sophisticated systems that can be a direct replacement for oil boilers.” 

By the end of the year, Berlin witnessed the installation of 40 pellet boilers and now serves as a model for surrounding communities. The Forest Center and the Western Maine Community Action agency launched a second Model Neighborhood Project in June at Farmington and Wilton, Maine, roughly 80 miles east of Berlin. A third project is in its inception west of Berlin in Vermont. The future projects will include multiple vendors to create a more competitive market place, Adams adds.

Delivering the Fuel
For pellet producers and equipment providers such as Geneva Wood Fuels and Maine Energy Systems, the Berlin project has helped validate pellet heating technology and provide opportunities to participate in the supply chain.

Geneva Wood Fuels has been involved since the inception of the Berlin Neighborhood Project, says Jonathan Kahn, president, when MES approached the company to help secure a pellet supply. The wood pellets produced by Geneva at its Strong, Maine, facility are shipped by MES to its distribution point in Bethel, Maine, using converted cement trailers that carry 33 tons of fuel. The distribution center is comprised of 250-ton silos and a shaker system that cleans the pellets by removing any sawdust or particles. The separated sawdust is then put in a separate holding silo and returned to a mill to be repelletized. 

From Bethel, MES uses its bulk delivery operation to deliver to customers in the Berlin area. MES employs three pneumatic trucks that were built at Trans-Tech Industries in Brewer, Maine. The European-style trucks, designed by Austria-based Tropper Maschinen und Anlagen GmbH, employ a specialized aeration chamber to deliver pellets utilizing a moving air stream. “They basically float all the way from the truck into a bag that’s specially designed to breathe,” says Les Otten, co-founder of Maine Energy Systems. “So the pellet goes in, the air breathes out of the side of the bag without any dust. The only thing the home owner is left with after delivery is a faint smell of pine or hardwood in the storage area.” By using flowing air instead of mechanical delivery methods, pellets maintain greater integrity. The key is to get the pellet from one location to another without having it contact a mechanical device, Otten says. “Every time a pellet touches a mechanical device, it loses about two to three percent of its efficiency to sawdust.” 

The trucks are able to deliver the pellets up to 100 feet away from a structure and even send  them 75 to 80 feet uphill, if needed. The pressurized vehicles deliver fuel at roughly 3.5 minutes per ton via the delivery hose hooked to the side of the building. The driver uses a remote control to operate the truck, filling the storage bag inside the facility. 

Pellet Success
One of the larger, energy success stories from the Berlin Model Neighborhood Project is the St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts. Housed in a historic 19th century church, the community center had two boilers used for heat, with the largest heating the main zone, combusting 6 to 7 gallons of heating oil per hour. “It was like having a dragon in the basement,” says Joan Chamberlain, retired executive director of the community center. “Once it fired up, it rattled and things all happened.”

To address rising fuel costs, the community center completed the first phase of its path to pellet heating between 2010 and 2011 by completing a comprehensive feasibility study. The center examined available heating options and spoke with the forest service about becoming a model project. “Berlin is the center of the Northern Forest, it just kind of makes intuitive sense,” Chamberlain says. “The auditor played out that scenario and bought that as the most viable solution.” 

After securing the needed funding, the center completed the second phase of its project, installing the two new pellet boilers and storage bags. The contractors moved in the new boilers and built the storage room using a portion of the basement’s walk-out community room. By locating the fuel storage in the basement, the center is able to quickly receive fuel and avoid maintaining an outdoor storage facility, Chamberlain says. “Deliveries are slick. They deliver like they do oil.”

MES delivers the fuel through four-inch pipes on the north side of the center that initially stood about 18 inches above ground. The delivery personnel turn off the boilers and run the truck’s hoses from the street to the pipes that lead directly to the two 6-ton storage bags. After snow piled up in front of the delivery pipes, the center modified the pipes by extending them to 4 feet to be ready for the current winter season. “It’s a new process and product for all of us,” Chamberlain says. “It was a great learning process for my board and our partners.”

In the third phase of the project, insulation was installed throughout the building. During an assessment of the ceiling, it was discovered there were 10 to 12 inches of space in some sections that had no insulation, letting heat escape through the arched roof. “Years ago, they just didn’t worry about it,” she says.

With the new insulation and pellet boilers in place, the center saves around $10,000 in annual heating costs. During the first winter, the center used $7,300 worth of pellets and still ended the season with 6 to 7 tons left over. Furthermore, by having two boilers, the facility is able to meet the heating demands for the coldest parts of the winter and use one as a backup in the event the other needs to be shut down.

“It’s allowing us to be in our home during some of our best programming months,” Chamberlain says. “This opportunity to get a handle on our energy costs, is allowing us to have a comfortable environment for our guests and our artists and operate comfortably and efficiently during the winter months.”

Industry Impact
By creating these model projects, the forest center and its partners are not only demonstrating the benefits of wood pellet boilers, but also addressing some of the infrastructure and financial challenges of the wood pellet industry. “The whole goal of the project is to catalyze the market and industry for small-scale pellet boilers. It’s really an untapped opportunity at this point,” Adams says. She adds the projects help build infrastructure by assuring adequate amounts of available fuel and delivery methods, while also addressing financial institutions and insurance companies’ comfort with the technology. “As we deal with this, almost like a test case in these particular communities, we are working through a lot of issues so that we can then expand it and make it more widespread.”

In anticipation of larger bulk orders, Geneva Wood Fuels has built a large holding silo for wood pellets. “The growth of pellets has definitely been going up in a big way, with our business and specifically in bulk,” Kahn says. “We’re up almost 50 percent this year in our bulk volume. It’s really grown, and I think some of our competitors have similar experiences.”

The neighborhood projects work to foster greater customer density that may help boost the bulk pellet delivery infrastructure. “If you create the density and you have several folks looking for delivery in the same area, it incentivizes that equipment,” Kahn says. “This is a great jumpstart to the introduction of pellets into a community.”  By becoming involved in similar projects, pellet producers are able to organically grow their customer base and the industry, Kahn says. “It’s really one customer at a time on the domestic side,” he says. It’s one thing for customers to read about pellet growth, but seeing the technology in action is a big influence on growing the industry, he adds. “When it’s tangible, and you see your neighbors doing it, it just grows the market.”

Word of mouth has helped make the Berlin project become a success. When Maine Energy Systems sells a boiler system, the customer is sometimes the next person to sell a boiler, Otten says.  “Seeing is believing. The Northern Forest Center project is probably the best example in the United States of how well that can work.”

Author: Chris Hanson
Staff Writer, Pellet Mill Magazine
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By Erin Voegele Biomass Magazine

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has released the December issue of its Short-Term Energy Outlook, predicting that energy production from wood biomass and waste biomass will increase next year.

According to the STEO, wood biomass is expected to be used to generate 111,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per day of energy a

cross all sectors next year, up from 105,000 MWh per day this year. In 2012, wood biomass was used to produce 103,000 MWh per day.

The EIA predicts waste biomass will be used to generate 56,000 MWh per day of electricity in 2014, up from 54,000 MWh per day this year. Last year, waste biomass was used to generate 54,000 MWh of electricity per day.

The electric power sector is expected to consume 0.218 quadrillion Btu (quad) of wood biomass next year, up from 0.187 quad this year. The sector is also forecast to consume 0.261 quad of waste biomass in 2014, up from 0.250 quad this year.

The industrial sector is predicted to consume 1.232 quad of wood biomass next year, down slightly from 1.284 quad this year. The consumption of waste biomass is also expected to fall from 0.174 quad this year to 0.170 quad next year.

The EIA predicts the commercial sector will consume 0.063 quad of wood biomass next year, up from 0.062 quad this year. Waste biomass consumption is expected to hold steady next year at the 2013 consumption level of 0.046 quad.

The residential sector is forecast to consume 0.414 quad of wood biomass, down slightly from 0.420 quad this year.

During the 2013-’14 winter, the EIA predicts 2.648 million households will rely on wood as a primary heating fuel, up 2.5 percent from last winter, when 2.582 million households used wood as a primary heating fuel.

In the West region of the U.S., 750,000 households are expected to use wood as a primary heating fuel, up 1.1 percent from last year. In the South, 632,000 homes are expected to rely on the fuel as a primary heat source, up 3 percent from last winter. The use of wood is expected to remain at last winter’s 632,000 home rate in the Midwest. The use of wood will increase most significantly this winter in the Northeast, where 632,000 households are expected to use wood as a primary heating fuel, up 6.6 percent from last winter.

View the original article and link to the chart here.

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By Anna Simet, Biomass Magazine

In some areas, pellet stoves are selling faster than wood stoves, and that’s for a few reasons, one of which is the complexity of cordwood.

At the Wood Stove Decathalon in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16-19, a panel of experts discussed growth of residential pellet heating, some pros and cons, as well its current role in U.S. renewable energy generation.

John Crouch, Pellet Fuels Institute director of public affairs, discussed the varying properties of cordwood and how pellets offer consumers a more uniform fuel. “There are differences between species [of cordwood]—hardwood and softwood—and even just species of hardwood alone, “Crouch said. “This piece of fuel even varies in moisture and density within itself. We know, for instance, you can move the pins on the moisture meter just a few inches and get a 2 to 3 percent difference in the same piece of fuel. That’s part of what makes the stove so challenging, is the fuel is infinitely variable.”

People began reconstituting sawdust for energy purposes around 20 years ago, he said, into a more predictable fuel—pellets. 

Panel speaker Richard Thomas of Courtwood Hardware, who has been active in the pellet industry since inception, has sold more pellet stoves than any other individual in the U.S., Crouch said.

Thomas said he has been heating his own home with pellets since 1988, and Courtwood has 10,000 active pellet stove customers. Being that one ton of pellets equals 2.8 barrels of oil, last year his company prevented 25,000 barrels of oil from being consumed in Maryland. “Nationally, we’re [the U.S.] using about 2 million tons of pellets per year, and that’s replacing about 5.6 million barrels of oil,” he said.

Thomas noted that appliance installation is simple and inexpensive, and pellet stoves are generally very safe and easy to use and operate. “You can put them in any area of your house where you want to be comfortable so you don’t have to raise the thermostat and temperature of your entire house. But we do have pellet boilers and furnaces that can heat a whole house, 3,000 square feet.”

There are many homeowners in Maryland who are spending three times more to heat their house with electricity than they would with pellets, Thomas added. “We are selling appliances than can heat homes very efficiently, actually ending up in savings as much as $400 per month.”

Pellets cost approximately $15.97 per MMBtu, compared to cordwood, which runs at about $13.33 per MMBtu, according to Thomas.

Following Thomas, Steven Faehner, American Wood Fibers vice president of industrial and bioenergy sales, touched on the company’s history in the pellet industry, which it has been involved in for about 10 years. “We’ve been in business since 1966, and have sold wood and other fibers as fuel long before it was biomass, way before it was famous or sexy,” he said.

American Wood Fibers processes about 500,000 tons of wood per year, according to Faehner, and has three pellet manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio.

Pellets are a very historic and stable product, Faehner emphasized, as the prices don’t fluctuate dramatically and have not varied much over the last 15 to 20 years. “We’re selling pellets for ten dollars less per ton that it was five years ago,” Thomas added.

Though about roughly 53 percent of renewable energy in America comes from biomass in general, Faehner said that isn’t commonly known. “We haven’t gotten the message out, and it’s not promoted enough. We displace an awful lot of fuel [oil].”

Faehner concluded with touching on sustainability issues, pointing out that there is too much caution when it comes to using biomass resources for energy in the U.S., which can have negative consequences, particularly when it comes to fighting forest fires. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “If you look at the numbers—growth verses harvest over the last 55 years—the statistics and resources we have, I don’t know that there’s a better argument [for biomass fuel].”

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By Alliance for Green Heat | October 10, 2011

Recently released U.S. Census figures show the number of households heating with wood grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, faster than any other heating fuel. Electricity showed the second fastest growth, with a 24 percent increase over the past decade.

In two states, households using wood as a primary heat source more than doubled—Michigan (135 percent) and Connecticut (122 percent). And in six other states, wood heating grew by more than 90 percent—New Hampshire (99 percent), Massachusetts (99 percent), Maine (96 percent), Rhode Island (96 percent), Ohio (95 percent) and Nevada (91 percent).

Census data also shows that low- and middle-income households are much more likely to use wood as a primary heating fuel, making low- and middle-income families growth leaders of the residential renewable energy movement. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residential wood heat accounts for 80 percent of residential renewable energy, solar 15 percent and geothermal 5 percent.
“Heating with wood may not be hip like solar, but it’s proving to be the workhorse of residential renewable energy production,” said John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, a nonprofit organization based in Maryland.

The rise of wood and wood pellets in home heating is driven by the climbing cost of oil, the economic downturn and the movement to use renewable energy. The Census Bureau does not track the reason people switch fuels but in states like Maine and New Hampshire where rising oil prices are squeezing household budgets, it is clear that many families simply feel the need to cut heating costs.

“The rise of wood heat is good news for offsetting fossil fuels, achieving energy independence, creating jobs and helping families affordably heat their homes,” Ackerly  said. “However, wood heat’s rapid rise is not just from people using clean pellet and EPA certified wood stoves. Many people are also dusting off old and inefficient stoves and in some states installing outdoor boilers that create too much smoke.”

Over the past decade, the number of households using two of the most expensive heating fuels significantly declined: propane dropped 16 percent and oil heat dropped 21 percent. Some of those homes undoubtedly switched to wood. Switching from fossil fuels to commercially purchased wood heat can reduce a home’s heating bills by half or more. Those who cut or collect their own wood save much more, using their labor to zero out heating bills.

Currently about 25 percent to 30 percent of the 12 million stoves in the U.S. are clean burning pellet stoves or EPA certified wood stoves, according to the EPA and other sources. Americans have installed about 1 million pellet stoves since the 1980s when they were invented.

Wood now ranks third in the most common heating fuels after gas and electricity for both primary and secondary heating fuel use, but ranks fifth, after oil and propane as well, when only primary heat fuel is considered. As of 2010, 2.1 percent of American homes, or about 2.40 million households, use wood as a primary heat source, up from 1.6 percent in 2000. About 10 percent to 12 percent of American households use wood when secondary heating is counted, according to the Census Bureau and the EIA.

The rapid rise in wood heat as a primary heating fuel is mainly a rural phenomenon, and to a lesser extent a suburban trend. According to the U.S. census, 57 percent of households who primarily heat with wood live in rural areas, 40 percent in suburban areas and only 3 percent in urban areas.

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After the unusually warm and snowless winter of 2011–2012, many people questioned if winter could make a comeback. Well it did. Last winter was cold and especially snowy.

So, what’s in store for this winter? The “Days of Shivery” are back! ‚Ä®For 2013–2014, we are forecasting a winter that will experience below average temperatures for about two-thirds of the nation. A large area of below-normal temperatures will predominate from roughly east of the Continental Divide to the Appalachians, north and east through New England. Coldest temperatures will be over the Northern Plains on east into the Great Lakes. Only for the Far West and the Southeast will there be a semblance of winter temperatures averaging close to normal, but only a few areas will enjoy many days where temperatures will average above normal.
Precipitation-wise, the Southern Plains, Midwest, and Southeast will see above-normal conditions, while the rest of the country will average near normal. With a combination of below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation the stage will be set for the Midwest, Great Lakes, and Central and Northern New England to receive lots of snow. Farther south, where the thermometer will be vacillating above or below the freezing mark, Southern New England, Southeast New York, New Jersey, and down through the Mid-Atlantic region will be seeing either copious rains and/or snows.
And yet, the Pacific Northwest (or is it “northwet?”) where indeed wet weather is almost a given during the winter months, the overall winter season could average out drier than normal.
Significant snowfalls are forecast for parts of every zone. Over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, we are “red-flagging” the first ten days of February for possible heavy winter weather. More importantly, on February 2, Super Bowl XLVIII will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands—the very first time a Super Bowl will be played outdoors in a typically cold weather environment. We are forecasting stormy weather for this, the biggest of sporting venues. But even if we are off by a day or two with the timing of copious wind, rain, and snow, we wish to stress that this particular part of the winter season will be particularly volatile and especially turbulent.
And mid-March could bring a wave of storminess stretching almost from coast to coast, bringing a wide variety of precipitation types as well as strong and gusty winds.
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