Posted in Lignetics on July 16, 2013 by Administrator
By Renee Magyar | July 01, 2013
In areas of Oregon not served by natural gas, there is a new fuel in town that is replacing heating oil: wood. And it’s saving money for schools and restoring forest lands. Natural gas is the preferred fuel for heating homes and businesses in Oregon due to its relatively low cost, but the majority of the state does not have access to natural gas and instead must rely on much more expensive petroleum heating oil.
Following the farm-to-table sustainable sourcing model, the forest-to-boiler movement is picking up steam. Oregon is among the leaders in U.S. biomass energy production, with a total of 19 projects up and running at schools, hospitals, airports and other facilities. Wood pellet boilers currently heat 12 schools—up from only two in 2010—and those that have switched from oil to wood pellets or wood chips are saving between $20,000 and $120,000 annually on heating costs.
Saving money and using a renewable fuel is great for small towns and schools, and it’s also great for the neighboring national forests. Since the decline of the timber industry in the early 1990s, forests in eastern Oregon have grown to an unhealthy, fire-prone condition. Restoration projects are underway each year to thin overcrowded and dead trees, but the U.S. Forest Service is still struggling to fund the amount of work necessary to return the forests to historic, fire-adapted conditions where forest fire is natural and beneficial instead of widely destructive.
Twenty years ago, the primary barrier to forest management projects in the West was heated disagreement over how to treat the forest—one side wanted to protect it, while another wanted to keep the mills running. This conflict has largely been resolved, as opposing interests have found new ways to work together. Now, the main challenge is funding. Forest restoration work needs to be profitable, otherwise it can’t happen.
Wallowa County in northeastern Oregon is taking an innovative approach to addressing this challenge. A partnership between local businesses, a local nonprofit, and the county government created an integrated biomass campus that is able to process a variety of local tree species and log sizes into various marketable products, including heating fuels, firewood, landscaping timbers and post and poles. This increased revenue stream provides an incentive for the forest service to implement additional restoration projects, and allows for more acres to be restored. Historically, different log species and sizes would have been sent to separate mills, greatly increasing the cost of transportation, thus lowering the value of the wood, the subsequent sticker price, and the impetus for restoration. In addition, having that many more log trucks in the forest would require a much larger landing site, the clearing in the forest where the logs are piled, sorted and loaded onto trucks. The integrated campus includes a sorting yard allowing for a much smaller forest impact.
It also helps reduce carbon and air particulates by making use of the slash—the underbrush, branches and tiny trees that get piled up during thinning projects. The forest service is required to remove the piles since they add fuel to wildfires, and, without a cost-effective use for them, the slash piles are otherwise burned in the forest. Now the piles are being sent to the biomass campus in Wallowa, Ore., for processing into wood fuel, some of which is used at the facility in a 100-kilowatt combined-heat-and-power biomass plant that brings onsite material efficiency close to 100 percent. The remaining wood fuel is sold in the local market for use in high-efficiency,U.S. EPA-certified boilers that have significantly lower particulate and carbon output than slash piles.
All of this adds up to incredible cost savings, and a renewable local system of restoration and efficient use of natural resources, not to mention the jobs that are created in the forest and the mills. But funding restoration projects—the keystone of the whole system—is still a huge challenge. The federal government is stuck in a cycle of fire suppression. Wildfires in the West are greatly increasing in scale and severity as the effects of climate change set in. In 2012 alone, 9 million acres (14,062 square miles) burned in the nation, of which 600,000 acres were in Oregon.
Through our Dry Forest Investment Zone program, Sustainable Northwest has helped establish conditions that allow integrated biomass campuses to be established in Oregon, and we continue to advocate for increased funding for large-scale federal forest restoration projects. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service spent $3 billion—half its annual budget—fighting wildfires, but only $350 million on forest management and restoration. We’re working to change that ratio.
In addition to holding budget conversations with federal land management agencies and Congressional appropriations committees this spring, our rural policy network met with Congressional staff about reauthorization for the Community Wood Energy Program in the Farm Bill. The Senate Farm Bill supports a five-year reauthorization at the level of $5 million annually, with the House version also supporting a five-year reauthorization, but at only $2 million per year. Barring an unlikely untying of House purse strings, we’ll be happy to see a compromise in the final version.
There is increasing state and national attention on the symbiosis of local biomass energy production and forest restoration. The Obama administration is looking for ways to incentivize biomass energy development projects across the country. One possible pathway is through investment tax credits. Maine Sen. Angus King recently introduced the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act of 2013, which would create parity between biomass and other renewable energy credits, such as wind and solar, for thermal energy purposes.
Last August, Oregon received a Forest Service pilot grant to develop biomass energy cluster projects that will use residuals from forest restoration for heating energy. Six groups each received between $9,000 and $50,000 to perform feasibility and engineering studies for biomass conversion projects. The intent of this pilot is to replicate successful results from Oregon in other states across the country. In the meantime, the Oregon Department of Energy is working to establish financing mechanisms to help suitable projects with implementation.
As we see more and more positive results from innovative systems like forest-to-boiler, it’s easy to remain optimistic that our small towns will continue to rebound. As long as we remain on an upward trend, counties will continue to save money and see increased independence from fossil fuels.
Posted in Lignetics on July 02, 2013 by Administrator
The President's Global Climate Plan includes the use of wood pellet products to improve the global environment and preserve resources. To read the action plan, please click here
Posted in Lignetics on June 25, 2013 by Administrator
The University of Maine at Fort Kent and the Maine School Administrative District No. 27 broke ground on a $4 million biomass heating project on the site of the former Fort Kent Armory.
Largely funded by the USDA, the project will feature two, multifuel boilers and consume 1,000 tons of wood pellets per year. Terence Kelly, director of university relations, said the dual boiler system will provide the campus with greater heating flexibility. He explained each boiler will provide 50 percent of the needed heat, but is also capable of taking over if the other unit goes offline. Kelly added the next stage of the project is to select a boiler manufacturer for the facility.
Most of the fuel will come within a 20 mile radius of the campus from various providers. Kelly said some may even come from greater distances. Wilson Hess, president of UMFK, said the project, “will serve as a working environmental education example of local renewable fuel replacing imported nonrenewable oil, dramatically reducing the university’s annual energy costs and carbon footprint.”
Once completed, the project will generate heat and hot water for 12 buildings located on the UMFK and Fort Kent Community High School campuses, with potential for two more locations inside the school district. Additionally, the project is expected to save both the college and school district more than $4 million in energy costs throughout the next decade.
This project is the second, biomass development for the UMFK campus. In May 2012, the university brought online a $500,000 wood-to-energy system that provides heat for its largest resident hall and athletic complex
Posted in Lignetics on June 18, 2013 by Administrator
A North Yorkshire poultry farming family has made financial savings and increased the predictability of future input costs, by moving from oil heating to a biomass wood boiler which relies on wood pellets.
Reg Marton farms with his son, Simon, and grandson, Andy, at Rise Farm, Great Barugh, near Malton. A poultry enterprise was added to the farm business some 50 years ago and the family currently produce 500,000 broilers from six crops of birds each year, as well as growing arable crops and running a contracting business.
Mains gas is not available in the area, so oil had always been used to heat the sheds. "The price of heating has rocketed over the past two years and our margins, which were already tight, were being eroded. An attempt to cut down on oil consumption did not work out, as it had a detrimental effect on growth rates.
"The market for oil is extremely volatile and seems to be moving in only one direction - upward. This was making it difficult to predict input costs for any length of time ahead, with a similar effect on profitability."
The Martons approached family friend and neighbour, Peter Teasdale, who is a director of Land Energy, an integrated wood pellet business which offers producers a range of options for heating their sheds. The family chose a contract which gave them a free energy system, including a boiler, pellet storage facility, thermostatically-controlled hot water heaters, computer equipment and a network of pipes. Design and installation were also part of the deal.
The system, which has been operating since last August, provides all the energy required to heat the poultry housing. Hot water is dispersed through a series of metal pipes with fins attached, although underground pipework can also be installed, in cases where there is insufficient room to build heat centres attached to individual sheds.
Another element of the contract covers the costs associated with equipment cleaning, servicing and maintenance, plus related insurance premiums. Land Energy takes the Renewable Heating Incentive payments, which are offered for sustainable heating projects and linked to the level of energy generated.
In return, the Martons commit to a 10-year arrangement, which involves making an agreed fixed monthly payment, linked to the quantity of wood pellets used. This represents an approximate 20% saving in energy costs compared with oil heating, based on current prices. The monthly fee is reviewed annually and is adjusted only to take account of inflation. The contract allows the Martons to fix their heating costs for a decade ahead, irrespective of oil or biomass price increases.
The contract also permits the family to use up to 10% more wood pellets at no extra cost. This means that, in an exceptionally cold winter when spot oil prices usually rise sharply, their financial commitment remains stable.
The maximum quantity of the wood pellets held in storage for each shed is 10t, which will last for two weeks at peak times of the year. Pellet levels are monitored remotely, with fresh supplies delivered by blower truck. The system uses 6mm pellets, to facilitate their movement by auger from the store to the boiler.
"The current arrangement is working well," says Mr Marton. "If we had carried on using oil, or purchased a wood pellet heating system independently, we would have been left without any protection against energy price fluctuations.
"The idea of a wood-fuel boiler appealed to us; the option we chose involved no capital expenditure and gave us the opportunity to help the environment by minimising the farm's carbon emissions."
Woodfuel produces dry heat, compared with gas or oil, offering potential savings on litter and reducing humidity within the housing. A "weight for age" improvement rate of 5-10% is also reported, along with the potential for cutting down pododermatitis.
While many renewable heating systems depend on wood pellets, farmers can also use woodchips, taken from their own trees. It is generally recommended that virgin wood is used, as waste woodchip can cause problems with emission levels, to which legal restrictions apply.
Posted in Lignetics on June 11, 2013 by Administrator
A quiet revolution is taking place across the Acela corridor: heating with wood finds broad new acceptance. Applications range from residential wood pellet stoves and boilers, to institutional and industrial pellet and chip h
eating of schools and factories, to district heating of downtown centers and college campuses.
Fully automated pellet systems of all sizes, bulk wood pellet delivery, refined and semi-dried wood chip
fuels, advanced technology boilers with engineered emissions controls that bring down harmful pollutants, and combined heat and electric power (CHP) systems are steadily making inroads and on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.
It was the winter of 2005, average oil prices were $2.44 per gallon, and about 30 inches of snow dropped overnight on Rhode Island. The answer to the cold: turn up the heat. Problem was, that, like the seasons, my fathers employment was cyclical. At the time, he was a hard-working Carpenter working for the Rhode Island Carpenter's Union. But, like most other Carpenters in the Northeast, finding an indoor job in the winter time was, and still is, extremely difficult. One must budget money accordingly. I'm not crying poverty —my father has put in well over 20 years with the union and has a nice hourly wage — but when it was time to fill up a 275 gallon tank, the $671 bill was hard to swallow during a time of budgeting. Do it 2.5-4 times a winter, and you start talking about paying some bills rather than others.
His answer: buying a pellet stove in the summer of 2006. I was only 15 at the time, had no idea what a pellet stove was, and hated the idea of lugging 40lb bags back and forth from the barn. The one positive of this new purchase was the fact it was going to be in the basement ... a.k.a my new bedroom.
Come to find out, this was one of my fathers smarter purchases. In 2007, average oil prices jumped to $3.44, nearly a dollar more per gallon. In 2012, the average price for oil was $3.88 per gallon.
While my days of lugging 40lb bags of pellets back and forth from the barn to my room are over, my father swears it was his best purchase to this day--and the numbers tell a fairly similar story.
The cost of the pellet stove was $3,500. Figuring that he uses 2 tons of pellets per winter (1 ton is equal to 1.5 cords of firewood) at today's average price of $217 per ton over the last 7 winters, means he has spent roughly $3,100 since purchasing the stove. Let's call it $7,000 when you add the cost of the pellet stove and the addition of the expensive piping that is needed to vent out the byproduct.
Before the pellet stove, my father used to go through 2.5-4 refills of a 275 gallon oil tank per winter season alone. Using the average oil price per season and multiplying that by three refills per winter cycle yields a total of $17,000 spent on oil, not including the yearly upkeep cost. The difference between the projected cost of oil refills vs. the actual cost of pellets ... close to $10,000.
The numbers speak volumes for how cost effective pellets stoves can be, in the right environment. Did my father use oil over the past seven years? Of course he did, just not $10,000 worth.
Wonder why universities, factories, and even government buildings are slowly switching to woodpellets and other woodburing practices as a source of heat and energy? It's not because liberals are pushing the clean energy agenda (which they are), it's because it saves money.