Construction is underway for a biomass heating plant that will use wood chips and forest waste to replace 90 percent of the 1.1 million gallons of heating oil used by Colby each year. Site work began in December for the $11.25-million project that will install twin 400-horsepower biomass-fueled boilers to produce steam used for heat, hot water, cooking, and electrical cogeneration.
The plant will burn low-grade forest waste and debris including bark and treetops. Plans are for biomass to come from sustainable forest operations within a 50-mile radius. The conversion will replace up to a million gallons of oil per year, and estimates of oil and biomass prices suggest the project should payfor itself in six to 10 years, according to Director of Physical Plant Patricia Murphy.
Since biomass is considered carbon lean if not neutral, carbon emissions from Colby’s steam plant will decrease about 90 percent, Murphy said. The project will put the College well down the path toward carbon neutrality, which it intends to achieve by 2015.
The steam plant, which will keep the oil-fired boilers on line for peak heating periods and backup, will continue to employ a cogeneration turbine that supplies 10 percent of Colby’s electricity needs.
Murphy and project manager Assistant Director of Physical Plant Paul “Gus” Libby, both engineers, did extensive research into the experience of early biomass adopters. They worked with a firm that designed a system using a gasification combustion process. The result will be emissions that meet or exceed established regulations and ash that should be suitable for composting or agricultural use.
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