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With temperatures dropping below zero, Colby’s new biomass plant goes into normal operations this week. The plant—a key part of the college’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2015—burns forestry byproducts, including wood chips, bark and treetops, which would otherwise have been left on the forest floor. During this period of peak usage, the College is expected to save $250,000 monthly at current market prices.

Biomass, which is an especially logical choice for Maine due to the existing forestry operations, offers a number of benefits.

Reduces Reliance on Oil: Colby’s $11.25-million biomass plant will replace about 1 million gallons of heating fuel with about 22 thousand tons of locally sourced wood annually. The boilers produce steam used for heat, hot water, cooking, and cogeneration of electricity. They will replace 90 percent of the 1.1 million gallons of heating oil used by Colby each year.

BiomassOffers Clean Alternative to Oil: Despite some controversy about biomass as clean, sustainable fuel, a number of factors make Colby’s new plant environmentally friendly. “We’ve gone above the minimum requirements to try and have the cleanest emissions we can,” said Director of Physical Plant Patricia Whitney.

The biomass fuel, provided by Cousineau Forest Products, is coming from sustainable forestry operations within a 50-mile radius of the Waterville campus, keeping trucking to a minimum.

  • Colby’s plant uses a gasification combustion system, resulting in cleaner emissions. “It’s a two stage burn—you burn the gas instead of just burning the wood—so it’s cleaner and more efficient,” said Whitney. The system is by Chiptec Wood Energy Systems, a world leader in this technology.
  • Cyclonic dust collectors and a $480,000 electrostatic precipitator minimize pollutants entering the atmosphere.
  • The plant itself has been built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) specifications and is expected to receive at least a LEED silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Creates Economic Benefits:  The conversion to biomass offers economic benefits to Colby and to Maine.

  • At current market prices, the College estimates that the new plant will reduce heating costs by about $1.5 million annually.
  • Money spent on biomass stays in the local economy.
  • Beyond more than 75 short-term jobs created by Pizzagalli Construction for construction of the plant, Colby’s use of biomass is expected to create four to five permanent jobs in Maine’s forestry industry. Colby is committed to practices and policies that respect the environment and promote sustainable living. Pioneering academic programs and a historical commitment to green values made Colby a leader in environmental initiatives, and success is evident—in its dramatic reduction of carbon emissions, the effectiveness of campus-wide collaboration on environmental programs, and innovative environmental initiatives throughout the organization. The biomass plant will be the seventh LEED-certified building at Colby.