Modern Wood Heating

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Vermont Wood Chip and Pellet Heating Conference

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Modern Wood Heating is a widely recognized, energy efficient way to heat homes and businesses that relies solely on biomass fuels. Biomass refers to any solid biological material that can be used as fuel, such as grass or corn, and includes the chopped wood that many Vermonters already use to heat their homes. While antique wood stoves burn inefficiently, and emit an abundance of soot and smoke, modern biomass systems have very low particulate matter (tiny particles that can cause breathing problems) emissions, offer proven reliability, and when fed with responsibly harvested waste forestry and mill waste products, contribute minimal additional CO2 to the atmosphere. Using ultra-clean boilers, community-scale biomass projects offer a cost competitive alternative to fossil fuel electricity and heat generation — efficiencies in “Combined Heat and Power” systems can reach up to 80%. See all Bioenergy Members

New Developments in Modern Wood Heating

Rural Energy for America Program Loan Guarantee and Grant:  A grant program that can provide up to 25 percent of the funding for an energy efficiency upgrade or renewable energy installation for your small business (up to $500,000 but average less than $100,000).  A special reminder that the production of wood pellets and wood chips is considered an eligible use for the REAP program, as well as the installation of end user equipment (boilers).   Contact Ken Yearman at (802) 828-6070 or Kenneth.yearman@vt.usda.gov or visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency/vt.

Advanced Biofuel Payment Program:
  Provides quarterly production payments to biofuel producers, including wood pellet and wood chip manufacturing.  https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/advanced-biofuel-payment-program.  Contact Cheryl Ducharme for more information at Cheryl.ducharme@vt.usda.gov or (802) 828-6083.

Community Facilities Loan and Grant Program:  Provides direct, low-interest, long term loans to essential community facilities (schools, hospitals, arts venues, municipal offices, etc) to undertake infrastructure projects.  RD used this program to finance the wood chip system at Goddard College and the wood pellet system at Burke School.  Loan guarantees are also available, and one was used in coordination with Community National Bank to finance the Kingdom Pellet project. Limited grant funding is available (less than $50,000 per project and only to the most economically challenged communities).  https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/community-facilities-direct-loan-grant-program/vt Contact Jon Michael Muise:  (802) 689-3026 or jon.muise@vt.usda.gov.

504 Home Repair Program:  Loan and grant program for low income homeowners who need critical repairs to their home, including the installation of wood pellet furnaces.  20 year loans up to $20,000 for 1 percent.  Eligible homeowners who can not repay the loan, and who are over age 62, may be eligible for up to a $7,500 grant.  Visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/single-family-housing-repair-loans-grants.

The Vermont Training Program (VTP) is a resource for businesses and employees which can reimburse up to half of the cost of employee training related to a business investment in new equipment or new product development, am expansion into new markets or value chains, or other new businesses activities that present a need for supplemental employee training beyond what the business is already doing.

Training can either be in-house or provided by an outside vendor. Also, the Vermont Training Program can provide grants for either businesses or for training providers that serve multiple businesses.

Basic eligibility requirements include but are not limited to:

– Employees that receive training must be full time

– Employees that receive training must be paid at least the State defined living wage (currently $13/hr) and be offered at least 3 out of a list of 8 benefits.

Applications are available on a rolling basis and once a final application is submitted, the Department of Economic Development commits to turning around a decision within 18 business days. However, we encourage you to contact the Vermont Training Program (please see below) before submitting your application.

Note: Forest Products is a priority sector in Vermont’s statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. Businesses in this sector receive additional points on their VTP application.

Interested applicants should contact both Jared Duval, Economic Development Director for Working Lands and the Green Economy (Jared.Duval@vermont.gov and 802 272 2461), and John Young, Director of the Vermont Training Program (John.young@vermont.gov and 802 355 2725)

Renewable Energy Vermont is proud to be a part of the Vermont Statewide Wood Energy Team  (VT SWET) — Advancing the use of modern wood heat in schools and affordable housing across Vermont.

The Vermont State Wood Energy Team is a public-private partnership that provides outreach and technical support services to public schools and affordable housing providers to consider installing modern wood heating systems.

  • Learn from experts at workshops.
  • Tour facilities with wood heating systems.
  • Have your facility assessed for possible conversion.
  • Receive the technical support needed to develop a successful project.

To find out more or to request support services, please contact the Paul Frederick with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation at paul.frederick@vermont.gov or (802) 777-5247.

Biomass History and Usage

While the creation of biomass energy dates back to the first time a fire was lit, modern biomass energy projects go far beyond the primitive resources of simply lighting and sustaining a fire. Benefiting from computer-aided design and the latest incineration technologies, these systems are used to heat whole communities, and meet utility-scale electrical demands in locations around the world; here in the US we have 16 gigawatts (GW) of biomass capacity currently installed.

detail-biomass3Biomass in Vermont

Biomass systems in Vermont range from residential-scale pellet furnaces, to community-scale heating systems, and on to utility-scale electric generation facilities like the 50 MW McNeill plant in Burlington. Calais Elementary School was the first building to install an automated woodchip boiler heating system in 1984. In 2009, Community-scale woodchip and wood pellet furnaces were in use in over 45 schools throughout Vermont, a number that is growing steadily. As of 2014, more than 30 percent of all public school students attend a wood-heated school. Feasibility studies into using local crops such as switch grass for biomass feed stocks are currently underway.

With its long, cold winter season New England consumes 85% of the heating oil used in America — making widespread biomass use an avenue where Vermonters could make a significant reduction in national fossil fuel use. With almost 78% of its land covered in forests, Vermont is well positioned to expand its wood-based energy sector to heat and power homes, businesses, and industrial facilities.

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Learn More About Biomass

detail-biomass2Biomass FAQ’s:

Why use biomass fuels?

Using biomass fuels helps mitigate environmental issues such as acid rain and global climate change. One of the greatest benefits of using biomass fuels is that they cost on average 25-50 percent less than fossil fuels and are more stable in pricing. It is unlikely that any future carbon or energy taxes will increase the cost of biomass fuels and are more likely to raise the cost of heating with fossil fuels.

Biomass is a locally available fuel source that increases the region’s energy independence and security while stimulating the local economy by keeping energy dollars circulating in the region rather than exporting them. Using wood also helps to support the forest products industry, creating markets, and forestry and agriculture jobs in the surrounding region.

Modern community-scale biomass systems burn cleanly, with virtually no visible emissions or odors and compared with modern residential-scale wood and pellet stoves, they have far fewer emissions of particulate matter (PM), an exhaust product of wood combustion known for its adverse effects on human respiratory health. For example, over the course of a winter season, the heating plant of a 200,000 square foot wood-heated school in a cold northern climate produces about the same amount of PM as five residential-scale wood stoves.

Burning wood for energy has a positive impact in moderating global climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) buildup in the atmosphere is a significant cause of global climate change which is why biofuels are a great alternative source of energy. Fossil fuel combustion takes carbon that was locked away underground (as crude oil and gas) and transfers it to the atmosphere as CO2. When wood is burned, however, it recycles carbon that was already in the natural carbon cycle. Biomass Energy Resource Center

What is woody biomass and where does it come from?

Woody biomass refers to trees and woody plants, including limbs, tops, needles, leaves, and other woody parts, grown in a forest, woodland, or rangeland environment, that are the by-products of forest management.

Wood pellets are one type of woody biomass that has gained national attention with rising fossil fuel prices. According to the Pellet Fuels Institute, there are currently about 800,000 homes in the United States using wood pellet stoves or furnaces for heating. Wood pellets are locally available and serve as a cost-effective heating fuel with several advantages over other types of biomass. The majority of Vermonters may be familiar with another type of woody biomass, called cord wood, which is widely used to heat homes during our long, cold winters.

Woody biomass fuel can come from various sources. Wood pellets are made from wood waste materials that are condensed under heat and pressure, whereas woodchips can come from sawmills that chip wood as a by-product, directly from harvesting operations in the woods, or from clean community wood wastes such as chipped urban tree trimmings, stumps, and discarded Christmas trees. In addition to these traditional sources, chips are increasingly being produced from chipped low-grade logs or “pulpwood” in dedicated chip yards and chip mills. Biomass Energy Resource Center

What kinds of facilities use biomass?

Facilities suitable for biomass systems include colleges, universities, hospitals, public buildings, hotels and motels, commercial buildings, greenhouses, large-scale agricultural operations, manufacturing plants, power plants, schools, and community district energy systems (the latter being the use of a central heating plant to provide heat to multiple buildings using buried pipes to distribute the energy). BERC’s expertise is in ‘community-scale’ biomass systems in the 1-to-10 million Btu per hour (output) range. Biomass Energy Resource Center

How stable is the supply of woody biomass? Will it always be available?

In the Northeast, biomass as a by-product is well-spoken for and transitioning from a waste-stream product to a commodity. A gauge to the vitality of this market commodity is the strength of the forest products industry, which provides the infrastructure (loggers, mills, trucks, etc.) required to supply the seasonal heating market. The biomass energy needs of the seasonal heating market can be better met if integrated into the existing market by piggybacking onto a regional anchor such as a pulpmill or cluster of wood-fired facilities. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Why should we use the forest for energy?

Humans have a long history of utilizing forests for sustenance, including food, fuel, shelter, clothing, fences and barriers, weapons, and numerous other uses. As we continue to use wood products, it makes sense to also use the low-grade material and wood wastes that are generated to displace fossil fuels for heating. In fact, providing markets for these low-grade and waste materials is a key component of both sustainable harvesting and forest conservation, helping forested parcels maintain long-term value as a sustainable resource. Sustainably-produced biomass from forests is a local renewable energy source that keeps energy dollars circulating in the local economy by creating markets for low-grade wood, adding economic vitality and jobs to the forest-products industry, and improving the health of our forests. Biomass Energy Resource Center

What are the impacts of using the forest for fuel?

Procuring biomass fuel is integrated into harvesting operations that are already occurring; therefore there is no additional impact to the forest. Removing low-quality trees for biomass can actually help forests by opening up space necessary for higher-quality trees to grow faster. Further, without markets for low-quality wood, only high-quality trees are harvested, thereby degrading the forest quality over time. While any forest management plan should consider the resilience of the particular forest being harvested, some level of management and harvest most often is restorative as opposed to damaging, with short-term impacts minimized and long-term negligible. Some positive impacts include sustaining the local forest products industry, maintaining the value of forested land, and sourcing forest-based products locally rather than putting that burden on more distant forests. ‘Community-scale’ biomass projects that are properly sited and implemented do not put undue strain on forest resources. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Does using biomass for fuel from the forests destroy habitats?

Biomass fuel harvesting is nearly always conducted as part of an integrated timber harvest where multiple products (veneer, sawlogs, pulp, and firewood) are removed at the same time. As long as good forest management practices are followed, the biomass fuel harvesting results in no additional impact on wildlife habitat. It is important to note that some harvesting is often prescribed by foresters specifically for enhancing or expanding the habitat of various game and non-game wildlife. Many types of wildlife require open areas created by harvesting and the early successional vegetation that takes over after a harvest. Depending on the forest management objectives, biomass harvesting can in fact contribute to the diversity of wildlife habitat in a forest. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Are woodchips as clean as gas or oil?

The answer depends on the pollutant to which you are comparing woodchips. Wood has lower sulfur dioxide emissions and net greenhouse gas emissions than both oil and propane; however, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and total organic compound emissions are higher from wood than oil. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from wood are comparable to oil. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which are produced by combustion, are higher when using wood than when using natural gas or oil, but each fuel emits different VOCs at varying levels and each type has varying reactivity. It is important to note that using the best available control technology and combustion practices, careful siting, appropriate stack (chimney) height, and careful consideration of dispersion patterns will bring emissions well within permissible limits and lessen the impacts of any pollutants emitted when burning biomass. In addition, biomass is considered a carbon neutral fuel when harvested using sustainable forestry practices, and its use when replacing fossil fuels helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Will the wood smoke be an air-quality problem?

Automated, commercial-sized woodchip and pellet systems burn much cleaner than even the most modern home wood or pellet stove. They produce no creosote and practically no visual smoke or odor. Because the biomass fuel is green, or close to 50 percent water, however, in cold weather the chimney may show a plume of condensed water vapor. Interviews with dozens of system operators support the conclusion that odor generated by the fuel or the smoke is almost never a problem, and in most cases, both chip and pellet systems easily meet state air quality standards. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Are the wood ashes toxic? Where and how are they disposed?

Wood ash from institutional and commercial heating plants is not toxic, in fact, it is an excellent soil additive for agricultural use. It can also be spread on athletic fields and gardens or disposed of at a landfill. Biomass Energy Resource Center

Where can I find out more about community-scale biomass?

The Biomass Energy Resource Center is an excellent resource for information. Visit the site here.

Last updated July, 2014

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