Monday, April 28, 2014

Fueling Schools with Woody Biomass

With Arbor Day in Pennsylvania just passing I thought it would be fitting to share with my readers a couple related stories concerning how trees, woody biomass, can be used for  Woody biomass can come from a variety of sources including forest biomass, harvesting and manufacturing residues, and short rotation woody crops.  These sources can be harvested at different times of the year and mixed to provide a consistent year round wood supply.

Wood is the second largest source of renewable energy in the U.S. next to hydro, yet only provides 2% of the U.S. energy needs. The U.S. has over 514 million acres of timberland and is estimated to have over 25 billion tons of standing biomass.  However, wide variations in ownership patterns, policies, and attitudes determine access to forest resources.  The growth to removal ratio also varies by forest type and species.  When we take into consideration various technical, regulatory, and social constraints an estimated 369 million oven dry tons of woody biomass is estimated to be available each year.  It is important to note that annual forest growth currently exceeds removals by 1.7 times on average.  This varies by region with the south central being at 1.2 and the pacific northwest at 3.3 times. 

A number of schools and other small businesses in Pennsylvania, and many other states, are currently using wood as a source of energy to provide heat.  The Hughesville School District is on one such school.  Approximately 5 years ago the school installed a wood fired boiler.  For the past three years the school has been burning approximately 650 green tons of wood chips annually.  The chips, provided by Lewis Lumber, were essentially mill waste, chipped slabs of wood cut when squaring logs.  Burning the wood chips provides heat for the 170,000 square foot high school building from mid-October through mid April.  Before the conversion to wood, the school relied on heating oil.  Heating with wood has saved the school thousands of dollars annually.

In addition to bringing in chips from mill waste, the school was proactive and planted an additional 40 acres of school property with hybrid shrub willow, a short rotation woody crop that can be harvested and re-grown on a three year cycle.  The school just completed its first cutting in the willow this past winter. A biomass harvester, on lease from the Penn State New Bio-Consortium, was used to harvest and chip the willow.  You can read the full story below.

It is important to mention the USDA Forest Service is currently (announced April 22, 2014) seeking applications for wood to energy projects.  They are seeking proposals that expand wood energy use and support responsible forest management.  These efforts are part of the Obama Administration's "all of the above" energy strategy and helps create opportunities for wood energy products to enter the marketplace.  For more on this click here.

For additional information see: Penn State Extension Renewable and Alternative Energy Fact Sheet: An Introduction to Biomass Heating 

Hybrid Willows Harvested to Fuel School (The Luminary Feb 7, 2014)
HUGHESVILLE, PA - They came from all across the Mid-Atlantic on a very chilly arctic day to see East Lycoming School District. Some were from Delaware, Maryland, Syracuse, NY, and others in Pennsylvania from Hershey, Harrisburg, State College, Bloomsburg, Lebanon Valley, and Port Allegheny. These visitors representing various organizations from conservancies, schools, prisons, universities and hospitals wanted to know more about the Willow Crop Green Energy power producing program that was developed at the district in Hughesville 5 years ago.  To read more click here

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