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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

 

About the Fuels for Schools and Beyond Initiative

Project Feasibility

Costs and Savings

Fuel Supply

System Installation and Operation

Air Quality

 

 

About the Fuels for Schools and Beyond Initiative back to top

 

Does the FFS&B program only assist with projects for public schools?

How do we get started on pursuing a biomass system installation if we’re located outside of the 6-state region?

What interest do the federal government and the USDA Forest Service have in supporting this initiative? 

 

Does the program only assist with projects for public schools?

 

No, our program staff can provide assistance for projects in all public and private facilities throughout rural and urban communities from small schools to universities, community centers, hospitals, prisons, tribe-owned facilities, residential, commercial and industrial facilities to district energy systems. 

 

How do we get started on pursuing a biomass system installation if we’re located outside of the 6-state region?

 

A number of resources are available to assist you such as an architectural and engineering firm, energy service company, economic development agency, state energy department, energy consultant, or system manufacturer. Locate a biomass utilization specialist in your state.

 

Explore these links: Project Feasibility

                                       Consultants and Manufacturers

                                       Locate your regions Resource Conservation and Development office.

 

What interest do the federal government and the USDA Forest Service have in supporting this initiative?

 

By promoting and developing the utilization of forest biomass for energy, the Fuels for Schools and Beyond Initiative achieves several goals in the national interest:

  • Provides financial incentives for treating hazardous fuels by creating markets for otherwise wasted woody material, thus meeting objectives of National Fire Plan and the Administration's Healthy Forest Initiative.
  • Encourages community engagement in national forest management
  • Reduces and stabilizes heating costs for public facilities
  • Strengthens local economies 
  • Reduces national dependency on foreign oil and non-renewable fossil fuels
  • Reduces air pollution from open-pile slash burning
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions

 

 

Project Feasibility back to top

 

What makes a good project?

Where can I get more information about the feasibility of an installation in my facility?

Can I create both heat and electricity for my facility with a biomass energy system?

 

What makes a good project?

 

There are a few things that can make a facility well suited for biomass energy:

  1. High heat demand and high fossil fuel costs. Generally, if a facility is not using at least 2,500 dekatherms/year of natural gas or spending at least $20,000 annually on heating fuel (natural gas, propane, fuel oil) they won’t be likely candidates for conversion.  However, there are exceptions if installing very small furnace systems.  
  2. Proximity to a wood fuel source can be important in that generally, the closer the supply, the cheaper the fuel.  A haul distance from a forest source of 30-50 air miles (est. 50-80 road miles) can generally keep costs of wood fuel reasonable at a rate of $35-40/ton.  Other biomass fuel sources can include wood pellets, sawmill residues and municipal wood waste such as clean demolition waste and urban trees which may be nearby. 
  3. Space available for the biomass burner, fuel storage, and access for delivery trucks.
  4. It’s more cost-effective to install a biomass boiler system in the new construction of a facility compared to integrating it into an existing system.
  5. A simple payback on investment within 10 years is desirable.

 

Where can I get more information about the feasibility of an installation in my facility?

 

If you are located in ID, MT, NV, ND, UT, or WY, contact your regions FFS&B Program Coordinator

 

Located outside of this 6-state area?  Contact a biomass utilization specialist in your state.

 

More on Project Feasibility

 

Conduct a quick preliminary feasibility assessment using a simple online calculator from Michigan Wood Energy

 

View list of Engineering Consultants

 

Can I create both heat and electricity for my facility with a biomass energy system?

 

Technologies for smaller-scale co-generation of both heat and power for smaller facilities is still being developed.  For larger facilities, the technology is available and could be a viable option. 

 

Visit EPA’s Combined Heat and Power Partnership webpage

 

Costs and Savings back to top

 

How much does an installation cost?

How much can a facility save?

Is there financial assistance available for an installation?

Will I need to budget for additional staff time for operation and maintenance of the biomass system?

 

How much does an installation cost?

 

The cost of installing and operating a biomass boiler system depends on a few things:

  1. size of your facility and heat demand
  2. ease of integration into existing infrastructure and requirements for new construction
  3. chosen features of a system (i.e. fully automated vs. semi-automated fuel conveyance system, automatic ash removal system, stack installations, size and style of fuel bin, etc.)

 

The costs of installations in FFS&B project facilities have ranged from the lowest cost of $200,000 for a 1 million BTU/hr output system at Bismarck Landfill in North Dakota, installation of a 12 million BTU/hr output wood chip system at the University of Montana-Western for $1.4 million, and the largest installation to date at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada at $8.2 million for a 30 million BTU/hr system.  Most of the small- to medium- scale biomass system installations within the FFS&B program have generally been in the $450,000-$650,000 range.

 

See the Table of Projects for project costs of additional biomass boiler installations.

 

While these installations can have high up-front costs, a life-cycle analysis of the fuel savings realized by operating a biomass boiler system proves cost-effective and a wise investment over the long-term.

 

How much can a facility save?

 

Fuel cost savings with a biomass boiler system installation will depend on a facility’s heat demand and the unit cost difference between biomass and the fossil fuel it replaces.  Because the unit cost of heat from biomass ($/BTU) is generally far lower than the fossil fuel it replaces, the savings add up faster for larger heat users.

 

In general, fuel cost savings for projects that have replaced natural gas boiler systems have averaged at 25% while facilities replacing fuel oil systems have enjoyed savings of 50-75%.

 

See the Table of Projects  for details of annual cost savings estimated for biomass boiler projects.  

 

Is there financial assistance available for an installation?

 

The Fuels for Schools and Beyond program is currently unable to award construction grants for biomass boiler installations, but can provide technical assistance and help to identify numerous other financing opportunities.

 

Click here to view various state, federal, and private funding opportunities.

 

Will I need to budget for additional staff time for operation and maintenance of the biomass system?

 

In the beginning—yes.  As with any new equipment, you can expect an initial break-in period of additional staff time over the course of the first year while the operator learns proper tuning and operation.  However, once on track, time required for general maintenance tasks is minimal and is often easily incorporated to an existing maintenance schedule.  A small-scale biomass heating system can require more operation and maintenance time than a fossil fuel system mainly because of the variability in size and quality of the solid wood fuel compared to the consistent quality of liquid or gas fuels.

 

 

Fuel Supply back to top

 

What kind of material is burned in biomass boilers?

How much fuel does it take?

How many tons of slash are generated from forest thinning on one acre? 

How much woody biomass is available in the nation, my state or local area, and what amount of usage can be sustainable into the future?

How do you assess the local fuel supply available for a facility?

How much does woody biomass fuel cost?

As a facility manager, how do I go about acquiring woody biomass fuel?

I am a private landowner with forested acres.  How can I contribute material from my property to a biomass energy facility?

What are “whole-tree" pellets?

 

What kind of material is burned in biomass boilers?

 

Woody biomass fuel can include forest slash, urban tree waste, clean waste wood from construction demolition, pallets, and wood waste from wood products manufacturers.  This material can be wood material processed with a chipper or grinder, or compressed into pellets.  A primary goal of the Fuels for Schools and Beyond program is to promote the utilization of wood waste from hazardous fuels reduction and other forest treatments on local forests. 

 

How much fuel does it take?

 

This depends on the square footage of your facility and your heating requirement.  As an example the smallest facility within the program at Bismarck Landfill (at 18,000 ft2) utilizes approximately 220 tons of wood chips/year in a 1 million BTU/hr output boiler.  A larger facility, the 470,000 ft2 campus at the University of Montana-Western, burns 3,800 tons of wood chips/year in a 12 million BTU/hr output boiler. 

 

See the Table of Projects for details of annual biomass fuel usage for other facilities.

 

How many tons of slash are generated from forest thinning on one acre? 

 

This will vary depending on the forest type, local conditions, and the treatment.  As an example, a forest thinning treatment of a Douglas Fir-Ponderosa Pine forest in western Montana is conservatively estimated to generate about 10 green tons of wood waste per acre.  Using that figure, 380 acres of forest treatment would generate 3,800 green tons of fuel to heat the University of Montana-Western campus for a year. 

 

How much woody biomass is available in the nation, my state or local area, and what amount of usage can be sustainable into the future?

 

Woody biomass is a readily available, renewable resource and its “sustainability" as a fuel source depends on a number of factors including your region of scope, generation rates of biomass material (from forest treatments and/or municipal sources), and rates of utilization by the local wood products industry or other users.  A facility or community would need to assess these factors for their particular area and needs.   Of note, all of the supply assessments conducted for biomass boiler projects within the FFS&B program have identified an available supply of woody biomass far above and beyond that project’s need.

 

A few resources of national and state biomass supply assessments:

The Billion-Ton Report", USDA and DOE, April 2005

 

A Geographic Perspective on the Current Biomass Resource Availability in the United States, NREL, December 2005. 

 

How do you assess the local fuel supply available for a facility?

 

When a facility considers installing a biomass boiler, the state FFS&B program staff can assist in conducting a regional supply assessment of both the forest and municipal fuel sources available.  The forest supply assessment generally entails a survey of the past, present, and proposed forest projects across all land ownerships within a 30-50 air mile radius of the facility.  A site-specific estimate of how much biomass residue is expected to be generated from each MBF (1,000 board feet) harvested is calculated with considerations for retaining the optimum amount of woody debris to remain on-site for ecological needs.  Municipal biomass sources that may be surveyed include arborists, landfills, composting facilities, and wood product manufacturers. 

 

How much does woody biomass fuel cost?

 

This can depend on supply availability and competing users, your location, supplier, and haul and delivery distance from the source.  As an example, in Montana wood chips from forest slash processed with a grinder within a 30- mile distance are currently averaging a cost of $35-40/ green ton, with bulk wood pellet deliveries at $120/ton. 

 

Check out the Cost Comparison of biomass to fossil fuels.

 

As a facility manager, how do I go about acquiring woody biomass fuel?

 

A facility generally invites bids or negotiates a contract with a local supplier for delivered chips.  A state FFS&B Coordinator, or your local natural resource agencies (USFS, BLM, etc.) can help you to identify foresters and potential suppliers in the area who may be interested.  

 

I am a private landowner with forested acres.  How can I contribute material from my property to a biomass energy facility?

 

Talk with the contractor working on your property about this desired use for fuel and see if he/she can arrange this with a local biomass fuel supplier or biomass burning facility. 

 

What are “whole-tree" wood pellets?

 

These are pellets that are manufactured of woody material from all parts of a tree including the tops, branches, needles, bark and bolewood.  This differs from premium- and residential-grade pellets which are generally made up solely of clean bolewood or sawdust.   

 

 

System Installation and Operation  back to top

 

How do these systems work?

Where did this idea come from? How new is this technology?

Can a biomass boiler system be retrofitted into an existing fossil fuel-fired system? 

How much maintenance is required?

 

How do these systems work?

 

An automatic conveyance system moves the wood fuel from the storage bin into the combustion or gasification chamber where the heat energy of the combusted wood is transferred to a hot water or steam boiler which distributes heat throughout the facility.  

 

Where did this idea come from? How new is this technology?

 

Larger-scale wood chip-fired heat and power systems have been in operation for decades in the processing plants of pulp/paper mills and forest product manufacturers.  Over the last 20 years, this technology has been fine tuned for smaller scale applications for facilities such as schools, hospitals, and public and commercial buildings.   Much of this technology development has come out of New England, the Lake States, and eastern Canada.  The University of Idaho has been heating their campus with wood chips for over 20 years.  There are over 25 schools in Vermont who have converted to biomass heating over the past 15 years with an additional 14 facilities in the West converting to biomass over the last 5 years as part of the FFS&B program, and several other systems across the nation. 

 

Can a biomass boiler system be retrofitted into an existing fossil fuel-fired system?

 

Yes.  The biomass boiler can be tied in to an existing hot water or steam distribution system.  This often entails piping the systems together and/or installing heat exchangers.  It is good to retain your fossil-fuel fired system as back-up to supplement heat production from the biomass system during periods of very high heat demand.    

 

How much maintenance is required?

 

General maintenance tasks include ash removal (weekly), scraping grates (weekly), checking and adjusting fuel feed rates and combustion air (daily/weekly), boiler tube cleaning (annually), lubrication, and general machinery inspections.  The time required for these activities will likely be greater in the beginning as the operator becomes acquainted with and tunes the new system.  After that break-in period, time required should be little more than that for fossil-fueled boilers.  The boiler operator at Darby Schools reports that he spends less time maintaining and cleaning their biomass boiler than he did with the two previous fuel oil burners. 

 

 

Air Quality back to top

 

What are the emissions associated with biomass boilers?

Are there air permitting requirements for biomass boilers?  

Why is burning biomass for energy considered “carbon neutral"?

 

What are the emissions associated with biomass boilers?

 

Like other combustion sources, wood boilers emit a variety of pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon dioxide (CO2), hazardous air pollutants, and trace elements.  Particulate matter emissions are minimized by maintaining efficient combustion in the system and if necessary, installing pollution control devices, especially to minimize PM-2.5 emissions.  As part of the FFS&B partners' commitment to ensuring good air quality, they  have sponsored stack emissions testing on a variety of systems, regularly share lessons learned with the public at large, and continue to collaborate closely with regional and national air quality managers.

 

Are there air permitting requirements for biomass boilers?  

 

Consult your local, state, and national regulations as these will vary by location and project.  

 

For national and regional information from the EPA.

 

Why is burning biomass for energy considered “carbon neutral"?

 

Burning wood is considered "carbon neutral" because, as trees grow, they pull carbon out of the atmosphere and when they die, decompose, or are burned they release that same amount of carbon. With this, there is no net gain of CO2 in the atmosphere and growing plants and trees will continue to cycle that CO2.  Compare this to the burning of fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas, which release old carbon that has been deep in the earth for millions of years, creating a carbon imbalance in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.

 


    
    
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