top of page
the Fuels for Schools and Beyond Initiative
Costs and Savings
System Installation and Operation
About the Fuels for
Schools and Beyond Initiative back to top
the FFS&B program only assist with projects for public schools?
we get started on pursuing a biomass system installation if we’re located
outside of the 6-state region?
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?
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
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.
these links: Project Feasibility
Consultants and Manufacturers
Locate your regions Resource Conservation and Development
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:
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.
community engagement in national forest management
- Reduces and
stabilizes heating costs for public facilities
national dependency on foreign oil and non-renewable fossil fuels
air pollution from open-pile slash burning
greenhouse gas emissions
Project Feasibility back to
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
are a few things that can make a facility well suited for biomass energy:
- High heat demand and high fossil fuel
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.
- 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.
- Space available for the biomass
burner, fuel storage, and access for delivery trucks.
- 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.
- A simple payback on investment within 10 years
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
a quick preliminary feasibility assessment using a simple online calculator from Michigan Wood Energy
list of Engineering Consultants
Can I create both
heat and electricity for my facility with a biomass energy system?
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.
EPA’s Combined Heat and Power
Costs and Savings back to
much does an installation cost?
How much can a facility save?
there financial assistance available for an installation?
need to budget for additional staff time for operation and maintenance of the
How much does an installation cost?
The cost of installing and operating a biomass boiler
system depends on a few things:
- size of your facility and heat demand
- ease of integration into existing infrastructure and
requirements for new construction
- 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-$650,000 range.
See the Table of Projects for project costs of additional biomass boiler
While these installations can have high up-front costs, a
life-cycle analysis of the fuel savings realized by operating a biomass boiler
system proves cost-effective and a wise investment over the long-term.
How much can a facility save?
Fuel cost savings with a biomass boiler system
installation will depend on a facility’s heat demand and the unit cost
difference between biomass and the fossil fuel it replaces. Because the unit cost of heat from biomass
($/BTU) is generally far lower than the fossil fuel it replaces, the savings
add up faster for larger heat users.
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
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
Fuel Supply back to
kind of material is burned in biomass boilers?
How much fuel does it take?
many tons of slash are generated from forest thinning on one acre?
much woody biomass is available in the nation, my state or local area, and what
amount of usage can be sustainable into the future?
you assess the local fuel supply available for a facility?
much does woody biomass fuel cost?
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
What are “whole-tree" pellets?
What kind of material is burned in biomass boilers?
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
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
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
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?
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
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
How do these systems work?
did this idea come from? How new is this technology?
biomass boiler system be retrofitted into an existing fossil fuel-fired system?
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
How much maintenance is required?
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
are the emissions associated with biomass boilers?
there air permitting requirements for biomass boilers?
burning biomass for energy considered “carbon neutral"?
What are the emissions associated with biomass boilers?
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.
there air permitting requirements for biomass boilers?
Consult your local, state, and national regulations as
these will vary by location and project.
and regional information from the EPA.
Why is burning biomass for energy considered “carbon
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.