Recent research has shown that the implementation of biomass-fired boilers is heating up. But is the technology right for you?
The targeted use of wood-pellet-fired biomass boilers offers distinct benefits, finds the GSA – namely, the ability to bring cost-effective heat to facilities that lack access to natural gas.
The technology could also redirect some regional energy economies from fossil fuels to locally sourced renewables such as waste wood.
The GSA’s Green Proving Ground (GPG) program leveraged the replacement of an entire legacy heating system at the Ketchikan Federal Building in Ketchikan, AK, to evaluate a biomass boiler.
GPG and NREL found that due in part to mild weather and oversized system capacity, the Ketchikan boiler operated at only 45% of operational load but still maintained 85% efficiency.
The GSA also learned that paybacks can be affected by many factors, including heating oil costs and consumption, economies of scale, proper boiler sizing, and biomass fuel and delivery costs.
The Ketchikan boiler is looking at a payback of 30 years because it is vastly oversized. It currently operates at 13% of full capacity, but under more favorable conditions, payback can be less than five years. The GSA concluded that 150 of its buildings are suitable for biomass boilers.
The project demonstrated that wood-pellet-fired systems are an efficient alternative for hot water-heated facilities where natural gas is unavailable. They are most cost effective for buildings in cold northern climates within 50 miles of a biomass mill.
In related news, the DOE and Department of Agriculture recently selected 10 projects to receive $12.6 million in funding to accelerate genetic breeding programs that improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products.
“Biofuels offer the potential of homegrown American resources that can reduce our dependence on imported oil and also cut carbon emissions,” says Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “This advanced research is helping us to lay the groundwork for biomass as an important part of the low-carbon future.”
Feedstock crops dedicated to biomass tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.
The goal is to develop new regionally-adapted bioenergy feedstock cultivars with maximal biomass or seed oil yield and traits leading to more sustainable production systems, such as minimal water usage and nutrient input requirements.