Saving the world, one School at a time

Posted: 05/16/2011 by typelle19 in News

by Tyler Pelletier, Elizabeth Gemme, Crissy Lewis and Abby Shanor


Image via Wikipedia

Lately the entire Earth has been going green, in all sorts of ways. Whether it be planting trees or making chip bags biodegradable, the Earth is trying to save itself. With the world at war with oil prices, there is cause to “go green” in this area too, that’s where bio mass furnaces come into play. Bio mass heaters use waste products. For example wood chips are used to heat buildings for a much cheaper cost. Annually the cost is around $2,750  for the bio mass (the cost for what?mention the same thing in next sentence). An average household will cost around $15,000  annually. So the  difference is monumental. After talking with Bud Raymond, Head of Maintenance at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School (OHCHS), he gave me more information about the school’s biomass furnace that’s being put in.

The biomass furnace is a wood chip boiler. We are not the only school in Maine with this new technology. This idea came from Dr. Eastman, OHCHS’s former Superintendent. Eastman wanted to change and invest in this eco-friendly boiler so that we weren’t so heavily dependent on oil; Eastman was able to get a grant for the school to do this. A performance contract is in effect, which means that the money which the school is saving through this new type of technology will be paid back. OHCHS has been working to put this in the school since August 2010. Many things had to be done before building it, including adding a new building, installing new sprinklers and pipes. It will allow the school to produce energy much cheaper and  much more Eco-friendlier. The burning of wood chips will produce the energy to heat the school.

Mass amounts of wood chips will be needed to make this method successful. During heating season, 25 tons to 50 tons of chips will be needed a week.  A giant tracker trailer truck will come to the school and unload a pile of wood chips about six to eight feet high, and that’s only a two weeks supply. The job is labor free once it is unloaded from the trucks. Moving the supply into the furnace is from the moving floor that’s on hydraulics that will pull them into a pit. “From there, there is an auger that is going to push them into the next room which is the boiler room”, Raymond says. Raymond thinks that having a biomass in the school is great idea. The chips go through each auger and that pushes them to the boiler. The Biomass itself is big and there are two sections to it. “ The bottom part is the fire-box, the top part is where all the water tubes are. So the fire-box will heat up the water tubes and the water will come to the large storage tank and that’s what will heat the school”. There are ash bins on the side of the boiler. The wood ash will automatically be augured out and put into the bins. One idea of where the waste of wood ash can be put is on gardens. Wood ash makes a great fertilizer in gardens, just like fish compost. OHCHS Superintendent, Mr. Colpitts, says that the school has recently voted to apply for five more grants for the middle school and elementary schools to have a different type of boiler. This will most likely be a pellet boiler as well.

“When it’s running, you won’t see much of anything coming from the chimney” says Colpitts. According to faculty, the new biomass furnace being installed in the lower A wing of the high school wont be much of a distraction or disturbance to the students and the building. At this point, complications are limited. High School Principal Ted Moccia says, “students will benefit by having a school that is completely heated with a renewable energy source”.

However, students won’t be the only ones benefiting from this biomass furnace; the high school’s budget will also be saving more than $200,000 in heating costs. There also won’t be any hazardous or unwanted dirty smoke being produced from the furnace. Cathy Coffey
describes the process, “you’d here like a poof and instead of smoke it was almost like fairy dust, is the best I could describe it. It’s particles, it’s not smoke but it’s particles”. According to Superintendent Colpitts, the high school spends $280,000 each year on 100,000 gallons of oil to heat the building, but now with the new biomass furnace which uses wood chips for fuel, the school will only be spending about $67,000. The idea of having a biomass furnace installed in the high school was Dr. Eastman’s, the National Furnace System issued a grant for $750,000 to help with expenses, and Colpitts said that it took about seven months for the boiler to be built and shipped to the school. Oxford Hills is not the only school in Maine with a biomass furnace. Leavitt, Poland, and Falmouth high school also have them installed.

With the pros outweighing the cons in whether or not the biomass is better, these pros for the bio mass furnace may help. The bio mass furnace is CO2 neutral, meaning that trees can regrow within a couple of years while oil grows within millions. With these furnaces having waste material running them, you wouldn’t have to rely on foreign countries. The money spent, whether it be for wood chips, the people running it, or the people building it, would stay in the area, instead of going out.

Another interesting fact that makes this project cool is the inclusion of  the solar panels, installed this past fall on the roof of the school. “The solar panels are going to pre-heat the water before it goes into the boiler so the boiler works less on getting the water up to temperature before it goes out”, Raymond says. The school doesn’t want the boiler to be firing up cold water. If the school fills up their oil tanks with 95,000 gallons of oil, that costs the school about $40,000. The biomass is most efficient when it’s running a lot. It will run when the temperatures are under 40 degrees. OHCHS won’t be fully dependent on the biomass though. It will be producing about 90% of the school’s heat, while the other 10% will be burning oil.

“When mud season arrives the companies that delivers the chips have to make sure they have enough chips on hand and storage to continue to make deliveries here every two weeks,” says Raymond. If the school doesn’t get this supply, we could be in some trouble with the furnace not working. Raymond also thinks that there could be a problem with supply and demand in the future. Right now in our economy, oil prices are sky rocketing. Wood chips are available and there is an abundance of chips and chip suppliers. Although, if it becomes like what oil is today, than prices will rise. With everyone trying to find a way to become green, it’s hard to find something that replaces oil. More people and schools are going to start using biomass furnaces. Raymond is optimistic. He says, “As long as the chips supply stays good then the price for chips stays down and then you see a lot more schools looking at that option.”


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