Second post from St Lawrence County: Small to Large Institutions as Biomass Fuel Consumers
People have been using grass as a fuel for centuries, but today its promise as a fuel that can successfully compete with fossil fuels remains unfulfilled. Yes, there are systems that can very efficiently combust baled grass, such as, for example, REKA Boilers that are marketed by Skanden Energy, but these systems are not yet widely in use in the United States. There are also other multi-fuel biomass boiler manufacturers that can accept densified grass fuels, such as Hurst Boilers and Advanced Recycling. These are aimed at institutional-sized applications. There are a few choices for residential-sized biomass heating equipment, but the ability to reliably burn grass pellets or briquettes has not been emphasized when marketing and certifying these units.
Until manufacturers of residential biomass heating systems promote the use of grass fuel, the market for producing pellets or briquettes will remain stunted. Of course, manufacturers don’t want to sell true multi-fuel heating units unless they are certain that people really want to burn something in them other than wood pellets or corn. Likewise, growers and producers are not going to make the necessary investments in grass production and densification until people start using and demanding the fuels. Chicken and egg.
At this point in time it would seem that in order to develop the supply side of the grass energy equation we need some major consumers. The most realistic consumers would be the larger institutional users such as school districts, hospitals, combined heat and power installations, etc. If enough of these consumers installed multi-fuel boilers, it is likely that grass could be competitive with, say wood chips. Farmers would have a reasonable assurance of a saleable crop and producers would make the investment in densification equipment. Once the production side is up and running, hopefully the residential market could then be more easily developed.
So far we have one school district in St. Lawrence County – Edwards-Knox Central School – who has installed a Hurst Boiler and is currently using wood chips. They have the capability to receive, store and feed pellets less than 2 inches by 2 inches. They could also burn corn. The St. Lawrence County Grass Energy Working Group and the Drum Country Bio Energy Group have been encouraging other school districts, hospitals and businesses to make use of feasibility studies that were available on a completive basis and 100% funded though the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service is interested in promoting wood fuels, but we have also been advocating that any entity considering biomass heat specify a system that has multi-fuel capability. Recently, some 11 school districts, hospitals and businesses in St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Franklin and Lewis Counties were awarded feasibility studies, performed by Yellow Wood Associates, Inc.:
Brasher Falls Central School District
Potsdam Central School
Salmon River Central School
Colton-Pierrepont Central School
Lewis County Social Services and Public Safety Buildings
Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corporation
Clifton-Fine Central School
UH Cedars Complex
Most of these studies are nearing completion as of this date and follow-up site visits are planned for early 2011. We are hopeful that many of these projects will move beyond the feasibility study phase. Stay tuned.