BU goes green with environmentally friendly wood boiler.

The $2 million project allows the university to replace one of its 1951 vintage coal stoker boilers with a new, large capacity wood-chip biomass boiler.

BU receives grant to replace coal stoker with environmentally friendly wood boiler

BLOOMSBURG- As part of a plan to replace a 58-year-old coal stoker, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is receiving a $500,000 Energy Harvest grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Currently five coal stokers burn 7,000 tons of coal per year to heat 1.5 million square feet of residence halls and academic buildings.

The $2 million project allows the university to replace one of its 1951 vintage coal stoker boilers with a new, large capacity wood-chip biomass boiler. BU’s annual coal consumption is expected to decrease 67 percent with the installation of the biomass boiler, which will take on the majority of the heating plant’s workload.  As a result, two-thirds of the university’s coal-based carbon emissions will be replaced with the clean combustion of carbon neutral biomass.

In addition to the five coal boilers, BU also utilizes a 1991 natural gas boiler. Among the six combustion units, the new wood boiler will become the primary steam producer for the heating plant. Air quality is expected to improve, with fewer sulfur compounds and particulates emitted.  Fossil-based carbon dioxide emissions will also decrease by more than 26 million pounds per year.

Nathaniel “Ned” Greene, professor of physics and engineering technology, wrote and applied for the DEP grant. “Switching to a non-fossil fuel will reduce the university’s emissions, particularly non-renewable carbon dioxide, whose worldwide atmospheric concentration has been increasing steadily since the Industrial Revolution,” he said.

Burning wood chips also provides an economic advantage. Not only is wood a renewable resource, Greene said, but it is less expensive than coal and natural gas and can be purchased from local suppliers. “For the surrounding area, our year-round use of biomass fuel will benefit wood chip providers who have been hit hard by the economic downturn,” he said.

Greene worked closely with Eric Milner, assistant vice president of facilities management, and met with heating plant workers while designing his plan. Greene also drew on the experiences of a local business that made a successful switch from oil to wood.

Bloomsburg University is committed to implementing new ideas that make the campus more environmentally friendly. In 2007, for example, new shower heads were installed in all dormitories which save up to 8 million gallons of water per year. In spring 2008, BU began purchasing 5 percent biodiesel for its maintenance fleet. Additionally, all waste cooking oil is diverted to a biodiesel reactor that produces fuel for a student shuttle bus, nicknamed “the french fry bus,” also Greene’s design.

Greene hopes the university will “serve as a statewide model for other coal facilities that may wish to diversify their fuel sources. With wildly fluctuating commodity prices these days, it is beneficial to have the flexibility of more than one fuel.”