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One million. That’s the number of gallons of oil Colby will no longer be burning annually. It’s also a conservative estimate of the number of dollars Colby will save annually.
But the new biomass facility, which became operational in January, is a boon to Colby for more reasons than that. A number of factors make Colby’s $11.25-million facility a model for green energy. “We’ve gone above the minimum requirements to try and have the cleanest emissions we can,” said Director of Physical Plant Patricia Whitney.
Biomass has recently been criticized for not being as clean-burning as was previously thought. A 2010 report by researchers at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences cast doubt on biomass as a carbon-neutral fuel and sparked a media blitz. The New York Times reported on plans for multiple biomass facilities being dropped because of public disapproval.
But proponents of biomass point to factors that make for a cleaner plant, and Colby meets those criteria, according to Whitney. One major factor is that Colby’s plant is producing heat, which is more efficient than producing electricity with biomass.
Another key factor is that Colby’s biomass—low-grade wood chips and forest waste including bark and treetops that would otherwise be left on the forest floor—is coming from sustainable forestry operations within a 50-mile radius, keeping trucking to a minimum.
Colby’s plant uses advanced technology, including a gasification combustion system, to create cleaner emissions. “It’s a two stage burn—you burn the gas [along with] burning the wood—so it’s cleaner and more efficient,” said Whitney. Cyclonic dust collectors and a $480,000 electrostatic precipitator minimize pollutants entering the atmosphere.
The plant itself has been built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) specifications and is expected to receive at least LEED silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
In burning approximately 22,000 tons of wood instead of 1 million gallons of oil, the College estimates a reduction of more than 9,500 tons of carbon annually. The plant is a major component in Colby achieving its goal of carbon neutrality by 2015.
Thanks to Ruth Jacobs of Colby College for contributing this article, which originally appeared in the Winter issue of Colby magazine. Thanks also to Colby Student Jack Mauel for providing the photos here.