Green Mountain College formally opened its $5.8 million combined heat and power (CHP) biomass plant on Earth Day, April 22, 2010. In his remarks to about 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members, president Paul Fonteyn declared that by next year GMC would become the first college in the country to reach carbon neutrality after making significant on-site greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Special guests at the ceremony included Vermont Governor James Douglas.
"This biomass plant is proof that we have the means and the technology to move towards a sustainable future," said student Todd Martin '10, who spoke at the ceremony. "Here in Vermont, we are grateful to have abundant forests that, if sustainably maintained and managed, can provide a renewable energy alternative to oil and coal for our electricity and heat production."
Facts & Figures
The biomass heating plant allows GMC to heat its 155 acres of campus buildings by using green woodchips, a sustainable and renewable local fuel source, and meet about 3.5% percent of GMC's electricity needs.
400 horsepower combined heat and power biomass facility.
Behind Withey Hall near the tennis courts.
Burns between 3,000 - 4,500 tons of primarily locally-sourced woodchips annually.
Reduced use of fuel oil from 230,000 gallons to under 90,000 gallons per year, with even greater reductions expected by the end of FY 14.
Approximately $5.8 million with a payback period of 22 to 28 years.
Construction & Design:
HP Cummings, a construction management firm out of Woodsville, NH, managed construction including the bid process. The architect was Smith-Alvarez-Sienkiewycz of Burlington.
A Student Campus Greening Fund proposal fostered consensus for the new biomass plant, the most significant step in reducing GMC's carbon footprint. The proposal originated in a 2005 freshman honors seminar addressing peak oil. Students were concerned that the GMC heating plant burned number six fuel oil. Their class wrote a proposal to investigate converting to a biomass-fueled heating system: the study showed that the system would dramatically reduce carbon emissions while achieving significant energy cost savings. According to GMC's 2009 emissions inventory, 71 percent of campus greenhouse gases were generated from burning 230,000 gallons of number six fuel oil each year.
Read more about student activism and this project as featured in a National Wildlife Federation 2009 Case Study.
How the Technology Works
Chips are fed onto a conveyor belt and into the boiler. The chips are heated at a very high temperature with low oxygen until the chips smolder and emit gas. On the backside of the boiler, oxygen is added and the gas ignites. Hot water from the boiler circulates through iron pipes, creating steam which is used to heat the campus. The steam also activates the power-producing turbines to produce electricity through co-generation. Producing both heat and electricity at the same time from a single fuel source will further enhance the system's efficiency.
The plant will also serve as an open educational laboratory for GMC students and for the general public, and a destination for people interested in learning how local, renewable resources can provide solutions to energy and environmental challenges.