The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)
Heating With Wood
- By April Mulherin
- April 1st, 2016
The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF)
recently celebrated the opening of its new, state-of-the-art
5,885-square-foot Biomass Central Heat Plant and its
invigorated commitment to sustainability. Aligning with the university’s
emphasis on teaching and implementing the responsible
use of the Earth’s resources, the new facility is an example of how
environmental stewardship, energy cost reduction and support of
the regional economy can all work hand in hand.
The largest single biomass hot water heating plant in Maine,
UMF’s new facility now heats 83 percent of the campus with approximately
4,500 tons of hardwood chips per year. This renewable
Maine fuel, sourced within a 50-mile radius of the university,
replaces 390,000 gallons, or 95 percent, of the heating oil formerly
required to heat the campus.
This dramatic reduction in fossil fuel is projected to reduce
UMF’s carbon emissions by 4,000 tons a year and its annual energy
costs by about two-thirds.
“We are very excited about UMF’s promising energy future that
includes geothermal energy and now this new, sustainable, local fuel
source,” says Kathryn A. Foster, UMF president. “Environmental
stewardship is a core value in our classrooms, our campus life and
our continuing commitment to reducing reliance upon fossil fuels.”
Learn By Doing
In addition to providing heat to the campus, the new biomass
plant will also be a valuable learning facility. It will actively engage
students in understanding biomass energy, associated systems and
processes and will be embedded in several courses as a mandatory
learning facet of several curricula and fields of study. The
plant control room will be open to students and visitors to view the
internal operations as well as several exterior viewing areas.
The birthplace of public higher education in Maine, UMF took the
lead in the responsible and sustainable use of the Earth’s resources,
adopting a “Green Campus Vision Statement” in 2002 and constructing
one of the first buildings in Maine to seek LEED certification.
The university hopes to be carbon neutral by 2035, according
to Luke Kellett, UMF sustainability coordinator, who sees the new
heating system as a significant step in that direction. “The Biomass
Central Heat Plant puts the flag in the ground and says this is
what UMF really stands for,” says Kellett.
Plans for an alternate energy source for the campus began in 2013
when UMF President Foster drew on faculty and staff expertise to create
an energy advisory committee. Composed of science faculty and
staff from business and facilities, the group convened to research the
university’s best options for alternate fuel sources. It was determined
that biomass was the most sustainable and cost-effective choice, in
addition to helping support the local timber-based economy.
The $11 million project was approved by the University of
Maine System Board of Trustees early in 2015. Construction
started in the spring of 2015 with the installation of more than two
miles of heating lines to carry the hot water from the plant to residence
halls and buildings throughout campus. The hot water from
the loop is providing heat and domestic hot water to over 700,000
square feet of campus infrastructure.
According to Jeffrey McKay, UMF director of facilities management,
the 500-horsepower biomass boiler is ultra-quiet. Its cutting
edge electrostatic precipitator reduces plant emissions to a plume
of water vapor that is well below the federal EPA emissions standards
for acceptable levels of air pollutants. Ash in small quantities
from the boiler will be composted by the university and local
farmers as a lime agent.
“Prior to the development of this project the university heat infrastructure
consisted of over 40 separate heating systems, which posed
multiple challenges,” says McKay. “Now with the biomass plant in
operation we look forward to reaping all of the rewards that the facility
has to offer, including creating a learning opportunity for many
years to come with a sustainable, energy-efficient heating plant.”
The initial investment for the system came from revenue
bonds, and energy savings are estimated to cover all costs and provide
a payback in less than 10 years. Savings after that time will be
applied to campus operations. The life of the plant is 30-plus years.
The UMF Biomass Central Heat Plant and campus conversion
project was developed by Trane U.S. Inc., working closely with
Dirigo Architectural, LLC., UMF facilities department and the
UMF administration. Trane was supported by Apex Engineering
of Falmouth, ME, and by Civil Engineering Services of Brewer, ME,
in the development of this complex project.
The design-build process ensures that the same team who was
involved in the engineering design is responsible for construction,
commissioning and ensuring the system operational performance
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
April Mulherin is the associate director for Media Relations for the University of Maine at Farmington (www.umf.maine.edu).