WASHINGTON --

Wood-to-energy grants totaling $5.5 million are being awarded Maine schools, which will use the money to replace oil as a fuel source.

In Fayette, ME, $300,000 will be spent converting a oil-fueled heating boiler to wood-fired with a 38-ton silo for wood pellets. Another school district has substituted 600 tons of pellets for 110,000 gallons of heating oil.

The money for
biomass-fueled boilers, fired by sawdust, wood chips or wood pellets, is supported by Federal grants under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, and awarded by the USDA Forest Service to the Maine Forest Service (MFS), under the Maine Department of Conservation.

The move to bio-mass fuel is not without controversy. The EPA fined California powerplants using a biomass-fueled boiler for air pollution. And the consumption of wood chips and saw dust for fuel reduces its availability, and so can affect pricing on MDF and other wood byproducts used in furnishings, cabinetry, and wood interior buildouts.

USDA Forest Service Forest data from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont analyzed by the Cary Institute, found that using forest biomass for heat in the region was far more effective in replacing liquid fossil fuels than another approach gaining favor: converting it to cellulosic ethanol for road transport.

Biomass burned in combined heat and power plants reduced fossil fuel use more than five times more effectively than substituting gasoline with cellulosic ethanol, according to the study. Under best-case scenarios, however, the energy generated sustainably from forest biomass in the Northeast could replace only 1.4% of the region's total fossil fuel energy. But for some states, biomass energy could be much more compelling when replacing fossil fuel use in certain sectors.

"Maine and New Hampshire show the greatest potential for forest biomass energy," said Dr. Thomas Buchholz, a researcher at the University of Vermont's Carbon Dynamics Lab and co-author of the Cary Institute report. "Our study found that New Hampshire could replace as much as 84 percent of its liquid fossil fuel dependence in the industrial and commercial heating sector, and Maine could replace 49 percent of its liquid fossil fuel dependence in the home-heating sector."

In the case of Maine, the impact on wood waste could be significant as eight institutions, including a branch campus of the University of Maine, move from fuel oil to wood chips.


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