Oregon uni to study building a biomass cogeneration plant

Southern Oregon University officials say a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of a 1.2 MW woody-biomass cogeneration plant on the campus may lead to the real deal.

Such a power plant could meet 100 per cent of SOU’s electrical needs as well as 70 per cent of its heating demand, they said.

“SOU is strongly committed to environmental sustainability,” said university President Mary Cullinan in a statement. “Our plan is to make the campus climate-neutral by 2050, so biomass may be one option for us.”

The grant award comes at an opportune time, said Drew Gilliland, SOU’s director of facilities management and planning. “Two of our four steam heat boilers are nearing the end of their useful life,” he said. “If we were to make this change, the remaining two boilers would be converted to back up heat generation when needed.”

The study, which could take up to two years to complete, will involve engaging the community in a discussion on producing local energy through cogeneration. The focus would be on the feasibility of using slash and other by-products from nearby forests, wood pellets or other biomass fuel to generate heat and electricity needed on campus, he said.

In addition, the study would confirm whether the recommended system meets the requirements of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and other regulatory agencies.

If a woody-biomass plant were built on the SOU campus, Gilliland estimates it would cost close to $12m. The nearest school using wood to fuel its boiler is Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction, which is using pellets, he noted.

The grant was included in the $1.3m in grants the department announced for wood energy projects in the Pacific Northwest to help expand regional economies and create new jobs. All six projects in Oregon and Washington will use woody material, such as beetle-killed trees removed from forests to aid in wildfire prevention.

The material then will be processed in bio-energy plants to produce green energy for heating and electricity.

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