A Milestone Toward Carbon Neutrality

Our biomass gasification plant represents eight years of creative collaboration among Middlebury students, faculty, staff, and trustees. It will

  • cut Middlebury’s carbon dioxide output by 40 percent,
  • reduce our use of fuel oil by 50 percent,
  • stimulate a local, renewable energy economy.

A sustainability leader for over 40 years, Middlebury College is now tackling climate change, the most critical challenge of our time. Our new biomass plant shows what concerned people can ignite when they work together. We celebrated the launch of the new biomass facility in February with an event featuring remarks by President Ron Liebowitz and a talk by scholar-in-residence Bill McKibben.

To learn more about how biomass gasification works, explore this site, read the FAQs, or watch the video tour. The video walks you through the plant and explains the benefits of this gasification technology.

Won’t you join us in cutting carbon? We invite you to explore this site to learn more about biomass and other ways to take your own steps against climate change.  Click on “Take a Step” to measure your own carbon footprint—you can also join teams to compete in cutting carbon.

  1. Jackson’s avatar

    Thanks for opening up the biomass plant for us to view. It is great that Middlebury College is taking these strides towards carbon neutrality.
    And bonus points for putting a glass wall on the building to show it off, which was a great idea!

  2. Tom Latka’s avatar

    Now the next evolutionary step is to put Glass Art on the Building.
    Tom Latka

  3. Lisa Smith’s avatar

    I am continually impressed with my alma mater. Keep up the good work!

  4. Wright Salisbury’s avatar

    Great facility, but how is it different from a coal- or oil-fired plant that used a scrubber or hydrostatic precipitator to eliminate particulates?

    The main problem with our present carbon-based energy-producing systems (beside the cost and ecological damage of mining coal and oil) is that the energy companies don’t want to spend the money to clean the effluvium.

    Wright Salisbury (husband and father of Middlebury alums)

  5. Sumit R. Choudhury, '01’s avatar

    What a wonderful initiative! Congratualtions to all involved in building the plant.

  6. Susan Currie Price, ''75’s avatar

    I posted the gist of the President’s email announcement–including this link– to my Facebook page … Way to go, Midd! Reduce, reuse, recycle wins again.

  7. Nick’s avatar

    Uhhhhhh…wouldn’t it produce less carbon still to keep using power from Vermont Yankee?

  8. Denise Joseph’s avatar

    Way to go Midd! I am proud of your leadership in this area and proud to be associated with you!

  9. Mike Hartt '01’s avatar

    Another truly unique effort by Middlebury to look beyond the campus and do something for the community and the world.

    To hear that the college is working to provide opportunities for local farmers to be part of the process makes this even more significant.

    Great work, Middlebury.

  10. Tom Hardin-Spanish '71’s avatar

    There never seems to be a shortage of innovation at Middlebury. I, too, am proud to be a grad.

    Midd. rocks!!!

    Tom Hardin
    Spanish ’71

  11. Me’s avatar

    Too funny. One Carbon source substituted for another!

  12. Evelyn Merritt’s avatar

    I am excited of this opening. It will benefit all students and faculty.

  13. Wild Forest’s avatar

    “Overall the emissions produced by the biomass plant are not greater than those that result from Number 6 fuel oil.”

    How exactly is substituting products from forest conversion, subdivision developments and clear-cuts, for oil or gas with the same air emissions (in fact higher CO2 releases per heating unit), to be seen as an improvement not a greenwash? Didn’t Easter Islanders do this, until they ran out of trees?

  14. CriticalThinking’s avatar

    Biomass releases 1.5 more CO2 per MWhr than coal for electrical generation, I suspect it is not much better for heat. Burning the forest is not “carbon neutral” no matter how many times you say it and wish it to come true.

    Since when did burning the forest become “green” energy and tree huggers become tree burners?

    For a bunch of educated people, most of you are quite gullible.

    The air is polluted, the atmosphere overloaded with CO2, forests are stressed…..um… lets burn the forest!!!!

  15. Treebeard’s avatar

    To Wild Forest and Critical Thinking…

    Your points are excellent, caring, inquisitive and thoughtful. However, I believe that the biomass movement has more potential to regenerate the worlds wild forests, bring back old growth groves, and restore GHG stability then you might be currently aware of.

    However, the entire process must be based on truly sustainable practices. Socio-economic justice and ecological welfare can both be realized if we are mindful of how we conduct ourselves. My point being that if you want to create another ENRON type entity and greedily utilize biomass as a fuel, and pursue gigantic profits by “cutting corners” it will not work.

    What is needed instead are community sized, co-op’s, with utmost respect and co-operation with the local ecosystem and the local citizens as members of that ecosystem. Stringent emission control, nutrient recycling, coppicing, switch grass, black locust, sustainable fuel from spent Wolaver (umm yum) oats and barley, as well as using the maximum amount of the waste stream, while increasing wild forest protection and acreage is what the biomass energy movement is all about, and why it will never compare with the fossil fuel mafia.

    Please don’t take my word for it, however, but educate and motivate yourself. You can start by finding out what the rest of the world has been doing for decades, check our some white papers, case studies, cost benefit analysis (if that’s what you are into) and other information.

    http://www.task29.net/ (Check out some case studies, Japanese can be pretty thrifty with natural resource on such a small island, but my favorite one is The Living Rainforest case study in England–imagine sustainable food production year round as well as energy…hmmm)

    Other global biomass progress can be found at the http://www.ieabioenergy.com/LibLinks.aspx

    For more Ahmerrican progress and examples you can explore the DOE’s own databases and the Biomass Associations around the country, talk to a sustainable forestry student or a professor, or start a sustainable forestry program or two yourself.

    Ho Hum

  16. College Becky’s avatar

    Great innovation! Thanks for this informative post! This will be great for the students and faculty and I hope you receive the recognition you deserve! Save the planet!

  17. forex’s avatar

    I would just like to add that Biomass is part of the carbon cycle. Carbon from the atmosphere is converted into biological matter by photosynthesis. Also, Though biomass is a renewable fuel, its use can still contribute to global warming. This happens when the natural carbon equilibrium is disturbed; for example by deforestation or urbanization of green sites. When biomass is used as a fuel, as a replacement for fossil fuels, it still puts the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. The carbon in biomass material, which makes up approximately fifty percent of its dry-matter content, is already part of the atmospheric carbon cycle.

  18. Chris’s avatar

    Did you know gullible isn’t in the dictionary? And burning forests is “carbon neutral”, all the pollution we will get is steam, and wallah, cutting forests will help them become older!

    Start with pollution. The McNeil biomass plant in Burlington, which operates about half time, is the #1 air pollution source in the entire State of Vermont, not even including CO2, and it releases 79 classified pollutants. It has regularly exceeded NOx allowances and has even had to substitute gas as fuel at times to lower NOx emissions.

    See: http://www.planethazard.com/phmapenv.aspx?mode=topten&area=state&state=VT

    Now the carbon, burning trees releases 50% more CO2 per unit of energy produced than coal. To wave a magic wand and say well the trees grow back is utterly laughable, it takes a minute to burn a tree and 50 years to grow one.

    We have one atmosphere, with CO2 going in from polluting sources, and CO2 coming out from sequestrating sources. The carbon balance we have today already accounts for forest growth. With biomass the amount of CO2 per unit of energy going into the atmosphere is higher than coal or any other fossil fuels. The amount coming out doesn’t increase just because we start burning trees, in fact it is a double whammy, because the amount is reduced due to the cutting of the forest.

    I challenge you to provide your calcs on this because it is truly embarrassing to see a high prestige school like Middlebury claim that burning existing, growing forests is “carbon neutral” versus letting the forest continue to grow, especially in light of the fact that the CO2 emissions are even worse than burning fossil fuels.

    Fore more info on this greenwashing biomess, see: http://www.maforests.org/Links.pdf

  19. Biofuel Broker’s avatar

    Congrats on your biomass facility, Middlebury! I would invite anyone arguing a “do nothing in the forest” position to visit this link http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=3448. There you will find information about “non-man made GHG emission” – unless of course man is responsible for lightning strikes. There are also pictures there (hi and low res) of over a half a million acres of forest going up in smoke. The plume on left is the Biscuit fire (375,000 acres) and the plume on the right is a different 200,000+ acre fire. To give you some perspective of how big these fires were – the circular blue dot in the upper right of the frame – that’s Crater Laker. Crater Lake is roughly 6 MILES in diameter. As the crow flies Crater Lake is about 150 miles from the Oregon coast. These were pretty big clouds of smoke – and they hung around for weeks. Anything like that on the East Coast? A scientific calculator is required to count the tons of CO2 released during these fires. I hope you will forgive me if I don’t get too excited about your biomass power plants in Vermont emitting a few 100,000t of CO2. Square those power plant emission numbers and you will begin to get close to the amount of CO2 released by wildfire each year in the West. Oh, and by the way, for those uniformed about the difference between biomass gasification and combustion – do some homework. CO2 release from gasification is a fraction of the amount generated during combustion – fossil or bio. Get the gasification facts at http://www.gasification.org.

  20. Vermonter’s avatar

    To Chris,

    As far as I can tell, and looking at your links, 90% of your information is flagrant dis-information. You are sounding like the Bush-Chaney contention of an environmentalist right wing propaganda machine. Like them you use dis-information to confuse public opinion, and then just happen to omit the rest of the information as irrelevant.

    First of all…The wing-nut site you posted on here (planethazard) has got you a bit confused. Are they some authority on pollution? Where did they get data from? Since when does burning wood emit Octachlorodibenzo-p-Dioxin & Acetophenone?? LoL! Acetophenone occurs natuarally in foods including apple, cheese, apricot, banana, beef, and cauliflower! Are you saying McNeil is burning our fruits and veggies? Is that why you are so angry and scared? The compost pit in my back yard emits more than that! Did you even take a look at this information? The last 20 pollutants on the list are near or at 0.00 and the other 60-70 even if they were true emit less than your car annually. Do you really think you are doing someone a service by posting flagrant lies?

    Second point. What are you proposing Chris? Keep buying fossil fuels from the Middle-East? Level the Appalachia’s for coal? Wind and solar are great, I am a 1000% for them but they can only be a part of the solution. How are you going to heat your house or town with PV? wind? Do you know how many 100,000 tons of biomass are just left to decompose after they are chipped from landscaping, power line clearance after storms,or other construction. When biomass is left out to decompose like that it is releasing more ghg’s than if it was used for energy (as combustion and gasification of biomass consumes some of the ghg’s like co2) So this matter should just stay out there to decompose while you are heating your house with let me guess OPEC stamped heating oil from a war torn region in Nigeria or Middle East and criticizing people for searching for a better alternative.

    Third point. A modern biomass CHP plant which could power an entire village emits less criteria pollutants (PM10 & 2.5, VOCs, NOX, etc) than 5 household fireplaces, and certainly a lot less than your oil or propane heater. Considering that oil had to travel over 4,000 + miles to get to your house, and considering how much diesel was used to extract your heating oil.


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