$1 Million and Counting

With colder weather on the horizon, Middlebury’s biomass gasification plant just hit a major milestone. According to Vice President for Administration Tim Spears, the College has saved more than $1 million in heating oil costs since the plant went into operation last year.

Centrally located on campus, the plant is Middlebury’s most significant step toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2016. The biomass boiler is expected to cut the use of No. 6 heating oil in half — from 2 million gallons to one million gallons annually — and reduce the college’s carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent, or 12,500 metric tons. The gasification system converts regionally grown wood chips into gas, which it then burns to provide steam for heating, cooling, hot water and cooking throughout the campus. The plant also helps cogenerate 20 percent of the campus’s electricity.

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  1. “Heating Oil Savings Scholarship Fund,” anyone? Or at least a zip line from Milliken to the Main Library . . .

  2. Congratulations! Only 11 more until it is paid for……

  3. Great project! This is exciting.

  4. Cutting use of No. 6 heating oil in half sounds great. But what is cost of harvesting, drying, storing and transporting the biomass product?

  5. I applaud Middlebury’s leadership in environmental issues.

    I would love to know more about its plans to become carbon neutral. Is there material available online that documents the steps it plans to take to get there?

    One specific question – does the carbon in the biomass used in the biomass gassification plant count as carbon used as energy, or is it left out of the equation because it is renewable (pulling carbon out of the atmosphere)?

  6. I would be interested in the process that converts wood chips into gas, and what the waste products are.

  7. For phase II,time to hook up with a pellet plant in Vermont…….

  8. I assume that 40% reduction in CO2 emissions doesn’t take into consideration the lost C storage in the trees that have been harvested? Yes, trees grow back, but at any given time, trees will be missing from the landscape (and therefore C storage will be missing, too) if there is continuous harvesting for biomass.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m all about alternative fuels and applaud what the College is up to, but I just think the carbon dynamics of substituting fossil fuels with biomass may be a little trickier (and the emissions reduction a little less!) than we think.

    And Kenneth, I fully support your proposal — zip-line and all.

  9. So we cut down trees to feed this plant in the form of woodchips. So how much do the wood chips cost and are we impacting the ecosystem by cutting down all these trees? Help me please…

  10. Bravo! Great news! Go Midd! Leading the way…

  11. I applaud saving money by buying wood chips locally. Also, I’m for keeping the money locally rather than buying oil.
    I hope there is a pay off without subsidy, that is, the saving in buying oil offsets the costs of the project at a reasonable interest rate. Being carbon neutral has no benefits, in my opinion. Man made emissions, CO2, have no effect on warming or cooling. Climate change is the nature of things and has been going on for as long as the earth has been around. There is no scientific proof that man made CO2 emissions causes climate change. In fact the scientific data says otherwise.
    One less contentious question. Why

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    not use natural gas rather than oil? The U.S. has plenty. It is cheap and clean.

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  12. Back around 2002-2003 (I think), several students took a J-term class with Prof. J. Isham to evaluate the environmental impact of the biomass plant. They wrote a detailed report, which demonstrated that the benefits of the biomass plant outweighed the costs and how the carbon credits would be calculated. They also outlined other green initiatives for the campus. Not sure if it’s still available, or what additional studies have been performed since that would be more relevant. I just recall that the report largely provided the foundation for the campus carbon neutral movement. It’s incredible that this is finally a reality! Makes me proud to be a Midd alum! If you need additional

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    resources on this project, I’d recommend contacting the Environmental Studies Academic Coordinator, who could probably point you in the right direction.

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  13. Thanks to all for your thoughts and comments about biomass at Middlebury. As director of sustainability integration at Middlebury, i thought i’d jump in to help clarify a few things. We have wrestled with many of the same issues raised here and will likely do so for years to come.

    On the whole, we see a net benefit from our move to biomass. This is from a broad sustainability perspective that includes carbon reduction, cost savings and economic benefit to our local community.

    Rather than write a lengthy response to every point mentioned here, I encourage you to follow this link to a current overview of these issues and how the college sees them:


    And please don’t hesitate to contact us

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    if you have any specific question not answered by this information. Jmbyrne@middlebury.edu.

    Jack Byrne, Middlebury Sustainability Integration Office

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  14. Kenneth, I have experience in adventure park construction and I’ve built ziplines before….. how much are you willing to pay?

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We hope to create a lively discussion on MiddMag.com and invite you to add your voice. Please keep comments civil and relevant to the news item at hand. MiddMag.com may remove comments that do not follow these guidelines.

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