National Bioenergy Day: Minnesota event features pellet boiler

By Katie Fletcher | October 24, 2014

The U.S. Forest Service Chippewa National Forest Ranger Station in Walker, Minnesota, celebrated the second annual National Bioenergy Day Oct. 22 by hosting an open house at its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified facility, with a focus on the facility’s pellet wood boiler installation. The open house included a tour of the facility, as well as presentations from U.S. Forest Service Civil Engineer Jay Smrekar, Jeremy Hanson of WoodMaster, the pellet boiler provider, and T.J. Morice with Marth Wood Shavings Supply Inc., the pellet supplier. 

“We’ve been involved with this great, new building we have here that incorporates some bioenergy, so we’re here to participate in this national event,” Smrekar said. “Really our primary focus is to just raise the awareness of bioenergy and biofuels.”

The station’s construction was completed earlier this year, and, as gathered from the employees, is a far cry from the original ranger station that was sited there. A few modular homes and a rickety 1920s building, which once served as the office, is now replaced with a highly efficient, 13,035 square-foot building, built to meet LEED specifications.

The LEED certification, set forth by the federal government, applies to multiple project types over a certain dollar amount.  LEED certification requires building projects to satisfy a “myriad of different requirements,” Smrekar said.

Each project earns points to achieve different levels of certification. Smrekar said, the documentation has been submitted for the project, but the application is still in process. LEED levels include certified, silver, gold and platinum. “We attempted and submitted enough points to be certified at LEED platinum level, Smrekar said. “But, if some of the points are not granted for any reason, we expect to be certified at the LEED gold level.”

The ultimate goal of the certification is to save money and resources while having a positive impact on the health of occupants and promoting renewable, clean energy. The station provides this work environment to both the Chippewa National Forest District staff and the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

Adjustable ergonomic work stations, light, motion and carbon dioxide sensors, an air handling unit, and a wood pellet boiler are just a few components that contribute to LEED certification. Monitors mounted on the walls light up green when windows can be opened in each room, allowing fresh air to circulate at suitable times for both optimal air quality and energy use for the occupants in the building. A large 8,000 pound air handling unit on the second floor, labeled seemingly appropriately by the employees as the Back to the Future “flux capacitor,” also contributes to the air quality with around 30 air filters alone. The conference room even has a carbon dioxide sensor that kick-starts the air unit once the room reaches certain carbon dioxide levels.

The main attraction of the tour, however, was the wood pellet boiler installation. The pellet boiler is a WoodMaster Commercial Series-CS80 pellet boiler with an output of 272,000 Btu per hour. It serves as the facility’s primary source of heat, but is fully integrated with a propane boiler. According to Smrekar, the initial plan is to run the propane boiler during the shoulder months, when they’re heating in the morning and cooling in the afternoon. The bulk of the year, referring to the lengthy Minnesota winters, the pellet boiler will provide the entire heat load for the building. The boiler currently has only had a couple hours of winter runtime, with installation around January of this year, but is ready to get fired up in the next few weeks for another cold winter.

The boiler is fueled by Marth Wood Shavings Supply premium, hardwood pellets with under 1 percent ash content. Morice refers to the pellets as “rocket fuel.” The pellets are delivered in bulk to the facility by Marth Transportation Inc. where they are stored in a 29.9 ton storage silo located just outside the building, which automatically feeds the pellets to the boiler. “We’re just amazed the amount of pellets that come into that thing in a day is just miniscule,” Smrekar said.

The storage silo is said to hold about two years’ worth of fuel supply for the facility, and is saving them money compared to the propane they buy in a year. “You have significant fuel savings, it’s usually a minimum of 50 percent when comparing wood pellet cost versus propane cost,” Hanson said.

Marth Wood Shavings is one of six mills certified by the Pellet Fuels Institute Standards Program. The program sets standards based on ash content and provides the certified fuel referenced in EPA’s New Source Performance Standards. Morice shared that Marth Wood Pellets is also the first LEED authorized pellet facility in the country, which is one of the reasons the Walker’s USFS Chippewa National Forest Ranger Station uses the pellets.

As winter approaches, the Chippewa National Forest District staff look forward to using the pellet boiler and gaining data from the metering system. The device tracks and adjusts performance and monitors effectiveness. The metering is connected to an internet database that can be tracked by the forest service at a national level to see how the building is performing. “The whole system is in place to maximize use of renewables, that is part of LEED, part of our mission, but still provide occupant comfort,” Smrekar said.