John Cleveland College gets fired up over wood chips

By Rural Energy | June 09, 2015

A college in Leicestershire has saved £30,000 ($46,080) in just four months, thanks to a new woodchip boiler supplied and installed by biomass heating specialist Rural Energy.  What’s more, the landmark project has been financed through a unique community-funded cooperative investment – the first of its kind in the education sector.

The 800 kW Herz BioFire boiler, of which Rural Energy is the sole mainland U.K. distributor, is expected to save up to £45,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs, compared to the huge £200,000 bill the college faced for its previous oil fuelled boilers. The installation will also be eligible to claim a quarterly income from the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (Commercial RHI) over the next 20 years which, combined with the energy cost savings, will be used to establish a Local Community Fund to support initiatives at the college and in the wider community.

In addition, the new biomass heating system is expected to reduce the college’s carbon emissions by around 250 metric tons per year, creating a cleaner and safer environment for pupils and local residents.

Acting as main contractor, Rural Energy was wholly responsible for the project from the initial system design, to the installation and commissioning of the new biomass heating system.  This included developing an effective fuel storage and delivery system, consisting of a pre-fabricated octagonal wood fuel hopper located outside the plant room with an auger to transport fuel into the boiler.  A vertical elevator fuel delivery system was also installed, with a trough for tipped wood chip deliveries.  Finally, a private access road was constructed to minimise disruption to pupils and staff on site and to avoid any potential hazards caused by fuel delivery lorries.

The boiler itself is the Herz BioFire, which is specifically designed for large-scale applications with high heating needs.  Featuring a stepped grate system that ensures the fuel is dried out to optimum levels before reaching the combustion allowing flexibility for burning different fuel types.

Paul Craven, the principal of John Cleveland College, commented, “The support and technical expertise we received from Rural Energy during the planning and installation process has been second to none and we have every confidence that the new system will deliver the efficient and sustainable solution we had hoped for.  I am proud that we are actively reducing the carbon footprint of the college by introducing this technology, which also provides an excellent opportunity for the students to study the science of renewable energy in more detail.”

The new boiler, which was officially launched by Fiona Booth, the head of community energy for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, is a major step forward for the college’s future energy security. Funded through a unique community initiative, this is the first education facility in the U.K. to adopt such a community-driven approach. 

In 2013, the college set up the John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative in partnership with Green Fox Community Energy Co-operative, a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to facilitate deployment of community owned renewable energy.  The cooperative invited investment from around the country, with 50 percent of funding for the project sourced locally from within Leicestershire.

The John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative raised almost £600,000 to support the purchase and installation of an 800kW Herz biomass boiler, which was supplied, installed and commissioned by Rural Energy.  With the heating now provided by cost effective and renewable wood chips, rather than the expensive and polluting oil that was used before, the college is much better protected against fluctuating fuel prices. 

Alan Gledhill, director of John Cleveland College Community Woodheat Co-operative commented: “We are delighted to see the biomass boiler installed and supplying the college with sustainable heat. There are many more schools in Leicestershire that could benefit from a community energy approach, providing a no-cost solution for installing renewable technologies. We hope that John Cleveland College will be the first of many.”