Longwood University researching biomass fuel processing center

By Chris Hanson | March 01, 2013

Longwood University received a $50,000 Dominion renewable energy grant to commission a pre-planning study for a biomass fuel processing center. The focus of the study is to find efficient ways to dry sawdust used to fuel the biomass boilers using alternative energy sources and maintain a 30 year legacy of using biomass to heat the campus.

Energy Manager Kevin Miller said the sawdust can vary between 40 to 60 percent moisture content and takes a toll on the equipment. Miller also said the drier sawdust will result in a more efficient plant, lower maintenance costs, and increase storage capacity.

Currently, the university is powered by almost 26,000 tons sawdust from local logging and sawmills annually. The sawdust is then shipped to a 17 acre holding yard until it is dropped into the campus silos and fired in one of two 20,000 pound boilers, wet or not.

Miller said they are looking at different technologies that are available, and does not want to invent a new way to process the sawdust. He said while other similar sites use heated air from burning sawdust, the university is looking at alternative technologies to dry their feedstock, such as solar-thermal hybrids, rotary drums, and bed grate dryers.

“What the study is going to do is look at which technology works best for the area of land that we have and given our anticipated fuel needs, with a 20 year projection, for the campus and keeping in mind too that we want to use that alternative energy so we need to make sure that we identified a drying technology that can work in conjunction with that source, “Miller said.

Miller said another study the campus is considering was looking at putting in a third boiler for combined heat and power. However, he said the future is difficult to project because it really depends on which route the campus decides to take.