Wood Chips Heat School in New York State

CLINTONVILLE, N.Y. — AuSable Valley Central School District (AVCSD) recently unveiled a new heating system at a school that will save the district thousands of dollars.

“We’re looking at (saving) over $100,000 in fuel costs annually,” said AVCSD Superintendent Paul Savage. “That’s considerable, and that’s conservative. As we go forward, we’ll learn more about where we’re at. That’s something that is a definite win for our school and community here.”

AuSable Valley Middle School/High School recently installed a wood chip gasification system as its primary source of heating. Keeseville Elementary School was the first school in the district to install a biomass boiler. Only four other school districts in the state operate with biomass facilities.

Oil-burning boilers and furnaces are typical in North Country schools but according to Savage the new biomass facility looks not only to save money but also to function as an emergency center during natural disasters and power outages.

“We know in the North Country that we run into things like we did this year with the flooding, the ice jams,” Savage said. “We’ll run our facilities full-speed and make sure that we have our communities taken care of.”

There are a total of three biomass boilers — two located at the Middle/High School and the other one located at Keeseville Elementary School. The cost of each boiler is $2.5 million.

The project is part of a $29.85 million capital project that the district voters passed in 2007. State money will contribute 98 percent and the other two percent, $1,032,697, will be paid for by Excel state grants.

ChipTec Wood Energy Systems, based in Williston, Vt., built the biomass facility. The company also built a similar facility near Hartford, Conn. Greg Atkins of Greg Atkins Trucking and Logging in Keeseville supplies the wood chips.

According to ChipTec Project Manager Josh Mandell, a biomass heating system is considered clean, green and renewable. It’s also cost effective for the school.

“It’s cheaper,” Mandell said. “That’s probably the biggest thing of all. With the unstable oil prices over the last decades, it becomes more sensible for schools to have that stability. You don’t see the rise and fall in wood prices; you don’t see that as you would in oil.”

The system works by transferring the wood chips to a “gasifer” where they are then cooked in a low-oxygen environment in temperatures ranging from 1,200 to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a district pamphlet. From there, the wood is converted into gas in the broiler. The heat produced in the boiler is then transferred to the school’s hydronic (water and steam) system. The heated water is then pumped through the school’s existing heating system.

According to Savage, wood that isn’t converted to gas becomes ash. “The small amount of ash that does come from this can be used in farming and agricultural use,” he said.

The amount of wood chips used by the facility depends on how much heat needs to be generated. Mandell estimates that about 2,000 pounds of wood chips would burn per hour on an average winter day.

Given the cold winters and the extensive logging industry in North Country, along with the fuel savings, the district is already thinking about expanding biomass facilities in the future.

“Janet and I are pushing NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) to come up with a grant program to give 100 percent grant money for schools to convert to bio-fuel. If we can get our schools to convert to bio-fuel and save money and prove that it works real well, then our industries will start using it,” said New York State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, alongside fellow Assemblywoman Janet Duprey.