Wood chip heating project to cut energy costs

By Douglas Demaio, IMCOMSeptember 6, 2011

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BAMBERG, Germany, Sept. 2, 2011 -- The Army will be more eco-friendly this month when wood-chip furnaces used to heat water are put into service here Sept. 14.

Two new wood-chip heating systems that provide heated water to buildings near Muna depot will cut operating costs, reduce dependency on oil and shrink greenhouse gas emissions.

"The existing boilers were old and had to be replaced," said Dieter Gerber, chief of the Operation and Maintenance Division for the Directorate of Public Works. "We were thinking what we could do. With all these efforts in energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions, we thought it would be a nice idea to go with biomass."

Biomass is organic material made from plants and animals, and the most common form of biomass fuel is wood, according to the Energy Information Administration website.

"Wood chips are cheaper than oil fuel," Gerber said.

Oil costs about .08 cents per kilowatt hour and biomass comes out to about .04 cents per kilowatt hour, Gerber said. The previous oil heater consumed about 120,000 liters of oil a year. More electricity is needed to run the heating system, but the costs for the renewable fuel will be less, which will make the project's overall cost lower.

Gerber estimates the switch to renewable energy will save roughly $30,000 a year.

"We will be able to verify this," he said. "We have measurements and meters. After the first window, we will have real data and then we will see how good our estimates and calculations were."

Stadtwerke Bamberg, the city's public transportation, gas, water and power company, will provide electricity to run the wood-chip heating systems and will monitor the operations of the system from its headquarters remotely, Gerber said. If it is needed, the system can be connected to Stadtwerke's existing heating system.

"There is a good partnership with Stadtwerke," he said "They supported us in doing this and provided us their know-how and experience."

Big and small furnaces were installed to run the system more efficiently, Gerber said. The small one is used during the summer because it uses less energy and the larger one will be used during the winter when more heat is needed.

"It's more efficient to have two," he said. "It's cheaper."

Operating the large burner, using 20 percent of its capacity, is less efficient than using a smaller one running at a higher percent capacity, Gerber said. Having two systems also provides a backup system in the event that one needs maintenance or breaks.

The changeover to the new eco-friendly solution started this summer. About 80 percent of wood-based fuel in America is consumed by industry and commercial businesses, but it only accounts for two percent of the energy used in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration website.

Emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere using wood as fuel is better than using fossil fuel, Gerber said.

The combustion of fossil fuels take carbons locked beneath the ground, such as crude oil and gas, and releases the carbons into the atmosphere, according to a NASA website, http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov. When wood is burned, carbons are recycled back into the natural carbon cycle.

"Biomass is considered to be CO2 neutral because it emits the amount of CO2 that would be gathered in the lifetime of the wood," Gerber said. "The fuel we are using is totally renewable. The biggest benefit is it keeps us independent from oil, which has to be imported. We shrink down our CO2 emissions and save costs. Thosre are the three driving factors of this project."

Related Links:

NASA Observatory

Army.mil: Energy News

U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg

Department of Energy