Shrinking the Carbon Footprint -Biomass Grants to U of M

Here’s an article on biomass at U of M- “University of Montana officials hope to shrink the carbon footprint of campus by nearly a quarter by building a $16 million, wood-fired, biomass boiler onto the existing heating plant.”

Julie Kies coordinates the Fuels for Schools and Beyond program with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. She said the biomass plant proposal represents proven technology, as forest-products mills have used similar technology to heat their facilities for decades. In addition, 10 Montana public schools already use similar technology, as does UM-Western in Dillon and the University of Idaho in Moscow.

“What sets the UM plan apart is its scale, though it still won’t be as large as the co-generation facilities used by mills,” Kies said. “But it would be the largest such plant used at a Montana educational facility.”

Duringer said the University of South Carolina completed a similar project with mixed results that UM has learned from. Other campuses now introducing biomass plants include the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

In addition to the University of Montana, the DNRC awarded grants to two other area projects. Mineral Community Hospital in Superior received $175,000 for its biomass energy facility that will serve the hospital, elementary school, and high school. Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains received $104,000 for its wood pellet-based biomass energy system.

Here is another piece:

Julie Kies, DNRC Biomass Program Manager, sees the expansion of biomass utilization in Montana as a positive for both local economies and the state’s forest industry. The Montana Fuels for Schools and Beyond Program has helped to fund and implement 10 other biomass energy projects in Montana, starting with the pilot project at Darby School in 2003. We’re pleased to see woody biomass energy expanding to other facilities in the state including hospitals and university campuses, she said. Information about DNRC’s Biomass Utilization Program can be found online at

11 thoughts on “Shrinking the Carbon Footprint -Biomass Grants to U of M”

  1. The following articles regarding biomass energy are from Dr. Thomas Michael Power. Dr. Power is the former Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, where he currently serves as a Research Professor.

    Logging for Electricity? Important Questions About Biomass

    Just Because an Energy Source is “Biological” Doesn’t Make It “Green:” A Hard-Headed Look at Biomass

  2. Sharon, New science and research really calls into question the “shrinking carbon footprint” aspect of these types of biomass projects.

    NOTE: Interested readers can download these new studies via the PDF links below.

    Bioenergy – a carbon accounting time bomb

    Two new independent scientific studies commissioned by BirdLife International, the European Environmental Bureau and Transport & Environment cast further doubt on the EU’s policy of promoting biomass as fuel for heat and power generation, and biofuels for transport.

    The first study, carried out by Joanneum Research, identifies a major flaw in the way carbon savings from forest-derived biomass are calculated in EU law as well as under UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol mechanisms.

    It concludes that harvesting trees for energy creates a ‘carbon debt’: the carbon contained in the trees is emitted upfront while trees grow back over many years. The true climate impact of so-called woody biomass in the short to medium term can, as a result, be worse than the fossil fuels it is designed to replace.

    “The EU is taking out a sub-prime carbon mortgage that it may never be able to pay back. Biomass policy needs to be fixed before this regulatory failure leads to an ecological crisis that no bail out will ever fix”, commented Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife International. 

    The second study, by CE Delft, examines the full climate impact of the main biofuels used in Europe. In particular it looked at the impact of the expansion of agricultural land into environmentally sensitive areas when food production is displaced by fuel crops, a process known as indirect land use change (ILUC). The report, based on analysis of several EU Commission-sponsored research projects and other international model studies, found that most current biofuels are as bad as fossil fuels for the climate once ILUC is taken into consideration.

    The study proposes concrete ways of correcting current greenhouse gas balance calculations to fully account for indirect land use change related emissions.

    “As long as the EU refuses to take the full climate impacts of biofuels into account, its climate strategy for transport is doomed to failure.” said Nu?a Urbancic, Policy Officer at Transport & Environment, the sustainable transport campaigners. 

    “If left unchanged, biomass for energy policy will soon be in the same dire and confused state as biofuel policy is today”, added Pieter de Pous, Senior Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau. “This can be avoided if the Commission and industry are ready to face up to these facts and develop the necessary measures that will ensure bioenergy policy will actually make a positive contribution to fighting climate change”.

    Together, current EU policy on biomass and biofuels risks severe environmental impacts across the globe, and a carbon debt that could take centuries to pay off.

    The three groups are calling on the EU to come forward with mandatory sustainability criteria for biomass and to incorporate indirect land use change calculations into the existing sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioenergy.

    Download the report here:

    Download the Joanneum Research study here:

    Bergsma G. C., Croezen H. J., Otten M. B. J. & van Valkengoed M.P.J., Biofuels: indirect land use change and climate impact, Delft, CE Delft, June 2010. Download the CE Delft study here:

  3. Thanks Matthew!
    I have been looking forward to a chance for some discussion and dialogue around this, and am glad that you are also interested. I will respond to the papers you cited as I have time; I also have some papers to cite. Hopefully we can make sense of all this.

    I think this is one of those situations where whether a certain technology it is a good idea or a bad idea depends on careful framing of all the positives and negatives of that technology versus other technologies in a particular place and time, to achieve a set of objectives particular to that time and place, and the cultural fit of the technology. I don’t know if you are familiar with the literature of technological innovation and extension, but there is the concept of “appropriate technologies.”

    Appropriate technology
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia here

    The Universal Nut Sheller in use in Uganda, an example of appropriate technologyAppropriate technology (AT) is technology that is designed with special consideration to the environmental, ethical, cultural, social, political, and economical aspects of the community it is intended for. With these goals in mind, AT proponents claim their methods require fewer resources, are easier to maintain, and have less of an impact on the environment compared to techniques from mainstream technology, which they contend is wasteful and environmentally polluting.[1]

    The term is usually used to describe simple technologies proponents consider suitable for use in developing nations or less developed rural areas of industrialized nations.[1] This form of “appropriate technology” usually prefers labor-intensive solutions over capital-intensive ones, although labor-saving devices are also used where this does not mean high capital or maintenance cost. In practice, appropriate technology is often something described as using the simplest level of technology that can effectively achieve the intended purpose in a particular location. In industrialized nations, the term appropriate technology takes a different meaning, often referring to engineering that takes special consideration of its social and environmental ramifications.[2]

    So the question at hand might be, if you agree, Matthew, for Montana and Colorado, which biomass technologies are appropriate? I see many woodpiles outside rural homes in both states so I think we probably agree that woodstoves for heat are an appropriate biomass technology.

  4. “Snag-huggers” seek to eliminate all salvage projects and biomass operations, convinced that more than 300 million snags aren’t enough for snag-dependent species. Do we need black-backed woodpeckers on EVERY acre?!?!? There is no lack of snag habitat and there never will be a lack of snag habitat, in the future. My last salvage project harvested trees on 45% of the burned area, AND retained plenty of snags of all sizes within the cutting units.

    My Yosemite example shows that snags will not be returning to that burned landscape for another 50 years, at least! Yep, they all burned up 20 years after the original catastrophic wildfire. It’s a moonscape now, and the frequent fires there might just keep it that way for a very long time.

  5. Who defines what is green and what is appropriate? Anyone can find a “science” paper by an advocacy group to make their point, or justify their political views. Are the fuels for schools program in Montana inappropriate? I am sure they are to some, but to most no. I think biomass works best when it is a by-product of another process, by utilizing material that would otherwise be wasted. I don’t believe the U of Montana is advocating growing a forest plot for the sole purpose of heating the campus. Is bio-mass the answer to for replacing fossil fuels? I would say no, but it may play a part as I believe there is no one right answer, and a diversity of energy sources is a good thing.

  6. Through tax policies, we subsidize 30% of the cost of “wind energy”. And that doesn’t count the cost of “backup” generating capacity that kicks in when the wind is intermitten. I’m not a huge fan of government subsidizing anything to force a market (like ethanol or wind), but just like all pork barrell mentality, if wind gets it than shouldn’t biomass?

  7. Since Al Gore is against ALL biomass, lumping it in with coal and nuclear as an energy source, biomass faces an uphill battle. Of course, biomass is painted as a tool for massive clearcutting and destructive deforestation that kills wildlife, instead of as a “green” supplementary source of energy. Instead, opponents are just fine with that energy source going up in smoke, clinging to the “fires are natural and beneficial” mantra.

  8. “I see many woodpiles outside rural homes in both states so I think we probably agree that woodstoves for heat are an appropriate biomass technology.”

    Just as an FYI Sharon, for at least a decade now, Missoula has had an ordinance that bans the burning of wood stoves. The reason is our mountain valley is very susceptible to inversions. Many other towns located in valleys face a similar issue and I’d think that Missoula isn’t the only place that has banned wood stoves. Therefore, I’m not willing to say off the bat that “woodstoves for heat are an appropriate biomass technology.” The fact of the matter was that here in Missoula “woodstoves for heat” contributed so much pollution and particulates into our airshed that they were banned because Missoula was often way out of compliance with air quality standards. Thanks.

  9. Great, Matthew! I foresee a series of posts on this topic starting with the use of woodstoves, and moving on to discussions of the papers you posted.

  10. In west central Idaho the Forest Service is currently requiring yarding sub-merchantable trees, whole tree yarding and chipping and removing landing slash on some units in fuels reductions units. The reasons for this are multi purpose , removal of ladder fuels, reduction of fuels within the stands to allow under-burning, and reduce smoke from burning .

    Currently there is not much of a market locally for chips generated at the landing, the local school has a “fuels for schools” heating system and the local sawmill has a co-generation. The sawmill generates enough fuel from their operations to run their cogeneration and they are not in the market for buying chips. They may take them but won’t pay much if anything for them. The school doesn’t need near what is going to be produced. So the FS is requiring producing a material that far exceeds the current demand. So they are attempting to encourage development of local industry to use the chips. The local county has been looking at an electric generation facility. Unemployment has been hovering at 20% and they want to bring in jobs and industry to the area.

  11. A ban of Let-Burn fires would reduce smoke and its associated health problems a LOT more than banning woodstoves. So, Missoula prefers to heat with fossil fuels, instead?!? More progressive governments have “no firewood days”, depending on actual weather conditions. Methinks the preservationists have an ulterior motive for banning woodstoves, despite the wealth of firewood surrounding the Bitterroot Valley. Also, that ban seems more symbolic, as outside of the city limits, everyone has a woodstove! Forced-air heating doesn’t work so well when the power goes out, a normal part of rural mountain winters.


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