Wolf Ridge embraces pellets with new biomass boilerEuropean technology has come stateside with a new biomass boiler system at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland. The new boiler was unveiled during a ceremony last Friday.
By: LaReesa Sandretsky, Lake County News Chronicle
European technology has come stateside with a new biomass boiler system at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland. The new boiler was unveiled during a ceremony last Friday.
The center, whose mission is to provide an environmental education to visitors, replaced its previous cord wood boiler. The new boiler uses wood pellets made in the region from wood that would otherwise become garbage, like sawmill scraps and blow-down area trees.
The boiler is based on a design by D’Alessandro Termomeccanica based in Rome and the electronics that monitor the system were developed by ABioNova, a Swedish firm.
The ABioNova control board cuts the staff resources Wolf Ridge has to dedicate to their heating system. The cord wood system required a manually-fed fuel every three or four hours. The new system automatically dispenses wood pellets. The new system will heat 85 percent of the Wolf Ridge campus.
Pellet heating systems are generally considered a cleaner alternative to traditional fuels like oil or natural gas. While they do emit carbon dioxide, it is ideally absorbed by new-growth trees planted for more fuel. The computer-controlled feeding system keeps the boiler at a stable temperature and makes sure that the pellets are burned in the most efficient way to reduce emissions.
Wood pellet systems do have critics. The Canadian branch of Greenpeace issued a scathing report on wood pellets in November 2011. The organization said logging companies use clear-cutting, practically a curse word to environmentalists, to provide for wood pellets. It also claims its efficiency and low-emission claims are false.
Most of their criticism is directed at older, larger models. Wolf Ridge’s boiler is one of the cleanest and most efficient on the market. The most significant emission is harmless ash.
The pellets that feed the boiler are from Great Lakes Renewable Energy in Hayward, Wis., the closest pellet manufacturing company.
The loggers are all certified master loggers, which guarantees that they use sustainable logging practices like harvesting underbrush, which can choke new growth and increase forest fire risks, rather than clear cutting.
Gerald Brown, sales manager at Great Lakes Renewable Energy, said the company often purchases scrap materials to create their wood pellets, often at an additional cost to them. When they do log, it benefits the forest.
“We don’t clear cut. We do healthy and clean logging,” Brown said.
Though sustainability is a main focus, the event also highlighted the economic benefits the boiler will bring. ABioNova partnered with a number of local companies to complete the project and will rely on local hands to maintain it.
Will Steger, arctic explorer and environmental activist, highlighted the marriage of economic and environmental benefits of the project in his address at the ceremony. Through Wolf Ridge’s example, he hopes the wood pellet boiler system will become more popular in the region, bringing industry expansion and job opportunities.
“This is something we have to demonstrate can work,” Steger said.
The domino effect has already begun. In March, Itasca Community College and the Forestry Research Institution of Sweden, Skogforsk announced a partnership centered around biomass energy and wood pellet technology. With the help of the Skogforsk Institution, ICC will add biomass education to its curriculum and create programs for students interested in the bioenergy sector.
“ICC is well positioned to leverage its partnership with Skogforsk in a way that can help keep Minnesota on the cutting edge of the emerging wood-based energy industry,” said Jeff Borling, Interim President and CEO of Itasca Economic Development Corporation.
The new boiler serves as an educational tool for Wolf Ridge. Their center attracts more than 15,000 students every year, and the boiler will become a renewable energy visual together with the center’s windmill and solar panels.
“Modeling these technologies is part of our mission ... to be used as an educational tool while also being used for heating is really unique,” Wolf Ridge Executive Director Peter Smerud said.
The partnership between ABioNova and Woodmaster, who markets and distributes their products in the U.S., is unique in its success. The company won Adventurer of the Year from Business Region Gothenburg for its venture into the U.S.
“ABioNova had the courage to bet on one of the most difficult markets, the United States,” the jury from Business Region said about its decision to honor the company.
The ambassador from Sweden, Jonas Hafström, made the trip to Finland for the ceremony and expressed enthusiasm that Swedish technology can work with American manufacturing. Partnerships of this type have been attempted before but never came to fruition.
“Success stories such as this are exciting for the Swedish ambassador,” Hafström said.
The wood pellet boiler that will heat 85 percent of Wolf Ridge’s campus.
Kurt Mead, naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, listens to Peter Smerud, executive director of Wolf Ridge, and Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Jonas Hafström in front of the hopper dispenses the wood pellets to feed a new boiler on the campus.