University of Vermont


Biomass Feasibility Study for Trinity Campus

Project Timeline: 
May, 2010 to September, 2011
Project Progress: 

Project Category: Research/Study

This project, approved by the CEF committee in 2010, explored the feasibility of a potential biomass energy system on UVM's Trinity Campus. 

Interns in the Physical Plant Department completed the first phase of the project, an initial feasibility study, in December of 2010.  They found it might be logistically possible to use biomass, and recommended questions for further study. 

Four seniors in Engineering then examined these questions in more detail.  The second phase, completed in 2011, by four Engineering students for a senior project, recommended not installing a biomass boiler/gasification system on Trinity campus:

  • The return on investment is far too great for this to be economically feasible, at 30-63 years, including fuel savings.  Initial costs might start at $1.25 M for the boiler. 
  • Finding a reliable supplier of sustainably harvested wood chips has proven difficult for such relatively small users.
  • Truck delivery of wood chips must be in 44-48ft active bed semi-trucks, which might meet resistance by the Burlington residents nearby.
  • The students recommended in their oral presentation that the University consider a biomass plant at the athletic complex, should that complex be expanded, and reconsider a connection with the McNeil generating station if higher natural gas prices result in its running more of the time.
  • Beyond installing equipment to convert wood to heat, the larger cost of biomass at Trinity Campus would be installing piping between buildings, as the current boiler serves only a handful of buildings.  An upgrade of Trinity’s systems is not on the capital projects list.  When that time comes, the University will want to reconsider whether biomass might be appropriate.  

The Clean Energy Fund Committee accepted the engineering students' conclusion and agreed that it does not make sense to pursue biomass for Trinity Campus at this time. The committee voted in September 2011 to reallocate the remaining balance back into the Clean Energy Fund.

Clean Energy Fund Award: $35,000  
Final Project Cost: $1,824