The Biomass Furnace - A landmark innovation in alternative energy
Heating the farm just got a whole lot greener! Researchers at the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head, Saskatchewan are about to unveil the woody biomass furnace, a landmark innovation in alternative energy, July 7 at the Agroforestry Development Centre's 2011 Open House.
The furnace uses woody biomass - trees and shrubs grown in agroforestry systems as fuel for heat. The Agroforestry Development Centre is currently growing and harvesting willows to be used as fuel. Willows are a renewable energy source harvested every three to five years and grow back without replanting.
The willows are harvested using a modified baler that cuts and bales the willows in a single pass. The bales are then allowed to dry, and after six months are ready to be processed. They are dropped into a haybuster tub grinder to be made into chips. The resulting chips become fuel for the furnace.
Here's how it works: Wood fuel is combusted in a biomass boiler that heats the water. The hot water is then transferred from the biomass boiler to a heat exchange which the existing system uses to heat the building. If there is insufficient heat in the water coming from the biomass boiler, then the natural gas systems will provide supplemental heat. The biomass boiler will offset 90 per cent of the natural gas used in the existing boiler.
This furnace is the first of its kind at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and is the product of over six years of planning and research. Ultimately, researchers hope to use the biomass furnace as the main source of heating for the 43,000 square-foot Agroforestry Development Centre, with natural gas as a back up. The furnace has the potential to offset $40,000 worth of natural gas usage and approximately 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
In the end, the biomass furnace is another means of investigating the long-term sustainability and management of agro-ecosystems. The results of this research will determine how farmers can balance economic objectives while managing their land in a sustainable manner.
Although an initial investment is required, between $200,000 and $300,000 depending on size, farmers will be able to incorporate biomass utilization into their farm operation using existing tractors to bale, and hay grinders to chip the wood. In the end, farmers will benefit environmentally and economically in the long term by reducing their natural gas bill and their carbon footprint because woody biomass fuel burns cleaner.
The biomass furnace was built by the Viessmann Group, a family company based in Austria where they have been building and using bio-energy heating systems for over 30 years. The remaining components of the system were manufactured and installed into the shipping container by Fink Machine Inc, a Canadian company based in Enderby, B.C.
This pilot project is just one innovation among many at the Agroforestry Development Centre, which has been planting trees in agricultural landscapes for 110 years. The centre promotes environmental and economic benefits of integrating trees with agricultural systems through research, extension and provision of seedlings to prairie farmers and other eligible clients.
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