When opportunity knocks, you should answer. We did. Early this spring, I was approached by a gentleman named Dan Bihn. Dan is into promoting the use of “biomass” systems (www.danbihn.com). He has a lot of experience under his belt on numerous projects of various size around the state. He met a maintenance manager of a city-owned complex in northern Colorado where we had recently performed a high-efficiency boilerectomy, and we were asked for advice and installation information on this potential project.
The “project” is a non-profit rescue/mission organization that has a campground high in the Rocky Mountains, on the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park. This camp unfortunately is experiencing the red scourge in all of their pine trees and is going to have to cut the trees down to avoid possible liability issues from falling dead trees.
The initial purpose of a biomass wood gasifying boiler was to displace the use of propane at the camp's mess hall facility. The building consists of approximately 10,000-sq.ft. of radiant floor heated eating facilities, along with the necessary dish washing and pot and pan washing facilities. The original configuration used 80% AFUE copper fintube boilers powered by liquid propane. The cost of propane is directly tied to the cost of a barrel of oil, even though it is a byproduct of the production of gasoline. The refineries used to “flare” the LP gas off but were directed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cease and desist the continual flare offs, so they began storing it in large abandoned underground caverns and salt mines.
Much of the LP gas being used today is rumored to have been produced many years ago. In any case, this non-profit organization was addressed by Dan Bihn, and Dan put together a co-op grant using funds from the Colorado State Forest Service and the Colorado Governors Energy Office to convert the camp's food facilities hot water/space heating system to a biomass wood gasifying boiler, backed up by high-efficiency modulating /condensing boilers.
The labor necessary to fell the logs and chop them into useable sizes is volunteer labor for the most part, so the economics of the situation were ideal. In addition to the wood gasifying boiler, our company installed a 1,000-gal. atmospheric storage tank, along with the necessary input and output copper immersed coil heat exchangers. The system can provide 100% of the space heating needs of the dining room facilities. It also preheats the hot water used for dish and building cleaning. It is anticipated that the system will pay for itself within a reasonably short period of time, about seven to 10 years.
This is a demonstration pilot program to persuade other non-profit entities that operating in the Rocky Mountains is economically feasible when converting from propane or natural gas to wood biomass boilers. If this whole program works out, the camp is considering installing an even larger boiler with the intent of setting up a district heating system with insulated underground piping to service the heating needs of the outlying individual sleeping cabins.
To their credit, a local plumbing and heating firm from Fort Collins originally had presented a well thought out, yet somewhat complicated, design to satisfy the building's energy needs. We were asked if we could “simplify” the original design, which follows our company's policy for those systems located on the fringes of our easily accessible service area. We incorporate the KISS (keep it sweetly simple) principle on these jobs that are far away from home in the hope that if there ever is an issue, and we are held back by weather complications, the local talent pool would be capable of providing emergency services to get the system back up and running until we could make it to the jobsite to diagnose and repair the deficiency. The system will be commissioned by a factory trained representative in the near future, and the hope is that they might get the governor of the State of Colorado up there to toss the first match into the firebox to get things rolling.
Tune in next month as we take a deeper look at the critical points of an installation of this type and how the system is designed to handle things like a major power outage during a peak burn condition. Until then, happy gasified hydronicing!
Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303/778-7772.
And read about Mark Eatherton's adventures in radiant installation in this issue.