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Berkshire East windmill  

Sawmill power plan gets big boost: Ashfield mill gets $400,000 to turn wood waste into fuel

ASHFIELD – The Roberts Brothers Lumber Co. has been given a $400,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, to help pay for a $3 million system that will convert wood-chip waste into methane gas, to provide clean heat and electricity for the lumber mill.

”This will be the first one in North America,” owner Leonard Roberts said of the biomass CHP (combined heat and power) gasification system planned for the lumber mill. It will serve as a model for other independent mills in the state.

”Franklin County should be very proud,” he said.

A biomass CHP gasification unit heats wood waste under high pressure, converting it to methane gas, explained Tyler Leeds, a project manager for the Mass. Technology Collaborative. The clean-burning methane will then be used to heat the sawmill and fuel an electric generator.

Roberts said the process is extremely clean. ”It means no new carbon will be released into the atmosphere beyond what was sequestered by the trees.”

He explained that trees absorb carbon while growing, then release it when they are burned. The methane conversion process will not add additional carbon to the air, as is the case with fossil fuels.

Roberts declined to say how much of the company’s energy needs will be met by the new system, or when the project would be installed.

In 2006, Roberts received an MTC grant for a feasibility study for this project.

Berkshire East windmill

Another grant winner this spring is the Berkshire East Ski Resort of Charlemont, which received $40,000 to conduct a feasibility study to explore the use of wind turbine energy to power the ski resort. Owner Roy Schaeffer could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The grants were announced Thursday by area legislators: Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Reps. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, and Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton.

A project description about Roberts’ sawmill, given by Sen. Downing’s office, says that, by converting low-grade timber waste to energy, besides the obvious economic rationale, Roberts Brothers’ sawmill ”will be a demonstration project for the concept of waste-to-energy, which may be rolled out to, and replicated by, other independent mills in Massachusetts.”

”This is a major infusion of state dollars into our companies, which will allow us to advance two innovative local projects,” Downing said in the news release. ”Renewable energy technologies are drivers of the new economy, and once again, western Massachusetts is at the forefront.”

Bosley said he is pleased to see the collaborative’s support of the development of renewable, clean energy in western Massachusetts. ”Wind power at ski resorts has been tested … and proven to serve great benefits to the mountain, surrounding communities and the environment,” he said. ”I applaud Berkshire East for their initiative on this issue.”

Guyer said he was happy that Roberts got its grant. ”Roberts Brothers is a small business, but sees the big picture in this emerging renewable energy field, and had developed a project that will convert timber waste into energy to power its sawmill,” he said. ”This is a great initiative and an example for other mills to follow.”

The $40,000 for Berkshire East is to study whether the addition of a 225 kilowatt or a 600kW wind turbine on the mountaintop would produce substantial power for the resort. The study is to include in-depth analysis of turbine siting and performance, the potential electricity value, economic analysis and build-ability. The entire study is expected to cost $79,500 and is to be completed by August.

By Diane Broncaccio
Recorder Staff

The Recorder

2 May 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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