Students and staff at the environmentally-conscious Middlebury College in Vermont have been planning about how they could shrink their carbon footprint and help reduce global warming pollution well before it became fashionable to go green. As a result, the Trustees approved a Carbon Reduction Initiative in 2004 to implement a biomass burner that would reduce the college's oil-related emissions by almost half. In subsequent years, students stepped up their efforts to work towards carbon neutrality, meeting in a Sunday Night Group to plan strategies, drafting detailed MiddShift proposals, calculating the college's carbon footprint and the costs/savings of implementing emission reductions, and discussing the findings with faculty and staff. In 2007, they won Trustee approval to enact changes that would effectively eliminate the college's net greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2016, a remarkably early target date that is backed by funding. Construction of Middlebury's biomass burner has recently been completed.
The college is now firing up the $12 million wood chip gasification boiler, which they estimate will pay for itself within about 12 years. About 80% of the wood chips will come from logging operations, and the rest from land clearing operations or mill residue, all within a 75-mile radius. See the NY Times report here.
Middlebury College, together with the SUNY Environmental Sciences and Forestry College in Syracuse, is testing feasibility of using fast-growing willow trees as a future source of additional biomass.
There are multiple advantages of using biomass. It is a renewable fuel, since it can be replaced by growing more. It is produced domestically, thereby diminishing dependence on foreign sources of heating oil. It is derived from plants that remove CO2 from the atmosphere while they grow, and so no additional climate-warming CO2 is released when plants are grown, burned and then replaced with new plantings.
Using biomass reduces the college’s consumption of fuel oil by about 1.1 million gallons per year by replacing it with 20,000 tons of wood chips, a renewable fuel that reduces the net amount of greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 12,500 tons per year. For additional information, visit the Middlebury College website.
Middlebury's environmental reputation has won national recognition. The hard-hitting, environmental news and blog site, Grist, labeled Middlebury a "hotbed of climate activism" and ranked it second among the top 15 green colleges and universities nationwide.