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USDA Forest Service’s Fuels for Schools program Turns Biomass into Energy

Posted by Robert Westover, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Forest Service in Energy Forestry
Feb 21, 2017

The USDA Forest Service’s Fuels for Schools and Beyond program promotes and encourages the use biomass to energy as a renewable and natural resource.

Recently the U.S. Forest Service recognized the Darby School District in Montana for success in the Fuels for Schools Program for their innovation, cost savings and energy efficiency and in particular Darby High School’s biomass system. It’s part of a pilot program funded by a grant from the Forest Service’s National Fire Plan. In 2003, the Darby School District was the first in the state to have a biomass system.

Since installing the biomass boiler the program has provided significant savings – up to $200,000 this past year alone helping the school system meet its yearly budget requirements.

Because Darby High School has successfully demonstrated the use of forest biomass as a renewable energy source, other regions in the West have used the Darby boiler system as a best practice example.

Burning wood is considered "carbon neutral" because, as trees grow, they pull carbon out of the atmosphere and when they die, decompose, or are burned they release that same amount of carbon. With this, there is no net gain of CO2 in the atmosphere and growing plants and trees will continue to cycle that CO2.  Compare this to the burning of fossil fuels like petroleum and natural gas, which release old carbon that has been deep in the earth for millions of years, creating a carbon imbalance in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.

By promoting and developing the utilization of forest biomass for energy, the Fuels for Schools and Beyond program achieves several goals in the national interest:

  • Strengthens local economies.
  • Reduces national dependency on foreign oil and non-renewable fossil fuels.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Provides financial incentives for treating hazardous fuels by creating markets for otherwise wasted woody material.
  • Encourages community engagement in national forest management.
  • Reduces and stabilizes heating costs for public facilities.
  • Reduces air pollution from open-pile slash burning.
Darby High School students learn about the biomass system, part of a pilot program funded by a grant from the Forest Service’s National Fire Plan and aid from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Darby High School students learn about the biomass system, part of a pilot program funded by a grant from the Forest Service’s National Fire Plan and aid from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Category/Topic: Energy Forestry

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Comments

mary kennedy
Apr 13, 2011

Would the use of bio-char be the same?

Debbie Manzari
Nov 06, 2015

Please note that you have a link that is broken. Click on the Fuels for Schools Program in the article. I don't think that's where you want the reader to go. Can you please send me the correct link as I would like more information?

Thanks,
Debbie Manzari

Tracey
Feb 15, 2016

Biomass burning cannot be considered climate neutral, since soot plays a major role in climate change (Bond et al. 2013; International Panel on Climate Change 2000; http://www.familiesforcleanair.org/environment/environment5/). And burning cannot be considered sustainable once one considers the time scale of carbon sequestration/release in growing trees vs. rotting vs. burning. Finally, wood/biomass smoke contains both harmful particulate matter and toxics like formaldehyde, benzene, dioxins, and polycyclic organic matter.
What in the world is the USDA thinking?