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UW-Eau Claire to test wood pellets in heating system

RELEASED: Feb. 9, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Heating Plant will replace a portion of the coal it burns with wood pellets as part of a test beginning the morning of Feb. 10, according to Jim Franklin, the power plant superintendent at UW-Eau Claire.

The test — which will involve replacing 10-15 percent of the coal with the wood pellets — will help the university determine if the wood pellet mix is a viable biofuel option that may help UW-Eau Claire reduce the amount of coal it burns, Franklin said.

Wood pellets are a wood fuel usually made from compacted sawdust. They typically are produced as a byproduct of sawmilling and other wood transformation activities. The pellets are extremely dense and can be produced with low humidity content that allows them to be burned with high combustion efficiency.

The test will begin at about 1 a.m. Wednesday and continue for 24-36 hours. Additional testing will continue for several weeks.

Test monitors will work to determine how the wood pellets entered the heating system with coal, how the existing infrastructure handles the wood pellets and coal mixture, whether the pellets reached the boiler intact, and whether the wood pellets still had their full BTU content when they reached the boiler, Franklin said.

"We want to see if this is viable from both a cost and an environmental standpoint," Franklin said. "There are lots of questions that we hope this test will help us answer. We are educating ourselves and will gladly look at alternatives to coal whenever we are able to do so."

If the tests show that wood pellets are a viable option, the university would likely have to invest in a new conveying system to mix the pellets with the coal and transfer the mixture efficiently to the boiler, Franklin said.

Current air permits limit the amount of wood pellet mixture that can be used as well as the kind of testing the university can conduct, Franklin said, noting that the campus community will not notice anything different during the testing.

This winter UW-Eau Claire already has reduced the amount of coal use by 33 percent as compared to last year. Part of the reduction is because Sacred Heart Hospital opted to no longer have the university provide its heat, and the rest of the reduction is the result of decisions by the university to use gas instead of coal during certain months this winter, Franklin said.

For more information about the test, contact Jim Franklin at 715-836-4412.

-30-

JB/DW

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