Longwood University: Dusting up power from sawmill scraps

Lauren Williams's picture

Chopping down trees isn't generally considered environmentally friendly. But central Virginia's aptly named Longwood University has partnered with 11 local logging mills, buying their lumber waste - which would otherwise end up in landfills - and using it to heat its 62-acre campus.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Longwood's sawdust-fueled heating plant, which produces about two megawatts of power - a third of the school's electricity.

"The initial move into sawdust was a business decision - it was based on finances and economics," said Vice President of Facilities Management Richard Bratcher. "We now have a beautiful 'rails-to-trails' where the railroad tracks used to be, so we can't haul coal in here anymore... So, realistically our options are fuel oil and wood. And fuel oil is just extremely expensive."

Longwood's heating plant currently consists of two biomass boilers, which consume between 40 and 80 tons of sawdust per day via furnace temperatures exceeding 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. During colder months and when student capacity is at its peak, the university taps into its old fuel oil plant, which stands next door to the new facility; in the summer, though, just one sawdust boiler is enough to heat the entire campus.

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