Biomass heating comes to campus

Take a walk down Balmoral Street this spring and you’ll notice a shiny new addition to campus. The large metal silo near the entrance to Manitoba Hall might look out of place in downtown Winnipeg, but it’s an important part of the University’s new biomass heating system.

Biomass is a renewable fuel source that comes from burning wood or other organic materials. UWinnipeg’s system is one of only a handful of biomass projects in Manitoba and the first in an urban area.

“Some of the biggest challenges for us are the misconceptions surrounding biomass,” said Kyle Macdonald, UWinnipeg’s director of Energy Management and Special Projects. “A lot of people imagine stoking a fire, but this is all automated and because it’s so efficient you’re not going to get many particulates or emissions.”

UWinnipeg’s new sustainability strategy aims to have five per cent of the energy used on campus come from unconventional renewable resources by 2025. This project fulfills more than half of that target.

The system runs on locally sourced wood pellets that are fed into two 100 kW boilers in the basement of Ashdown Hall. Biomass has been on the University’s radar since 2015 and a partnership with Manitoba Hydro has helped make it a reality through funding and developmental support.

“We’re very thankful to have that support because without that, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground,” said Macdonald.

From Hydro’s perspective, biomass is an up-and-coming fuel source that can free up electrical demand, create new jobs, and reduce the province’s carbon footprint.

“We see it as being tremendously valuable,” said Trevor Sims, Hydro’s Senior Renewable Energy Engineer. “This is a showcase project that we can point to for other institutions and economic benefits.”

In addition to keeping classrooms and study spaces warm, the biomass system creates opportunities for research and public engagement. The heating system will likely be a topic of interest for UWinnipeg’s next campus sustainability course and there are plans to create a public art piece explaining the function and benefits of biomass.

This story was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of UWinnipeg Magazine.

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