College cuts carbon footprint with biomass boiler

The Royal Agricultural College has slashed its heating costs and carbon footprint by installing a new biomass boiler.

Officially opened by Dale Vince OBE, founder of Ecotricity, last Thursday (16 June), the 500kW woodchip boiler heats almost all of the college’s teaching area, and will soon supply a new student residence as well.

“The college had some hefty fuel bills and an out-of-date heating system,” said director of estates Graham Barton. “We had also set ourselves a target of reducing our carbon footprint by 34% by 2020. The biomass boiler has helped us to achieve a cut of 40% in one fell swoop.”

At a capital cost of £500,000 and annual saving on heating costs of at least £10,000, the initial payback on the boiler looked pretty long at 50 years. But, the college received a £150,000 grant to install the boiler, and the annual fuel savings will increase as energy prices rise, reducing the payback period. “The more self-sufficient we can make ourselves, the better we will be,” he added.

Around 60 cubic metres of woodchip a week will be used at peak times, although average consumption will be nearer 30 cubic metres. The college pays just over 3p/kWh, instead of on a tonnage basis. Running costs are minimal – ash is emptied once a week and the system serviced twice a year.