Coast Guard moves forward in biomass heating plans for Alaskan units

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard is making plans to convert its conventional heating systems to biomass boilers burning wood chips in place of as much as one million of gallons of heating oil a year in Sitka, Ketchikan and Kodiak.

Coast Guard Civil Engineering Unit Juneau has worked extensively with the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Juneau Economic Development Council, the Sitka Conservation Society and the Department of Energy on solutions to better heat Coast Guard buildings and utilize existing alternative fuels in each of the locations.

The current concept is to install centralized plants in Sitka and Ketchikan which would burn wood chips as fuel and distribute the resulting hot water throughout the bases through buried insulated water lines. After a study conducted by CEU Juneau last year, both sites were deemed excellent candidates for biomass plants due to their compact configuration and the ready availability of biomass fuel from local wood mills.

A biomass fuel system will involve an automatic fuel feed system consisting of mechanical belts and augers, a specially designed combustion unit which cleanly burns fuel at high temperatures under tightly controlled conditions, a commercial boiler unit which transfers the combustion heat to hot water or steam and a distribution system which carries the heated water or steam to buildings throughout the facilities.

Air emissions from the three plants are not anticipated to be a problem. Modern biomass plants operate under very tightly controlled parameters and incinerate the fuel at very high temperatures and efficiencies.

“The progress this far may not have been possible without the support of many partners in this effort including the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Juneau Economic Development Council, and the Sitka Conservation Society,” said Robert Deering, chief of the environmental and energy branch in CEU Juneau. “They and many others have provided invaluable assistance, information and encouragement.”

Cost savings are dependent upon the unknown future costs of heating oil and biomass fuels but could potentially exceed $1 million per year. The cost of the plants in Ketchikan and Sitka are estimated at $3 million each.

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