Library Considers Installation Of Biomass Heating System

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The biomass heating system proposed for the Payson Public Library would be the first of its kind in Arizona.

Instead of using electricity, the boiler-like system would run on wood, particularly trimmings from Payson's surrounding national forests.

"We are in the very early stages of exploring this," said Library Director Terry Morris, who is looking to incorporate the system into the library's expansion.

"But because we're in the middle of the forest with lots of firewood around, it looks like something we will be able to accomplish."

In order to move forward with the project, the library is seeking grants to cover the $30,000 estimated startup cost, Morris said.

Roy Miller, an Arizona State University student and Blue Ridge Hotshot Crew member, spearheaded the concept two years ago, said Tommie Martin, Gila County Supervisor for District 1.

After exploring several buildings in Pine and Payson, Miller settled on the library as a potential place to finalize a biomass project.

"This is truly the tip of the iceberg," Martin said. "It is the exploration of an idea -- the absolute first, tiny piece of a long road of information we need to have to come to any kind of conclusion."

Miller worked under the direction of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization and Barbara Shaw-Snyder, director of ASU for Arizona's Building Great Communities outreach program, Martin said.

The ECO, which includes Apache, Gila, Graham, Greenlee and Navajo counties, set a goal to have a municipal building in each county heated and cooled with biomass technology by 2010, Martin said.

"Our immediate and long-term future is in biofuels and bioenergy," Martin said. "We are on the leading edge of this conversation."

One possible biomass heating system consists of a clay-insulated firebox, or boiler, surrounded by water, said Jerry Payne, Southwestern region renewable energy specialist for the U.S. Forest Service.

Heat generated from burning logs transfers to the water, which stores energy that feeds into the heating system of the building, Payne said.

"You take lengths of wood up to 40-inches long, fill the chamber up by hand two or three times and burn it down," Payne said.

"It stores heat for the rest of the day, so you don't have to have a fire burning continuously."

Burning the wood in a biomass system is healthier for the environment than the open pit burning of leftover tree trimmings and prescribed burns that clear excess forest growth, both of which release the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere, Payne said.

"Most science says that it is environmentally beneficial instead to burn wood in a clean-burning system," Payne said. "The new systems are clean enough to run on days when air pollution restrictions are in place. You can't see smoke at all."

Heating the library each year would take roughly six to 10 cords of wood, Payne estimated.

Larry Hettinger, forester with the Payson Ranger Station, said the amount of wood required is "very, very efficient."

"Through normal thinning of the national forest, you could easily get that off of just a few acres," Hettinger said. "It's a good alternative fuel source, while at the same time clearing up our forests."

The Forest Service charges the public $25 for four cords of wood, Hettinger said.

"So, for about $50, you could heat the library," said Hettinger, who noted that the Forest Service has not yet set up any plans to participate. "What a cost savings."

Although still in the developing stages, the biomass idea is leaning in the right direction, Hettinger said.

"Working for the Forest Service and as a private citizen, this is really exciting," Hettinger said.

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