Longwood University has received a $50,000 grant from Dominion Virginia Power to commission a pre-planning study to create a biomass fuel processing center.

Nearly 100 percent of the Longwood campus’ heat and hot water are supplied from biomass fuel. Current annual energy savings are more than $4.9 million when compared with burning oil, which the university used as its fuel source before switching to biomass 30 years ago.

Longwood’s plan to better process, dry and store the woody biomass fuel (sawdust)—which would improve the energy gained from the biomass when it’s burned—was among eight projects at Virginia colleges and universities selected to receive renewable energy research and development funding from Dominion’s new R&D Partnership Program. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office recently announced the projects, which received a total of $1.4 million.

The study will enable Longwood to identify the most efficient and sustainable way of processing, drying and storing the biomass. This is expected to improve the consistency of wood residues and reduce moisture content of the biomass. The study is the first phase of a four-phase project in which a prototype biomass processing plant will be developed at the off-campus site owned by Longwood where the biomass is currently stored and processed.

"Our goal for this processing facility is to create a consistent fuel product for the heating plant," said Kevin Miller, Longwood’s energy manager. "Our sawdust can vary between 40 to 60 percent moisture content, so we have to create enough heat to burn the moisture out before the fuel can reach its combustion point. Drier sawdust will result in a more efficient plant, lower maintenance costs—wet sawdust is hard on equipment—and increased storage capacity. We plan to dry the sawdust using renewable energy technology."

Dominion’s R&D Partnership Program was prompted by successful legislation proposed by the governor last session that provides credit to utility companies that meet renewable energy goals specified in the 2010 Virginia Energy Plan.

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