MISSOULA - The University of Montana wants to produce its own energy in the future by building a $16 million wood-fired biomass boiler to complement its existing heating plant.
Bob Duringer, UM's vice president of administration and finance, said the boiler will be the largest industrial-sized biomass gasification operation in the state and will reduce the campus' natural gas consumption by 70 percent.
University officials plan to pitch the idea to the state Board of Regents in November and want to begin construction next spring.
On Friday, UM received a $180,000 grant for the boiler from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the U.S. Forest Service. Most of the project is expected to be paid for with bonds that were divided among states as part of the federal stimulus package.
Duringer said Monday that the federal government pays 70 percent of the interest, and the university expects the project to pay for itself within 15-17 years.
UM has long looked for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, beginning in 2008 with a greenhouse gas inventory that revealed that two-thirds of the school's carbon emissions were produced by heating and lighting campus buildings. Last year, the university unveiled a plan to become carbon-neutral by 2020.
Duringer said the quickest and most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions include changing wasteful habits on campus, shifting to more renewable energy and for UM to generate its own energy.
The biomass boiler would use trees killed by bark beetles, as well as branches, bark and leaves left behind after timber harvesting, to produce clean, low-cost heat and power.