Author (Your Name)

Rachel E. Baron, Colby College

Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)

Department

Colby College. Environmental Studies Program

Advisor(s)

Philip J. Nyhus

Second Advisor

F. Russell Cole

Third Advisor

Susan MacKenzie

Abstract

In light of growing concern regarding the effects of global climate change, Colby College signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2008. Through this pledge, Colby has committed to reducing carbon emissions in its Climate Action Plan (IPCC 2007; CCAP 2010). The College seeks to be carbon neutral by 2015 (CCAP 2010). This will be accomplished through a variety of mechanisms, one of which includes the construction of a biomass facility to replace most of the oil currently used for heating (CCAP 2010).

Anthropogenic global climate change has been documented by many scientists, but was widely publicized in the late 1980’s by James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen testified in front of Congress in 1988, stating that the greenhouse effect has been observed in many cases and predicting a significant temperature increase in the next few centuries (Shabecoff 1988). His testimony was reinforced by the report he and his colleagues published that year (Hansen et al. 1988). Two years later, in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first report on climate change (IPCC 1990). The IPCC has published three updates since the 1990 report, the most recent of which was released in 2007 (IPCC 2007). The numerous scientists that take part in these assessments have concluded that the global warming trend is caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat. These gases are emitted from many sources including deforestation, transportation and energy production.

In 2008, by far the largest contributor to GHGs emitted in the United States was fossil fuel combustion. The energy sector in the US relies heavily on fossil fuels; over 88% of total energy consumption comes from oil, coal or natural gas (EIA 2008). Given fossil fuels’ non-renewable nature, they are inherently unsustainable sources of energy.

Biomass energy has emerged as an alternative to fossil fuels. It is a renewable fuel source that can be used for the production of both electricity and thermal energy. Biomass facilities in the US run on a variety of fuel sources, including corn stalks, switchgrass, plantation-grown willow branches, construction debris, urban waste wood, and forest-harvested waste wood (Perlack et al. 2005). In the context of Maine and this thesis, I use the “operative definition” of forest biomass, which refers to fuel comprised of logging residues, previously un-merchantable stems, and other such woody material harvested directly from the forest for the purpose of energy production (Benjamin 2009).

In the state of Maine, forest resources are plentiful; nearly 90% of Maine is forested (Smith et al. 2009). Because of this fact, the logging industry is an important sector of the economy, with forest-related resources contributing $1.98 billion to annual state income in 2008 (BEA 2008). Given the extent of forest resources available in Maine, this thesis focuses on biomass projects that utilize only forest waste wood, representing the dominant trend in the state.

Biomass is a considerable part of Maine’s energy portfolio, comprising 35% of total energy produced, and in the near future is expected to provide a consistent source of renewable thermal energy (EIA 2010). There is debate in the literature over the relative advantages and disadvantages of biomass energy. In this thesis, I introduce the topic of biomass energy, outline the related policy, explore the debates within the scientific community regarding the carbon neutrality of biomass, analyze the differences between forest certification mechanisms, explain Colby College’s biomass facility as a case study, discuss Colby’s current plan and possible options, and then analyze the direction of Colby’s biomass facility into the future, including a matrix analysis of the different sourcing options and conclusions on the best options.

Keywords

forest biomass, fuel

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