Twenty tons of wood pellets arriving next week will signify the beginning of the end for on-campus coal.
At the University’s Energy Task Force’s meeting Thursday, members said those shipments will mark the first tangible step in fulfilling Chancellor Holden Thorp’s promise to make UNC coal-free by 2020.
“Generally, we are pleased as a task force with the speed the University has test-fired alternatives to coal,” said task force chairman Tim Toben.
Thorp’s promise came after students led a coal-free campaign last year. They argued that coal was destructive to the environment and that the University could find alternatives.
The current alternative is biomass, which is treated wood. On Aug. 9, UNC awarded a contract to Carolina Wood Pellets, a company from Franklin, to send 520 tons of wood pellets to the University for testing in the cogeneration plant.
The first shipment, which will arrive between Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, will be used to ensure the plant can safely burn the fuel.
The remaining 500 tons will arrive in early November for a two-week test burn, in which both wood and coal will be burned.
Doug Mullen, the University’s chilled water systems manager, told the task force that the tonnage amounts to roughly seven train cars’ worth of pellets.
That same amount — if used as the sole energy source at the plant — would last about a week in the middle of winter, Mullen said.
The task force would prefer to explore the use of torrefied wood, which has an efficiency similar to coal.
Wood pellets have roughly half the efficiency of coal, meaning more pellets are needed to create the same amount of energy, task force members said.
But there are no large local suppliers of biomass that meet UNC’s standards, members said.
“The challenges so far are suppliers,” Toben said. “There’s still not enough demand in the state to create supply chains.”
The task force is also looking into the possibility of other forms of energy, including pellets of municipal solid waste and gas waste from a landfill.
“There are a number of alternatives that are possible, and hopefully all will be explored,” Toben added.
Also discussed by the task force was an upcoming convention in Charlotte about building codes.
The International Code Council Convention will be held between Oct. 27 and Nov. 1, and UNC has an opportunity to send a delegation to vote on building codes. For a fee of $100, the University will be able to send four delegates to vote.
The last time the council voted on amending building codes, the option of elevating energy efficiency for homes was defeated by six votes, said N.C. State University student Travis Hargett, the volunteer coordinator for the N.C. Sierra Club.
That vote could result in higher energy efficiency standards for buildings, particularly residences, nationwide.
“They’re going to vote on national energy efficiency standards,” said Stewart Boss, a sophomore in the Sierra Student Coalition. “We want them to vote on the 30 percent solution.”
Boss urged the task force to send a voting delegation to the conference.
“Our commitment doesn’t end with Chancellor Thorp’s commitment to end coal use,” he said. “This is a big opportunity for UNC to get on the national stage and move things in the way we think is right.”
The task force did not approve sending a delegation immediately, but it is submitting a recommendation to Thorp for review.
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