Biomass boiler funding of $6m takes University of Canterbury closer to sustainability targets

The University of Canterbury’s (UC) goal of becoming carbon net neutral by 2030 has received a $6.24 million boost with the announcement of Government funding towards new energy infrastructure at UC’s Ilam campus.

Minister for Climate Change the Hon. James Shaw visited UC today [15 July] to announce the funding, which is part of the Government’s $200m State Sector Decarbonisation Funding (SSDF) project. He was welcomed by UC’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Cheryl de la Rey, Chancellor Sue McCormack, University of Canterbury Student Association President Tori McNoe and the team behind UC’s Low Carbon Energy Strategy (LCES).

“We are delighted with this outcome, which is another important step towards our sustainability goals,” Professor De la Rey says. “With this fund the public sector can reduce carbon emissions and lead the way in steering Aotearoa New Zealand towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.”

UC’s application was supported by Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), which has been working with the university since 2009 providing funding for audits, design advice and feasibility studies to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, most recently supporting the LCES roadmap strategy for creating a more sustainable campus.

The $6.24m funding covers a large amount of the cost of a new $15.6m biomass boiler at the Ilam Campus.

The biomass boiler will replace two coal boilers by March 2022, and will run on waste-wood from renewable plantations. Installing biomass boilers will result in an immediate reduction of coal emissions at the Ilam campus from 11,000 tonnes annually to 2,200 tonnes annually – an 80% reduction.

New buildings at UC – such as the University of Canterbury Student Association’s Haere-roa and a 504-bed accommodation block under construction Tupuānuku – are designed with high thermal insulation to use sustainable Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) technology, which draws up the natural warmth of the earth to heat large spaces.

Older legacy buildings on Ilam campus present a challenge as they do not have the high thermal specifications required for GSHP. The biomass boiler will provide heat to the campus in the interim and after all the buildings are thermally upgraded, the campus will move away from combustion heating to GSHP or HP, which is scheduled to happen within the next 10 to 12 years.

Biomass boiler upgrade fact sheet

In 2018 UC launched a Low Carbon Energy Scheme (LCES).

Under the LCES, UC will:

  • Cut the coal-based carbon footprint emissions by 80% by 2023.
  • Ilam campus Coal Free by 2025
  • Carbon Net Neutral by 2030

Biomass boilers

Biomass boilers (i.e. Waste Woodchip Boilers) are an internationally accepted and supported sustainable combustion technology.

Based on comprehensive option analysis, biomass boilers and heat pumps provide the best value and achieve maximum reduction of carbon emissions at UC. UC explored other options such as solar energy, however installing costs and performance did not justify this approach.

Installing biomass boilers represents the biggest single benefit in coal emission reduction for UC from heating energy, resulting in an immediate reduction from 11,000 tonnes annually to 2,200 tonnes at the Ilam campus – an 80% reduction. Coal currently accounts for 50% of UC’s carbon emissions as assessed by ECCA.

Biomass gains

In strict terms the amount of carbon released by the burning of biomass (wood) fuel is greater on a per unit basis than that released by burning coal. However, burning coal releases carbon that has been locked up in the ground for millions of years and is essentially additional to the carbon currently in the atmosphere.

Burning wood waste only releases carbon that the tree has absorbed over its lifecycle, so in real terms there is no additional carbon released into the atmosphere making it a ‘net carbon zero’ fuel source. This is only true however if the wood fuel source is sustainably grown such that all wood harvested is replaced on a continuous cycle.

Transitioning to carbon net neutral

Installing biomass boilers is an interim measure in the LCES. The transition to carbon net neutral involves several stages, because pre-2009 legacy buildings can only be converted to Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) energy after thermal upgrading. Approximately 22 buildings require upgrading, totalling 55,000m2 of building space. The majority of this legacy building stock presently requires higher temperature heating due to lower performing glazing and lower standards of insulation, and only combustion technology can currently sustain a reasonable temperature in these buildings. A maximum of two buildings per year can be upgraded, with dedicated decanting space to minimise campus disruptions, meet space needs and to balance the costs over a longer time frame.

Timing

Stage 1 (2-3 years)

  • Replacing two of the three Ilam coal boilers with biomass boilers,
  • Conversion of the Engineering and Science Precinct to Heat Pumps,
  • Begin thermal building fabric upgrades and heat pump conversions of pre-2009 legacy buildings

Stage 2

  • Replacing the Dovedale campus coal boilers with biomass/wood boilers.
  • Removal of all coal boilers

Stage 3

Stage 4

  • Ilam campus thermal fabric building upgrades
  • Removal of all campus boilers (eliminating all combustion for heating purposes)

Costs

The Ilam biomass boiler project $15.6m,

GSHP conversion for Ilam Science Precinct of $6-$8m,

Dovedale campus conversion from coal to biomass boilers $5-$6.5m

ECCA partnership

UC has employed an Energy & Carbon Manager since 2009 to work with UC staff, consultants, contractors and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) to: measure carbon, find ways to increase energy efficiency in the built-environment and reduce water consumption on campus. EECA works with the UC’s Energy & Carbon Manager to identify and provide energy audits; feasibility studies and design/commissioning advice to deliver energy efficient projects.

UC’s energy journey

Since the mid-1990s UC has had an energy efficiency programme, and since 2010 the University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by almost a third.

The recently completed Haere-roa, UCSA student building, is heated with renewable energy in the form of a ground-source heat-pump (GSHP) system. Heat pumps draw stable, latent heat from the ground into the building. A new accommodation block for 600 students under construction also uses a GSHP system, as will the planned Health Precinct Recreation Centre.

UC was the first university in the Southern Hemisphere to achieve CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction Scheme now known as ‘Carbon Reduce’) certification in 2011 for its 2010 baseyear. CEMARS certification involves measurement and planned reduction of greenhouse gas emissions generated as a result of the university’s business activities.

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