Many northeastern states rely on oil for heating and electricity. With the ever-increasing quantity of foreign oil imports (now more than 2/3 of U.S. oil is imported) and the enormous greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil consumption, one college campus decided to wean itself from the black gold.

Middlebury College, after setting a very ambitious goal — carbon zero by 2016 — worked with Bill McKibben over eight years to create one of the most sophisticated biomass plants in the country. 

Middlebury is clearly proud of the plant. Instead of hiding it in a remote corner of campus, the plant is enshrouded in glass and lit from within at night. It uses high-moisture wood chips which are sustainable harvested (no clearcutting involved). The chips are ignited at low temperatures, creating gases that are then mixed with oxygen, producing clean electricity (close to 100 percent of particulates are removed).

At the same time, the heat is collected and diverted into the campus central plant. The plant is able to supply the college with 20 percent of its electricity and about half of its heat, saving 1 million gallons of oil and reducing 40 percent of its total CO2 emissions.

The plant will be able to pay for itself in 11 years, at which point it adds revenue by reducing campus operating costs. To learn more check out Middlebury's Biomass blog.

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