A growing trend suggests Maine’s timber industry is evolving, and is giving hope that demand will exist in the future.
At the University of Maine-Farmington’s Biomass Central Heating Plant, tons of locally sourced and sustainably harvested wood chips are used as fuel. The process itself is significantly automated, as the chips are delivered in a self-unloading truck and fed through a conveyor system.
The chips are delivered down here in a self-unloading truck and fed up through a conveyor system.
“It’s all programmed, how many chips it needs, how much air it needs for combustion,” said Jeff McKay, director of facilities management at the plant.
The wood chips are also environmentally friendly, as the school has reduced carbon emissions for heating by half after it relied on oil for decades.
But the best part, according to McKay, is the fuel comes from the school’s backyard.
“Farmington has always been the bread basket for the wood industry and now we’re keeping all of that work right here.”
The university contracts with a local wood producer and only uses trees that grow within a 50-mile radius of the campus. For every purchase, about seven-times the amount is pumped back into the local economy.
“We felt like this was a contribution we could make to Maine by supporting local suppliers, the local wood industry,” said Luke Kellett, sustainability coordinator at UMF. “There’s a lot of excitement that this is hopefully the start of a new trend.”
Students at the university are currently learning about this new system. It’s an important subject, as this method of heating is poised for increasing demand, especially as Maine’s paper mills continue to struggle.