In the mid-1980's, the University bond financed a biomass fired boiler to replace steam production capacity that had previously been supplied by a combination of coal fired boilers and natural gas boilers with heavy oil back up. The core buildings on the Moscow campus are currently connected to this system, which provides steam for space heating, domestic hot water, and for space and process cooling through absorption chillers.
The University of Idaho is unique among universities in having this biomass-fired boiler to produce over 90% of the steam needed throughout the year. Waste wood is roughly half the cost of natural gas and coal and one-eighth the cost of oil, saving the university over $1.0 million yearly.
Cedar chips, a by-product from local sawmills, are the main biomass fuel burned at UI. These local mills own their own timberlands, so the wood is a renewable and sustainable long term supply. Fuel payments to the mills stay in Idaho, adding to the tax base.
Also, the plant exceeds all air emission requirements with simple pollution equipment. Because the CO2 produced by the wood boiler is from wood fuel that would have broken down naturally, either by decay or forest fire, it is not considered as an additional greenhouse gas.
The table and graph below provide a summary for FY2014. You can clearly see the cost difference between the wood and gas required to make 1000 lbs of steam. In addition, by using wood to produce over 90% of the steam, the University of Idaho has managed to keep the average cost of steam very close to the cost of just steam by wood.