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 diesel fuel back up. Sixty-three buildings on the main 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 a biomass-fired boiler to produce 90% of the steam needed. Waste wood is roughly one-third the cost of natural gas, saving the university over $1.5 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, long term supply. Fuel payments to the mills stay in Idaho, adding to the tax base.
The plant exceeds all air emission requirements with simple pollution equipment.
As 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 green house gas.
Water consumption at the steam plant has been reduced an average of 16% per year since 2000.