Mass. to host first US net zero transit center

By Lisa Gibson | May 10, 2012

Boston, Mass., is on the path to having the nation's first net zero transit center, using a combination of solar, geothermal and biomass energy.

The newly dedicated John W. Olver Transit Center will house the Franklin Regional Transit Authority and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, according to project engineer Arup. It will also serve as an Amtrak station with the completion of the Knowledge Corridor Rail project in about two years.

“We are excited to bring net zero energy design to this landmark project in Massachusetts,” said Mark Walsh-Cook, Arup project director and member of the Massachusetts Zero Net Energy Advisory Committee.

The facility is equipped with a 750,000 Btu wood pellet boiler, a solar wall that preheats fresh air by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit during peak winter sun, and a second-stage ground source heat pump. The structure will be cooled with an active chilled beam system. Arup also used daylight modeling to determine optimal placement of windows, windows above eye level and skylights. 



5 Responses

  1. Ian



    It is very important to discuss the climate impacts of biomass. While there may be some truth that over a sufficiently long period of time, and with other conditions satisfied, biomass combustion can be carbon neutral in that the carbon burnt and emitted as CO2 will eventually be re-absorbed if biomass is grown to replace that burnt, it is certainly not climate neutral. That is because: biomass has high C-H ratio so you get a lot of CO2 emitted per unit energy; it contains moisture so less useful heat is recovered; its combustion is less efficient; it leads to more black carbon emissions, all of which lead to more CO2 emissions from biomass combustion for the same energy output as from most fossil fuel. While that CO2 may eventually be re-absorbed, in the meantime it is in the atmosphere causing warming. The period of time needed for it to lead to a net climate benefit compared to fossil fuel depnds on the fuel replaced and on the way the biomass is sourced. Getting a handle on all this is relatively hard, but one thing is abundantly clear - it is not climate neutral!

  2. Joe Zorzin



    That facility will be built in Greenfield, MA. The town will be building a new high school for $60,000,000. It should include a biomass burner. Biomass for electricity isn't going to happen in Mass. but at least the state should encourage it for heat. It's much more efficient that for electricity and it's cheaper than oil. Sure, there will be some carbon emissions- just as occurs when the critics drive their cars, fly in planes, eat meat from industrial agriculture, heat their house, and watch TV. But, a modest biomass industry will be good for the forests. And the money will stay local, rather than funding terrorists or blowing the tops off mountains for coal, or blasting those mountain tops for wind turbines, or turning large acreages into deserts to install solar "farms". All energy comes with a price. Carbon isn't the only issue.

  3. Josh Schlossberg



    Yay for the solar and the geothermal aspects of this project! Unfortunately the biomass component disqualifies it from ever being "net zero." As soon as the biomass industry stops pretending it is "carbon neutral," perhaps the industry will gain more credibility in the eyes of a discerning public.

  4. Shelley



    Actually, Josh, biomass is "carbon neutral" regardless of what you might think. Fossil fuels are deep within the Earth's surface and when we dig them up, we add them to the carbon cycle making them carbon positive. Wood already exists in the carbon cycle. Trees absorb carbon that's in the atmosphere. When the tree dies, it releases the carbon only to be absorbed by other trees, thus the carbon cycle. By burning trees for fuel, you aren't adding any additional carbon to the cycle like you would with burning fossil fuels. Therefore, wood pellets and other biomass fuels are considered carbon neutral. What's even better is that biomass is produced here in the US. When we purchase oil, we're supporting foreign economies and job markets. When we buy biomass, we keep the money here in the US and create jobs. Right now, we're shipping most of our wood pellets to Europe. Imagine what that would be like if we kept them here?

  5. Bede



    Josh and Shelley are both partially right. I think it would be responsible for all to recognize that biomass is "near carbon neutral". While true that biomass is already in the carbon cycle, we currently employ some fossil fuels to extract and transport wood or to harvest crops. We use additional energy to process these fuels, as in the manufacturing of pellets. Still, biomass thermal is often the best bet for minimizing carbon contribution while meeting our needs. The less fossil fuel we use to accomplish these tasks, the closer we get to carbon neutrality.


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