Green Building Standard under consideration to include biomass

By Katie Fletcher | March 06, 2015

The Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, or Standard 189.1, may include a definition of biomass, as well as requirements pertaining to the use of the source in the future. If included, the addition would allow biomass heating to meet the renewable energy requirements of the standard.

The 189.1 Standard Committee, with its cosponsors ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Illuminating Engineering Society, are currently in the process of gathering information on biomass to see if it makes sense to add it as an onsite renewable energy system in their green building standard.

The purpose of the standard is to provide minimum requirements for the siting, design, construction and plan for operations of high-performance green buildings. Currently the standard includes requirements for solar, wind and geothermal renewable energy sources.

The standards committee is composed of 36 voting members and about 20 nonvoting members. “They cover a wide range of expertise, from engineers, manufacturers, architects, folks who have general expertise in building sustainability, to utilities,” said Andrew Persily, Standard 189.1 chair. “It’s a pretty broad group of folks, which is helpful, because we are working on complex issues.”

Biomass was brought into committee conversation when someone outside of the group submitted a proposal via the continuous maintenance vehicle the committee uses to get input from interested parties on changes to a standard. The committee discussed the proposal, and at length decided not to make the relatively simple change to add the word biomass to the definition of renewable energy sources. Instead, the committee decided to explore biomass at a conceptual level to see how and whether it makes sense, according to Persily.

Although Persily expects a consensus on the topic within a matter of months, he could not assess what that decision may be. The committee is now gathering information about biomass, and has a deliberate standards development procedure and public-comment period that must occur before any decision can be made. “We’ve got a lot of interest in this topic, and offers of some good, technical information and other resources,” Persily said. “I think that will help make our job easier, we’ve gotten a good response.”                                           

After the committee talks about the range of issues pertaining to biomass, they put together a recommended change, or addendum, to the standard and then that addendum goes out for public review. The committee addresses each comment received from the public on the proposed change.

A few topic areas of biomass under consideration are fuel quality, efficiency of the combustion equipment, where the biomass is sourced from, and a number of others.       

First initiated in 2006, the green building standard has constantly evolved since its first publication in 2009 as revisions are made. “I think there is a motivation based on the need to improve building energy efficiency and reducing the environmental impacts of buildings,” Persily said.  “ASHRAE, IES and USGBC recognized the need for a consensus standard to help support that.”    

Persily believes that biomass has the potential to benefit the standard, as long as the new requirement or option makes sense technically, and is effective, doable and practical. “We want to offer options, and give the flexibility to the building designer and owner, so they have a variety of tools to meet the desired end points consistent with the scope of the standard,” Persily said.