Massachusetts museum installing biomass boiler

By Luke Geiver | December 15, 2011

The retrofit of a retired coal ash silo has helped the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) finally become a wood pellet boiler user.

Starting in February, the former electronics supply facility that since 1986 has been the home of MASS MoCA, will be heated by a 2 million Btu wood pellet boiler. New England Wood Pellet will supply the pellets, to be delivered by Biomass Commodities and used in a Burnham boiler-based system designed by Boston engineering firm Cannon Design.

Averill Cook, Biomass Commodities president and founder, grew up in the area. “I knew most of the players there at the facility,” he said, adding that he first proposed the idea of heating the facility with biomass two years ago. “They (MASS MoCA) referred us to Cannon Design.” Although Cook said that some engineering and design firms require training and education in a biomass-heated system, the team at Cannon Design has created an innovative design that not only utilizes a SolaGen HDF-WC combustion package, but also allows conversion of the coal ash silo to a pellet storage site.

Cook said the silo, although already perfectly strong enough, will need a retrofit to the discharge portion and installation of a conveyance system. Cannon Design has already drawn up plans for both. The boiler and the stoker are currently on site and ready for installation, he said. The facility retrofit was funded in part by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative fund, and once complete, the roughly $200,000 project will be the first of its kind in the county.

“The lead time on these projects is sometimes two years out,” he explained. “So you have to have a lot of projects in your basket to secure your future business.” So, Biomass Commodities has eight other similar projects in the works, Cook said.

MASS MoCA’s energy history is one way to understand the past tenants of the building and all of their ups and downs, according to Joseph Thompson, director for the museum. “Adding this boiler helps our bottom line while also substantially reducing our carbon footprint,” he said.

Throughout his work in helping facilities like MASS MoCA convert to biomass, Cook said he’s learned that preconceived notions related to energy savings are often wrong. “Some of the results are better than what we planned for,” he said.

Adams Plumbing & Heating will install the system, and Biomass Commodities is also working on a nursing home, a private college and a middle school installation.