There’s power in a wood pellet | VailDaily.com
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There’s power in a wood pellet

Kira Horvath/Vail DailyVail transportation manager Mike Rose peers into the hatch where wood pellets are stored during a demonstration of wood burners Wednesday.
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VAIL ” Mark Mathis was selling wood-pellet burners, but he couldn’t get wood pellets.

Then he looked at the dying, pine-beetle-infested trees around him in the High Country.

“It was a perfect fit,” Mathis said.

Mathis is now pushing the use of biomass to heat buildings using beetle-killed trees. His company, Confluence Energy, is building a $10 million plant in Kremmling that will use the killed trees from around the region to create wood pellets.

He wants to deliver the pellets in bulk to people with special boilers that heat homes or other buildings.

Mathis touts the process as inexpensive, clean-burning and “carbon neutral.” Burning the pellets does not put any carbon dioxide into the environment that wouldn’t naturally be emitted during trees’ decomposition.

“At the end of the day, you’re not putting anything incremental into the atmosphere,” Mathis said.

Mathis said it would cost about $10,000 to install a wood-pellet heating system in a home.

Mathis says he’ll use trees from Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Eagle, Lake and Clear Creek counties. The trees are ground into sawdust and then crushed into pellets.

On Wednesday, Mathis was in Vail to demonstrate one of the special boilers to officials from local governments ” including Vail, Avon and Eagle County ” and local building companies and contractors.

“Why not make it work?” said Bill Carlson, environmental director for the town of Vail. “The plant, the users and the fuel are all in the same place. Why wouldn’t the town use that as a renewable energy source?”

After the demonstration, Carlson and Mathis went to Vail’s bus barn to investigate whether wood pellets could heat that building.

Eagle County Environmental Health Director Ray Merry said biomass could be part of the puzzle in making the county reduce its “carbon footprint” and reliance on fossil fuels.

Wind power and solar power could be other solutions, Merry said.

“We have to look at everything,” he said.

And the county’s interest isn’t just using biomass to county buildings, Merry said. Biomass could be incorporated into the county’s green building codes, he said.

Eagle County Wildlife Mitigation Specialist Eric Lovgren said he’s interested in the process because it could use trees he removes from local lands.

“I generate a whole lot of wood waste through wildfire mitigation,” he said.

But many of the trees end up in the landfill or are burned in piles, he said.

The mountain pine beetle infestation has killed up to 90 percent of mature lodgepole pine in some areas near Vail.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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