Cranfield shuts out the cold – and the costs

Cranfield University switches on to sustainable heat with Flogas Renewables

Environmental pioneer Cranfield University in Bedfordshire is future-proofing its energy supply and helping protect against long term price increases with a Flogas Renewables biomass system. Integrated into an existing gas-fired district heating system, the biomass boiler is expected to provide more than 30% of the university’s entire annual heating demand each year (with outputs of between 2 to 3,000,000 kWh) – all while saving up to 500 tonnes of CO2.

The new 950kW biomass boiler supports a gas-fired 1.4MW CHP system, and together they provide 24/7 heating and hot water for 34 campus buildings – including research and teaching facilities for science, engineering and technology. With a combined floor area of more than 66,000m2 and a high annual heat demand of up to 7,000,000kWh, Cranfield University needed a high performance, reliable supporting system – one that would not only fit seamlessly within the existing district heating setup, but would also provide a cost-effective and sustainable fuel solution for the campus’s future.

Cranfield University’s energy & environment manager, Gareth Ellis, comments: “Cranfield is dedicated to the research and development of environmental technology, so it was important for us to practice what we preach by installing our own renewable heating technology to power our learning facilities. In fact, the install has been such a success, it’s actually become part of our teaching operation, helping students learn first-hand about renewables.

“We specifically opted for a biomass system, because it’s sustainable, effective and will ultimately help us protect against future market volatility. We knew what we wanted in terms of boiler supply and integration and Flogas Renewables was able to provide us with a solution that met our exact needs. They continue to work with us to ensure we achieve the very best outputs, savings and returns from the system. As well as meeting approximately a third of our entire district heating demand, the biomass boiler is set to save us up to 500 tonnes of CO2 each year – reducing our carbon footprint by around 5%. We have also applied for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which means we’re set to benefit from guaranteed, index-linked payments for all the renewable heat we’re generating on campus over the next 20 years.”

The biomass system is situated in the university’s main boiler house and interconnected to a new steel-framed fuel store, which holds the system’s wood chip supply. This top loader store has a capacity of 135m3 and can comfortably take a full lorry’s worth of woodchip (27 tonnes). During peak season, two full lorries of biomass fuel are expected each week to meet the university’s energy demand. 

“Another key reason we opted for this particular system, is that it can handle wood chip with a high moisture content of up to 55%,” adds Gareth. “This was important for us, as over the next five years, we aim to source our biomass fuel from a local forest – so we needed a flexible system that would readily handle whatever it provides us.”

With outputs of up to 6MW, Flogas Renewables biomass systems are suitable for a full spectrum of applications, including district heating schemes and combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP) solutions. The boilers boast a high efficiency of 90%+ and are designed to ensure the best levels of environmental performance. With fully automated feeding, lighting, ash and soot extraction they offer straightforward operation and maintenance. The boilers can also accept biomass fuel with a moisture content of up to 55%, for greater fuel flexibility.

Head of Flogas Renewables, Greg Hilton, adds: “Cranfield University is an excellent example of how biomass can be successfully integrated into an existing district heating network. We were able to design a turnkey system that was fully tailored to meet their exact needs, so they can rely on optimum system performance and the very best returns for the lifespan of their system. As well as providing students and staff with a reliable and renewable heat source, the biomass system provides an economical, efficient solution for the university – one that will help it boost its sustainability credentials and ultimately provide long-term energy security.”     

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