Waste Heat From Berlin Biomass Plant Will Help Grow Hydroponic Greens

May 17, 2019

The biomass power plant in Berlin is getting half a million dollars from the state to build a waste heat recovery system that will soon power a new greenhouse.

The Burgess Biopower plant burns woodchips to make steam, which turns turbines and generates electricity.

It also makes a lot of excess heat – 500 million BTUs an hour, enough to keep roughly 10 million square feet warm. Right now, that heat is released to the atmosphere.

Burgess operations manager Dammon Frecker says the new grant, from the state Public Utilities Commission, will help them build a system to harness that waste heat and put it to good use.

"We're very excited about not only the economic development, but in doing something novel with Burgess BioPower,” he says. “Not only producing electrical renewable energy, but thermal renewable energy."

One application for that thermal energy will be a hydroponic greenhouse that’ll grow more than a million pounds a year of baby leafy greens – like spinach, kale and arugula – for sale locally.

"Particularly in a Northern climate, a greenhouse will need heat ... for growing the produce,” he says. “So this thermal energy recovery system has been designed just to meet those heating demands in the cooler weather."

The 4-acre greenhouse is set to be built next year and will be operated by a third party, which Frecker declined to name.

The city of Berlin also wants to use some waste heat to melt snow and ice on its sidewalks. Frecker says these kinds of “synergies” have been one of Burgess’ goals since it was built.

And he says even these two projects combined will only use about 20 percent of the heat the power plant generates.

Burgess has space left on its campus for future businesses that could use the heat. Frecker says it could also theoretically be distributed beyond their facility, with other infrastructure upgrades.